Here’s Why You Should Care About the DOE’s Poor Oversight of Asbury Park (Plus, Three Bonus Rumors)

Asbury Park school board members and administrators must be breathing a sigh of relief: Yesterday’s announcement by Gov. Murphy that the state will waive high school graduation requirements for 2020-2021 means that the district can forgo convoluted procedures to pretend that everything’s just hunky-dory in one of New Jersey’s most troubled districts. 

How troubled? The New Jersey Department of Education’s newly-lowered diploma requirementsrailroaded through the State Board of Education by former Commissioner Lamont Repollet, now president of Kean University—are that graduating students must reach expectations for 10th grade reading and Algebra 1. At Asbury Park High School, 11% of 10th graders were proficient in reading and 15% were proficient in Algebra 1. But now it doesn’t matter! We’ll just continue to hand out diplomas like hand sanitizer.

Or, as Senator Teresa Ruiz put it yesterday, “I understand the stress that students and teachers are facing, but I’m not sure this is in the best interest of students. It just seems we continue to move away from getting a true determination of where we stand as a school system.”

But if you don’t live in Asbury Park, why should you care?

  • Because Asbury Park Public Schools District shines a light on a dysfunctional DOE that fails to properly oversee schools. Students and their families who can’t afford to exercise New Jersey’s most popular form of school choice —moving to another district—pay the price.
  • Because parents are demanding better schools, voting with their feet by disenrolling their children from the district to enroll in the three public charter schools in the area. (District enrollment for the 2019-2020 school year is 1,742 students, the size of some high schools. That’s down 14% from 2016-2017. Nonetheless, there are nine Central Office administrators, a crazy-high ratio. You can see some of their salaries at the bottom of this budget.)
  • Because, as Senator Ruiz said, we need a true determination of where we stand as a school system.

Remember, Gov. Murphy, upon his election, decided that the very best person to lead the DOE was the superintendent of Asbury Park, Lamont Repollet, who brought with him a scheme called The 64 Floor that raises graduation rates by lowering academic standards. What’s not to like? Repollet, with the Governor’s/NJEA’s approval, then implemented the 64 Floor statewide, an emblem all on its own for a school system that values pretense over reality. 

Asbury Park School DIstrict is NJ’s educational dysfunction writ large.

So, onto the rumors. I only publish those that I can verify with two or more independent sources. I don’t reveal sources’ names because they fear retaliation.

  • Asbury Park Superintendent Sancha Gray, whom Repollet brought in as his assistant superintendent, expected to get Murphy’s nod as new State Education Commissioner. She didn’t and is contemplating leaving the district. 
  • The Monmouth County Democratic Club controls the Asbury Park School Board and there is little air between the two.  The former chair of the Asbury Park Democrats was Giuseppe “Joe” Grillo and he also served as the executive director of the Monmouth County Democratic Organization. This past November Grillo ran for the Asbury Park School Board and won. The former president of the Board (and current member), Angela Ahbez-Anderson, is now chair of the Asbury Park Democrats. From the Asbury Park Sun: “The Asbury Park Democrats saw a dramatic change in leadership as four-term Municipal Chair Giuseppe ‘Joe’ Grillo (above) stepped aside and Angela Ahbez-Anderson was unanimously elected Chair of the Asbury Park Democratic Committee.”

Also, Ahbez-Anderson ran for Monmouth County Clerk this year but lost. Part of her platform says, “Angela unified a once-dysfunctional Board of Education and began the hard work of turning around the Asbury Park School District.”

Many of the people hired by Repollet when he was superintendent of Asbury Park are affiliated with Kean University.  From a source:

My take on this whole group is they are there to milk Asbury Park for everything they can get out of it: money, prestige, travel. It’s just another stop to their next stepping stone. They could care less about the district, the kids, the teachers, all they care about is how much money they make and how important they make their crew feel.  And the majority of the board of education just fosters their arrogant attitudes. 

If you care about public education in New Jersey, you have to care about Asbury Park.

What do you think?