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Vol. LXI, No. 44
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
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Princeton Teachers Make Case to Board; “Virtual Absence of Teacher Input” Cited

Linda Arntzenius

Over 200 members of the teachers union came to voice their concerns via a statement read by union co-president Monica Sislak at the Princeton Regional Schools Board of Education meeting, Tuesday, October 23.

Ms. Sislak, who teaches mathematics at Princeton High School is one of two co-presidents of PREA (Princeton Regional Education Association). The other is Nancy Schreiber, a kindergarten teacher at Johnson Park.

The teacher turn-out represented more than half of the union’s 400 membership.

The larger-than-usual audience had to wait until public forum to hear Ms. Sislak present the statement that had been formulated over the last several months of PREA meetings.

After stepping to the microphone, the teachers’ representative spoke of “several serious concerns” affecting education in Princeton.

“Our primary concern is the lack of effective communication and the lack of real teacher voice in many of the recent decisions that have been made by our administration,” said Ms. Sislak, who went on to describe the frustration of teachers serving on committees who felt that their input had been ignored or misrepresented by the administration.

In a telephone interview with Town Topics, Ms. Sislak explained further: “I could cite several examples of when communication has broken down but the biggest issue concerns the recent imposition of a new initiative concerning lesson plans.”

The initiative is the result of the NJQSAC (New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum), the Department of Education’s new monitoring and evaluation systems for public school districts that is requiring self-assessments to be carried out in all districts. All districts are now requiring formalized lesson plans to be submitted by their teachers, bringing Princeton in line with other districts.

“What we are finding is that under the NCLB act and increasing demands for accountability, the administration is asking for more rigor in the creation of lesson plans,” said Alan Hegedus, vice president of the board of education. “We have to report achievement and this is calling on us to look at the overall degree of professionalism, especially in those areas where there is marginal performance.”

According to Ms. Sislak, Princeton’s teachers have no problem with the demand for formal lesson plans. “We all have lesson plans — we couldn’t teach without them — but we want our voice to be heard on the format of those lesson plans and there has been a virtual absence of teacher input and discussion concerning this.

She urged the administration to work with the teaching staff rather than “assume that they can improve achievement simply by telling us what to do.”

Ending her presentation, Ms. Sislak said: “Teaching in Princeton no longer feels like being part of an educational system; it feels like it is part of a political bureaucracy.”

Her words were endorsed by rousing applause from the audience. Board President Michael Mostoller described the speech as “eloquent” before moving on with agenda items.

Commenting later by email, Superintendent of Schools Judith A. Wilson had this to say: “The [teachers’] concerns are related to specific expectations that all teachers complete lesson plans and that those plans include a core set of components related to learning objectives, differentiation for students, assessment.

“When expectations are refined and defined, it represents change and the change process is often difficult and sometimes requires streamlining and/or modification. I have no doubt that everyone in the organization is working and will continue to work on these issues and that in the near future we will reach a balance that works for teachers, students and the overall teaching and learning organization.”

“Princeton has an exceptionally talented faculty and support staff in our classrooms, students with great talent and promise as well as a wide range of needs, and both systemic strengths and some systemic gaps that when filled and aligned will continue to strengthen our work.”

Ms. Sislak said that she had not expected to hear from the administration at the meeting. “A board meeting is not the place for dialogue, but we hope to hear from her at some point in the near future,” she said.

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