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Christie, Engravalle Appear on ‘Morning Joe’ Live from Fort Lee High School

The show, which was broadcast from the high school gym, focused on education reform.

was in the national spotlight Friday, when MSNBC broadcast its morning shows, Way Too Early and Morning Joe, live from the high school gymnasium.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was one of the featured guests, along with Rev. Al Sharpton, Howard Dean, Michelle Rhee and many others on a show with a special focus on education reform.

Fort Lee Interim Superintendent of Schools Steven Engravalle was the main subject of a pre-recorded piece that aired on both shows, and he also joined Christie, Newark Superintendent of Schools Cami Anderson and Morning Joe hosts Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski and Willie Geist, in a live segment.

Sporting his now trademark Superman socks, which he proudly showed off when asked to do so, Engravalle talked about how Fort Lee schools have improved in the past couple of years.

“I’ve got a tremendous staff,” Engravalle said. “The majority of teachers are tremendous; we’re very, very lucky.”

Attributing Fort Lee’s recent successes in education to “a change of culture,” Engravalle said, “It’s a change of supporting only the superstars and the rock star teachers.”

“Instead of spending the majority of our time on that 5 percent that are the problems, spend your time supporting that 95 percent,” he said. “That’s really what we did.”

Asked by Geist how his experiences as a teacher have informed the way he approaches his role as a superintendent, Engravalle said, “I’m still a teacher.”

“I never wanted to be a superintendent of schools,” he said. “I wanted to be a teacher, and I wanted to be a coach. I stayed late. I came in early. I worked hard for kids.”

Also making a cameo appearance on the morning show in a brief interview with Geist was Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, who talked about how the high school has “grown” since he graduated in 1981.

“[Engravalle’s] got tremendous energy,” Sokolich said. “We have a very energetic board as well. And I’m on the record as saying, look, if you want to guarantee a good, strong community, you need good, strong schools. The reverse of that is if you don’t have a good district, you’re going to have a weak community, and we want to set the pace here in Bergen County.”

Sokolich said the “biggest change” in local education over the last few years is that “teachers have become a lot more unified.”

“Working together, communicating to the district, communicating with the board, communicating with the students, and it’s been a unified effort, which is important,” Sokolich said.

Other guests on Morning Joe included Mike Barnicle, Harold Ford Jr., Jon Meacham, Randi Weingarten, Gov. Jack Markell, D-Del. and Gov. Dannel Malloy, D-Conn.

But it was the governor of New Jersey who stole the show in the high school gym, railing against teachers’ unions but praising teachers, and touting the increased state aid to schools in his recently unveiled budget.

Christie said teachers deserve a union that is “as good as” they are, and said he’d like to be able to pay top-performing teachers more for “excellence.”

“I’d like to make sure that we don’t guarantee somebody a job after three years and one day even if they’re not performing,” the governor said. “I want you to be held accountable.”

Noting that New Jersey spends more per pupil “than any state in America,” averaging $17,700 per student statewide and in excess of $24,000 in schools in some of the state’s bigger cities, Christie said, “We want accountability in return for that.”

“I want to pay the better teacher more,” he said. “But I also want the liberty to have superintendents like the one you met [Engravalle] and principals to be able to say when a teacher’s not performing we have an objective review process to go through that. And if they don’t improve, and they’re not performing, then they need to go.”

He added, “We shouldn’t be paying people just to occupy space, which in some schools in New Jersey we’re doing.”

The governor also said that teachers’ performance should be evaluated based on improvement and “not a raw score.”

“That’s a fair measure, no matter what child you’re dealing with,” he said. “What every parent wants every year, even for kids who have developmental disabilities [or] other challenges, all they want to see is that their kid reached their maximum potential—improve.”

Asked where he “found the money” to ramp-up education funding for the state, Christie said, “By cutting spending in other places.”

He highlighted his budget, which he said would increase K-12 spending by $213 million.

“It’s now at an all-time high in New Jersey history—$8.8 billion in state aid to K-12 education,” Christie said.

On the subject of successes in education reform, the governor said he hopes the best is yet to come.

“I pray I haven’t had my greatest success yet because we haven’t done enough—nearly enough—yet,” he said. “And I’ve had a lot of resistance. The last two years have been about fights—about fights to try to get people in New Jersey awake to the idea that it is immoral to spend $24,000 per pupil per year in Newark and have kids graduating at a stunningly low rate.”

He also said people in Fort Lee should care about what’s going on in Newark because their tax dollars help pay for education there.

“Ninety-plus percent of the funding that goes to Newark comes from the state income tax,” Christie said.

The show, which producers previously touted as a “special town hall meeting,” did include a roughly 15-minute segment during which Christie, Rhee and Sharpton fielded a total of five questions from members of the by-invitation-only audience.

A 15-year-old girl named Adrienne went off topic, asking the governor why he recently vetoed a bill on gay marriage that was approved by both the state Assembly and Senate.

