The New Jersey Educational Leadership Summit at Rider focused on effective evaluation for the state’s teachers and principals in a dialogue that could not have been timelier.
Sean Ramsden
Former N.J. Commissioner of Education Bill Librera fields a question at the New Jersey Education Leadership Summit on January 14

Former N.J. Commissioner of Education Bill Librera fields a question at the New Jersey Education Leadership Summit on January 14

Accountability and effective leadership in public schools have become a hot-button topic in New Jersey. With increased attention being placed on the educational system by a revenue-starved state government and its struggling taxpayers, there is a movement within education to ensure that quality leadership is paving the way for efficient and effective learning.

Research clearly shows that the role of school leadership is second only to teaching in its impact on student performance, and Rider University has stepped to the fore of the effort not only to train tomorrow’s teachers, but to craft effective measures of evaluating teacher and principal performance.

These topics and more were the focus of the inaugural New Jersey Educational Leadership Summit on Friday, January 14, on Rider’s Lawrenceville campus. Co-sponsored by the New Jersey Affiliate for the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration and the New Jersey Department of Education, this landmark conference drew more than 150 top education officials from across the state to hear a panel of nationally renowned experts discuss dynamic leadership, methods of evaluation, and engendering a sense of ownership in the educational process.

“The Educational Leadership Summit could not have been more timely. Teacher effectiveness is at the forefront in education in New Jersey and across the nation,” said Dr. Sharon Sherman, dean of Rider’s School of Education. “Just last month, the New Jersey Senate Education Committee held hearings regarding teacher tenure, and they heard from representatives of all segments of the education community. The information at our summit informed this discussion and expanded the conversation.”

The summit, entitled Effective School Leaders: Developing Human Capital to Improve Teacher and Student Performance, began with remarks from Rochelle Hendricks, acting New Jersey Commissioner of Education.

“Our focus today is on human capital – on us, and our students,” Hendricks said. “We matter, because what we believe we can do will define us.”

Charlotte Danielson, a national educational consultant and author of Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching, said that defining effective teaching is a noble goal, but evaluation criteria remains nebulous and subjective.

“What is the evidence, and how do you attribute it?” Danielson asked, rhetorically. “We have a sense of inquiry as educators, but the evaluation models, as we see them, are inadequate.”

Danielson said that educators face certain cultural roadblocks in promoting the value of education among their students.

“At some schools, it simply isn’t cool to be smart or to work hard,” she explained. “If we can’t have a culture of learning in a school, well, then, where can we have it?”

To illustrate her point abut misguided priorities, Danielson pointed to a school that featured a framed photo, placed prominently in its library, of the school’s athlete of the month. “Now, I certainly take no issue with athletics, but where is the poet of the month? Where is the mathematician of the month? They could even hang those pictures in the gym,” she quipped, though with purpose.

In spite of the inherent difficulties, however, Danielson said that district superintendents, through the work of site administrators, have an obligation to be able to state to their boards and communities that ‘everyone who teaches here is good, and here’s how we know,’” she explained. “That is, they have a duty to ensure teacher quality. But in addition to ensuring quality, a well-designed system of teacher evaluation can also serve as a learning experience for teachers, as they engage in meaningful professional conversation with their supervisors.”

Lew Smith, director of the National Principals Leadership Institute and a professor of Education at Fordham University, compared leadership styles, highlighting various forms of dynamism and persuasiveness, as witnessed through Mahatma Gandhi, Queen Elizabeth I, Gen. George S. Patton and Malcolm X. He said that while there are objectively effective leadership traits, the path to your goals will not necessarily present a straight line.

“Change is about human dynamics, but the process is not linear,” said Smith, showing a slide of a knotted arrow. “There are ups and downs, and it will come in bits and pieces.”

Rider was a natural choice to host summit focused on performance evaluation, according to Sherman, as its School of Education has already implemented a performance-based assessment system to evaluate students studying to be teachers and administrators.

“This is the type of system that all teachers and administrators working with children in preschool through Grade 12 could use to assess their own performance, and it can also be linked to student achievement,” she explained. “Bringing together both the P-12 and university communities with New Jersey Department of Education officials at Rider University is the first step in designing a seamless system.”

Also at Rider to address the expectations for school leaders in this era of accountability were William Librera, former New Jersey commissioner of Education and current professor and executive director for the Rutgers Institute to Improve Student Achievement; James Lytle, professor of practice at the University of Pennsylvania; Margaret Terry Orr, professor and director of the Future School Leaders Academy, Bank Street College; and Larry Leverett, executive director of the Panasonic Foundation.

“This was a terrific opportunity to collaborate with all stakeholders, including higher education, K-12 and experts from the field on issues of extreme importance for our education system here in New Jersey,” said Dr. Leonard Goduto, treasurer of the New Jersey chapter of the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration and director of the Educational Leadership Program at Rider.