“It’s Embarrassing to Work For the NJ DOE These Days and Pretend That the Emperor Has Brains and Clothes!”: Staff Take Umbrage at “Employee Appreciation Week”

Last week, New Jersey Department of Education’s staff members’ inboxes filled up with cheery reminders from their supervisors regarding “NJ DOE Employee Appreciation Week.” An outsider would assume that these missives would be welcome.

They weren’t.

Instead, I heard from a number of demoralized staff members who regarded the many activities planned — golfing, picnics, biking, racing, food trucks, contests, entertainment — as just so much bluster from an Administration focused not on education but on photo ops.

“Typical Repollet,” one source told me. 

Another source noted that “while staff are left behind to contend with a federal monitoring coming down the pike, senior staff and Assistant Commissioners are teeing off at Mountainview Golf Course.” Another said, “does Repollet really think that we have the time to take off a Monday and go golfing? Is this how he defines equity?” 

Several others noted that these activities weren’t free — participating staff members, at least among the rank and file, were expected to pay $55 for the gold excursion and $10 for lunch. “When companies sponsor ‘Employment Appreciation’ events, they don’t make those employees pay for their own lunch.”  Another nugget: “This week falls so short of how employees would like to be appreciated and is so typical of how the DOE top brass try to keep employees ‘happy’ during this time of dismal leadership and falling morale.” And, from another source, “how is it appropriate for a STATE office to treat itself to a full week without attending to their work and pat themselves on the back for a job well done?”

In other words, the DOE Employee Appreciation Week appears to have triggered beleaguered staff to focus on how unappreciated they feel, as well as how taxpayers are being cheated by the “talk, talk, talk” about the “wonderful model organization” that is actually only wonderful “in the minds of the Commissioner and his Kool-Aid-drinking senior team…who believe they deserve time off at taxpayer expense!”

A few more comments by anonymous staffers:

“By the way, has anyone seen the goals posted for the Department and Division of Academics and Performance? Try and explain how anyone can possibly measure those lofty and aims and honestly tell the public they have made a substantive difference to students and teachers.”

“Pathetic is what is happening under this Commissioner and his soldiers like [Deputy Commissioner] Linda Eno. (Another source describes Eno as “devoid of vision and warmth and any inspirational ideas. She hasn’t had a division meeting since July 2018….not that she would have anything worthwhile to say.”)

“Feel-good phrases and slogans and lots and lots of words will be put on paper to blind people to the fact that nothing is going on that makes students lives’ more equitable or productive or sets up better practices in schools.”

“It’s embarrassing to work for the NJ DOE these days and pretend that the Emperor has brains and clothes!”

Sources tell me that there was concern among Division leaders that people weren’t signing up for the planned activities and that’s why Deputy Commissioner  Eno sent out the following email to staffers on the Thursday before this special celebratory week.

August 22

Hey Team, 


I know many of you are out for at least some part of next week but for any of you that will be here, I am just sending encouragement to participate in some or all aspects of Employee Appreciation week. Executive Services and the committees have been working hard to make it fun, so if you can see your way to signing up for one or more activities, it will be fun and a good investment in our work community

Thank you!

Linda P. Eno Ed.D. 

Assistant Commissioner, Academics and Performance

The following day, this email came from Eno:

August 23

Good morning!

We are very excited to celebrate Employee Appreciation Week, beginning on Monday, August 26, 2019. Our dress for next week is business casual. If anyone is participating in physical activities, you may dress appropriate for the activity.

•Monday – Golf – Golf Attire

•Wednesday – Workouts, Bike Ride, Walk – You may change into Exercise/Athletic Wear while participating in the activity.

•Thursday – If you are participating in any of the sporting events – athletic wear is acceptable; otherwise relaxed casual wear suitable for the occasion (i.e., shorts – not short shorts) and sneakers are acceptable.

Please remember even though business casual is acceptable for Employee Appreciation days, you are still a representative of the NJ Department of Education. And remember to adhere to the department’s dress code policy if you are meeting with outside customers/partners.

Click here for a reminder of our workplace dress code standards, and do not hesitate to reach out to Human Resources if you have questions.

The staff members who contacted me took a pass on golf but continue to wait impatiently for, as one source put it, “the day when we will be allowed to pursue our honest mission to support teachers and administrators.” This particular source described the current environment at the DOE as akin to a phenomenon called  “narcoticizing dysfunction.” I had to look it up. The term refers to an overflow of information produced by all kinds of media — traditional, Twitter, Facebook, blogs — so that there is a decrease of time available for organized action and an increase in superficial results.

That’s a pretty accurate description of the current DOE’s anemic approach to pressing issues like the state of standardized testing, the status of our “Charter School Act Review” (which concluded almost a year ago with no results yet available), and the apathetic accountability process that allows districts like Asbury Park to spend over $42,000 per year per student and consistently fail families

But never mind: as another source said, “Leadership has now convinced themselves that they have done things. But all they’ve done is talk and talk and talk some more.” 

NJ parents wait for DOE leaders to resolve questions regarding meaningful measures of student proficiency in a state where “nearly 60% of New Jersey students are unprepared for college.” NJ families, especially those in low-income urban centers, wait for an end to the charter school “pauseinstigated by NJEA, Murphy’s patron. Taxpayers wait for Murphy and the Legislature to lower back-breaking tax burdens (already addressed in Senate President Steve Sweeney’s Path to Progress) that are partly due to inequitable school spending patterns. NJ families stuck in schools with dismal student outcomes wait for access to better options.

Meanwhile, the hacks in charge are partying at the 19th hole.

What do you think?

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