NJ Department of Education Watch: Another One Bites the Dust

Friday morning I put up a post that describes five ways that the New Jersey Department of Education is undermined by questionable hires and actions. These incidents appear to be panders to special interests by Governor Murphy and/or Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet, resulting in a DOE bereft of transparency, moral integrity, and effectiveness. The majority of these actions are personnel appointments.

I should have waited until Friday afternoon to publish the post because there’s now a sixth item. The Star-Ledger reports that the DOE hired Maryellen Cervenak (aka Maryellen Lechelt) for a “leadership position” as Acting Director of the Professional Learning Network, “a $70,000 position that involves visiting schools as a representative of the state and coordinating trainings.”

Who is Cervenak/Lechelt? A former elementary teacher in Edison Public Schools who was caught participating in a four-person group chat during, ironically, an in-district professional development session. During the chat she made, according to the district,  “disgusting and unbearable” remarks.

In reference to students with disabilities she wrote, “i like the group name ‘morons,'” adding, “they take the tart cart home.” (Could be she meant the “‘tard cart,” a slur for short buses that typically transport special education students.)

Cervenak also added that she would label her lowest performing students “jesus christ, why the (redacted) did they place you with me?” according to a transcript of the chat.

She and another teacher also made numerous sexual comments, ridiculed the presenter, joked about their superintendent’s sex life and suggested the district’s hiring practices were based on good looks and sexual favors.

“i will be a supervisor soon – I’m cute and blonde,” Cervenak wrote.

Cute and blond didn’t save her from getting caught. Another teacher was reading the group chat over Cervenak’s shoulder and reported her. One of the four teachers resigned and the other three faced tenure changes, i.e., the district tried to revoke their tenure. The cases went to arbiters (the teachers were represented by NJEA) and the arbiter decided that the incident, while “serious misconduct,” wasn’t enough to strip Cervenak of her tenure rights. Instead she was suspended for 120 days and went back to the classroom.

Until she took another gig coordinating teacher training in schools across the state. In brief, this teacher who calls special education students “morons” was hired by the NJ DOE for a “leadership position.”

Where does the buck stop with this one? Did Commissioner Repollet hire her?  Was it Assistant Commissioner of Student Services Carolyn Marano, who is #5 on Friday morning’s list? Is there any due diligence at the DOE? Does anyone google prospective employees’ names or check references? (Maybe the job qualifications really are “cute and blond.”) Is there any accountability?

All we know is this: families and their children deserve better.  So do taxpayers, who shell out $8.5 billion a year in in state school aid.

Cervenak? I wouldn’t worry about her. After all, she received tenure at her penultimate job and, apparently, glowing references. Look for her in a district near you.

What do you think?

More Comments