By Steve Flamisch
Attracting the jobs and businesses of tomorrow and growing the state’s economy begins with strong public schools, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy told a gathering of more than 250 educators at Rutgers University—New Brunswick on Tuesday.
“Our public schools are one of New Jersey’s greatest built-in advantages and will be a critical part of our renewal and resurgence,” Governor Murphy said. “They will attract new families who want their kids to receive the best education, and they will, in turn, help attract new businesses who want to tap into our highly educated workforce.”
Murphy spoke at the New Jersey Public School Labor Management Collaborative conference, hosted by the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR).
Formed in 2013, the Collaborative brings together the American Federation of Teachers – New Jersey (AFT-NJ), New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA), New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association (NJPSA), New Jersey Schools Boards Association (NJSBA), and Rutgers SMLR.
The groups are working together to encourage and facilitate greater collaboration among administrators, educators, and unions in 13 pilot school districts across New Jersey. Unlike top-down change, collaboration encourages all parties to work together to develop and revise curriculum, instructional practice, and policy.
National research by Rutgers SMLR Professor Saul Rubinstein and Cornell University Assistant Professor John McCarthy, a SMLR alumnus, finds greater collaboration improves student achievement and decreases teacher turnover, even in high poverty school districts.
The research caught the attention of Metuchen School District Superintendent Vince Caputo in 2014.
“Dr. Rubinstein had us at hello,” Caputo said. “Four years ago, when he shared his data that union-management collaboration had a positive, statistically-significant impact on Math and English Language Arts achievement, we were more than intrigued.”
Inspired by the findings, Metuchen created district-wide committees, revamped its Instructional Council, and established School Leadership Teams – known as SLT’s – at each school.
The result? “A-ha moments” and success stories, Caputo said.
Administrators gained a deeper understanding of what their teachers need to be successful, and they imported concrete ideas from the various committees and SLT’s.
For instance, Metuchen embraced 1:1 devices and Google Classroom on the advice of the newly created Technology Committee, and shifted funding from white boards to Chromebook Carts at the high school on the recommendation of the Budget Committee.
A new student behavior model arrived via the Campbell Elementary School SLT. Advisory program changes came from the Edgar Middle School SLT. Parent conferences are more convenient these days, courtesy of the Metuchen High School SLT.
“The board, administration, and the teachers remain steadfast in our commitment to collaborate with the common goal of improving student achievement,” Caputo said.
“A Leading Role”
Thirteen pilot districts across New Jersey are now implementing the new collaborative leadership model. Collectively, those districts comprise 59 schools serving more than 35,000 students.
In addition to Metuchen, Bergen County Special Services, Bordentown, Delran, Haledon, Lower Cape May Regional, Manchester, Montgomery, New Brunswick, North Brunswick, Ocean City, Pompton Lakes, and Teaneck Community Charter are embracing the new model.
The Collaborative hopes to reach 10 percent of schools in the Garden State in the coming years.
“In New Jersey, we hope that we can play a leading role in a national movement for collaborative school reform that demonstrates that teachers, administrators, school boards, unions, parents, and communities can work together and continuously improve the quality of education,” Professor Rubinstein said at the conference Tuesday.
To Governor Murphy, who called Rutgers “one of the rockingest institutions of higher education in the United States,” it sounds like blueprint for success. Noting Rubinstein’s research, he said collaborative leadership in schools can help New Jersey to become more competitive nationally.
“Schools work best when educators, administrators, and school boards all work together,” Governor Murphy said. “I am excited that Rutgers is helping to facilitate these conversations.”