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Perth Amboy Teachers Argue Discipline Data

Dr. Janine Walker Caffrey

By Joseph L. Kuchie—

PERTH AMBOY – Many teachers from the Perth Amboy school district came out to last Wednesday’s special board meeting to argue the recent discipline data released by Superintendent Janine Caffrey.

According to Caffrey, suspensions in the high school decreased from 985 during the 2010-2011 school year to 84 in 2011-2012. The middle school suspensions dropped from 338 in 10-11 to 75 in 11-12, and referrals for disrupting class and defying authority also dropped at both school levels by at least 300 reports.

Although Caffrey reported these drastic improvements over the last two school years, many representatives of the school district were not sold. Jamie Blockus, a teacher at the Shull School, believed the numbers didn’t represent what was really going on.

“I wish I could feel like I want to celebrate, but that hasn’t been how this past year has been. If anything it’s been a year of doom and gloom,” said Blockus, a fifteen-year teacher in Perth Amboy. “Those numbers may be data, but the data does not reflect the realism that is going on in our schools. Every day I’ve been to school there have been issues around the buildings.”

Jamie Blockus *Photo by Joseph L. Kuchie

Jeanette Gonzalez sided with Blockus and was concerned about how the board was handling the staff’s concerns. She met with many of the teachers in attendance during the board’s private session and came to the consensus that a chance needed to be made.

“There is a disconnect in regards to the stats that the superintendent reported and what the teachers really feel are going on in the school,” Gonzalez said. “People are always going to complain, but when you hear it time and time again it needs to be re-looked at. I think if the staff feels like they aren’t being considered then the board needs to get together with them and resolve it.”

Caffrey was very frustrated with the response from the teaching staff, explaining that it was a great effort by everyone involved and the statistics should be celebrated. However, she felt like she was in a lose-lose situation.

“It’s fascinating to me how we aren’t celebrating this success. Every member of staff and faculty at every school and every board member played a role in this,” Caffrey said. “It’s very frustrating. You don’t want me to give bad news because you say I’m attacking the teachers and you don’t want me to give good news because you say I’m lying. This is a reason to celebrate and credit everyone, but instead we are pointing fingers.”

Union President Donna Chiera was quick to acknowledge the indifference between the teachers and the report, stating that there is a problem in the schools and not all is well. She would rather fix the problem and take it head on rather than settle for promising numbers.

“The discipline data released today and what I hear from the staff members are very different concerns. We can’t put our heads in the sand and look at these numbers and say things are fixed because I’m telling you they are not fixed,” Chiera said. “We can’t hide it. We have problems. We have issues.”

Many of the teachers who spoke suggested a policy change by the discipline committee. Board member Kurt Rebovich Jr., chairman of the districts discipline committee, explained that changing the policy may not necessarily fix the problem.

“This Board of Education can change the discipline policy whenever, but all that will do is give the authority for suspension back to the building principals,” Rebovich said. “However, not many of them have said they would want the decision back. My understanding is that the Superintendent has not denied any suspensions from the principals submitting them.”

The discipline committee held a meeting on Friday, July 20th to discuss these matters. Council President Samuel Lebreault suggested that the committee “listen to the staff and have a meaningful meeting” because “there seems to be some room for improvement.”

 

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