Categorized | Local Perspectives, Schools

COMMUNITY VOICE: In Defense of Dr. Caffrey

Ira Resnick – one of the more well-known leaders and educators of community organizing – once provided a very simple comparative analogy to define true leadership.

Let’s take two rooms both crowded with scores of people who have come together to voice concerns over pressing community needs. Both rooms are characterized by great chaos and hostility without a real sense of direction or purpose.

In one room, the single-minded ‘politician’ storms in and proclaims: “I know the concerns; I know the solutions; so this is what I’m going to do based on what I know you need!” Well, clearly, the operative term in this proclamation is the “I”. “I” know – and “I” do! Why? Very simple – I want the credit; the glory; and the perceived power, however, without the messy muck of being responsible for leading a group. Well, I’m sure you’ve figured by now – politician, yes; leader, no.

In the other room, the collective-minded ‘leader’ walks in and says: “What are the needs as we know them? What can we do together to address these needs?”

A true leader listens – a guy with the initials of MLK once said, “You must be led first before you can lead.”

In the Perth Amboy Public Schools, this “we” versus “I” battle of power and leadership are waging war as we speak. In one corner, we have the “Is” represented by a few Board members who believe that all actions and management functions – yes, I did say all actions and management functions – must begin and end with them. We have a few Board members who are more interested in placing their stamp on every action – even actions that are of administrative in nature. We have a few Board members who spend more time trying to control every hire and contract approval rather than directing their energies to student needs.

In the other corner, we have the “WEs” represented by Dr. Janine Caffrey, the Superintendent of Schools, who has the audacity to consider the needs of Perth Amboy students before those all-knowing “Is.” We have a leader who has no qualms in tipping a few sacred cows in favor of actions and decisions that place student needs above politics and cronyism.

A true leader places the “cause” above self. A leader acts as a facilitator to identify and galvanize any set of organizational, financial, and/or human resources to address the need. A true leaders identifies what issues will be addressed, and how, when and why – from there, she then determines “who” is best suited to address those concerns. This is the sort of leader we have in Dr. Caffrey.

So, we have an emerging effort launched by these few Board members to oust Dr. Caffrey. Frankly, this is a foolish effort. Even though there are no valid or substantive factors rationalizing this action, we are spending precious time, effort and energy (not to mention money!) to allow a select few to utilize their position and our tax dollars to move their political agenda. Even though Dr. Caffrey is only in her tenth month as the district’s education leader, these few Board members are creating an adversarial environment that will foster contention and division, rather than unifying our strengths and passion for students. By the way, the very same Board members who hired Dr. Caffrey in the first place!

To those few Board members, I simply remind them that they were elected by the residents of Perth Amboy to represent the interests of public school students, and provide the leadership to improve the performance quality and achievement of our public schools. Not to represent any political interests; not to use your position as a stepping stone for bigger and better political opportunities; not to wield power based on an embellished sense of self-importance.

To the community, I ask a simple question – who do you want to go to battle with? The “I-driven” politician who, with little support base or community resources, will get knocked out in the early rounds? Or the “We-driven” leader who will maximize her resources and community assets to go the distance? Apollo Creed or Rocky Balboa? Yo Adrian – we did it!

Jorge Cruz
North Brunswick

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