It’s easy to “hate” someone when you see them on TV in snippets and sound bites. It’s easy to hate someone when you are told to hate them because they are a certain way, or come from a party with a different symbol. What I learned today from Governor Christie was: It’s harder to hate close up. (he told a story using that line)
Hate is such a strong word. I never hated Chris Christie. Honestly, I’m not sure if I have ever hated a politician. Maybe I didn’t understand him? Or maybe I just never took the time to see things from his perspective? Maybe I made him a scapegoat for things when I didn’t get my way?
I had the fortunate opportunity to meet with about 30 other educators from around the state this morning for breakfast at Drumthwacket. It was great meeting my #NJED tweeps Brad Currie, William Diaz, and Kevin Carroll. After breakfast, Chris Christie appeared in our room. His first comment was, “Can I get everyone who is sitting in the Harry Potter room to join us?” We all laughed because there were several tables in the adjacent room that looked like, well, something out of a Harry Potter film. For the next 45 minutes, in a relaxed discussion, Chris Christie talked to us, made us laugh, and most importantly, made us think.
Chris is extremely proud of the legislation that was just passed last week regarding tenure reform in NJ. He is most proud because he finally felt like he was able to accomplish this seemingly insurmountable task with the help of the state’s biggest teacher union, the NJEA. For the last two years, there has been a public battle played out in the media between Christie and the NJEA. He now hopes things will be different with the NJEA moving forward. Christie admits that there are things he has said in the past that he regrets, but he makes no apologies for trying to reform a system that had basically been untouched for over 100 years.
Governor Christie is well aware of the performance of NJ education (which has easily been touted as one of the best in the country), yet he challenged us all to realize that the highly performing schools in this state are basically serving suburban families. For urban students, their experience in NJ public schools is nowhere near high performing. He is afraid that the students in underperforming, urban school districts are not getting the same opportunities as their counterparts in the suburbs. He knows that that money is not going to solve the problems (just look at the amount of money that was infused into urban districts since the landmark Abbott v. Burke case). He even said, and this resonated with me, that he realizes the parents in the urban areas are not voting for him, so his passion for them goes beyond politics, and votes.
When he took questions my hand shot up immediately. He called on me and I explained how I am a principal of a recently designated focus school, which is in an urban setting. I thanked him for the Regional Achievement Centers (RAC), and asked him why we don’t have a shining example in this state that has sustained success on assessments. He told me and everyone in the room, that he is as frustrated as I am that there are no examples to share. He questioned the assessments, and if they are doing what we are asking them to do. He feels that these students need more time (extended into the summer, extended days, anything) to help them achieve even if their parents could care less. Wow, not the answer I thought he was going to give! He told me to continue to care and not give up. I told him to give me some time, and that my school will be the example!
There were a few questions from my colleagues that received quick, and well thought out responses. One superintendent asked about the caps on salaries. To everyone’s surprise he said that they are doing research to amend it, but they need data. Someone else asked about the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) process, and he said he was done with it, and we would be too (everyone applauded). He wants to pay teachers more money, but he wants to ensure that they are all working hard, and producing results! He wants principals to hold teachers accountable, and not just accept mediocrity. Based on the new legislation mentioned above, school districts will not need to waste millions of dollars and valuable time to hold a bad teacher accountable. No excuses anymore!
Another colleague mentioned charter schools, and why they are being opened in areas that have high performing public schools. Christie said that shouldn’t be happening, and that the charters are designed to help parents have a choice (without tuition) in underperforming schools.
Chris Christie said he is excited for the future. He is going to work on being less “hot” but he is not going to stop advocating for kids. He said he is open to ideas, and to criticism. If you have questions, make sure to contact his office, or Commissioner Chris Cerf’s office. Or your could tweet Chris Christie.
As I walked away from the discussion, I was left with more questions than answers. I thought about the comments and questions from my previous post. Many people think he hates teachers, and shouldn’t be making educational decisions. To those who feel that way, I encourage you to do your own research, and familiarize yourself with Christie’s policies. Don’t just rely on the media hype, and the discussions in the teachers’ lounge because you may end up seeing him in a new light.
It is really harder to hate close up.