Christie acknowledged that people in New Jersey have “very different opinions about that,” but said he believes marriage should be “between one man and one woman.”

“So what I’ve said to folks is, after vetoing the bill, let’s put it on the ballot,” Christie said. “If the majority of people in New Jersey want to have same-sex marriage, then vote for it, and I’ll be governed by it. But I don’t think that’s a decision that should be made by 121 people in Trenton alone. It’s a major change in the way we’ve governed our society.”

To view video clips from Friday morning’s broadcast from Fort Lee High School, visit the Morning Joe website.

Alan Reeder March 07, 2012 at 04:23 PM
If my "thinking is largely emotional" I would like you to point out where and how so. And please do it without the excessive punctuation. I imagine you think your salary and benefits would be better were there no union collectively bargaining on your behalf. I suggest you test that theory by selling your "skill set" on the open market. There are charter schools, preps and parochials all over the state looking for teachers who can make unemotional, "fact based connections." Go for it.
Alan Reeder March 07, 2012 at 04:27 PM
It would be helpful if you and Engrevalle could offer your specific insights on how to evaluate teachers. It seems you favor test scores. Is that all? Do test scores offer the best measure for teacher assessment, or would you recommend something else?
Deb Fein March 07, 2012 at 04:55 PM
The results of standardized tests are not conclusive for all If you are talking about the children, some are not good test takers. Others may not have slept well the night before or had a good breakfast which plays into test performance. As an educator myself, for both teachers and students, the results of standardized tests should be balanced with other formative and summative assessments throughout the school year. Also, there is something such as teacher observation, both planned and unplanned in advance by the Principal! How many letters does the teacher have in her file showing appreciation for teachers efforts or not?
William Mays March 07, 2012 at 10:52 PM
Thats the problem Alan, the union doesn't want to bargain at all. When they refuse to bargain, do you know what happens? More layoffs than if they had bargained. So pretty much the kids lose in the end since the crappy tenured teachers get to stay, and the young ones get laid off.
Ava March 10, 2012 at 06:44 AM
I don't know why teachers are getting such a bad rap. We teach your children, worry about their well being, deal with emotional issues, family problems, teaching new and creative lessons, trying to use technology in the classroom (even though rarely works), and many other things but yet we don't deserve our benefits. Tenure doesn't mean you cannot get fired, it just means that the administrators have to prove that the teacher is ineffective. If you want to know who is an effective teacher and who isn't ask your kids, if they say a teacher doesn't teach then call your best friend Engravalle and have him observe the teacher. While the unions are crazy at times, their heart is in the right place. They support the teachers and staff, if their is proof that a teacher is ineffective then get rid of them, its not impossible. Go ahead, get rid of tenure, it won't affect the good teachers. The problem is when an administrator has a friend or relative that needs a job it is going to be your good teacher that goes. I'm sure Engravelle is great but he has yet to show it. He has been here for 2 years and is taking credit for everything. If he wanted to be a teacher he would still be in the classroom. Someone that is a teacher for 3 years does not consider themselves a teacher. First yr teachers need practice in order to grow, not by being an admin. People who go into admin usually want out of the classroom and more pay. They dont deal with the students like the teachers do.
Ava March 10, 2012 at 06:52 AM
I also don't understand how he can evaluate schools, students, and teachers without stepping foot in the classrooms or schools. How can he know how to make our schools better if he doesn't know what they are like to begin with? If he was present and then making these statements than it would be a different story. I am not saying administrators don't care for the kids because they do, but you cannot tell someone how to teach until you know the full story. You don't always have a classroom that is full of kids eager to learn but you try to peak their interest and keep them entertained for the entire day. It is an extremely hard job and people treat us like glorified babysitters that do nothing but whine. We are overpaid, lazy, heroes. Make up your minds!
Tracy March 10, 2012 at 01:52 PM
Ava, Rick- your judgments are based on a snapshot of the FL school system, snapshot of education and the expanded assumptions are tenuous and emotional. There is not one aspect of the show that explains the whole 'picture'. The superintendent is not a teacher's direct report, the administrators are. The Superintendent relies on them to do their jobs. Just as any other industry relies on the chain of command. I think you are disrespecting yourself as a teacher by trying to negate someone's belief that they remain a teacher. I will also challenge the fact that only teachers who want out of the classroom (that is just silly) and want more money go into administration. They want more, yes, but they want more so they have more influence over a greater number of children. And if they want out- then there a many other industries available, just like any other job. There is one difference I have never been able to wrap my head around, education is the ONLY profession that will dare to publicly insult, and challenge their bosses, without fear of consequence and a sense of entitlement that is misplaced and misused. Good teachers teach, they teach well in the worst circumstances and teach for the love of teaching.....its rewards are greater than its challenges. The focus should be education and getting the best out of our kids.....get the schools back on track....
Tracy March 10, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Alan-- I have never heard any of the forums state that tests are the best measure of a teacher's ability to be successful. However, it the only objective measure we have right now. Do I think it should be 30% of the 'grade' so to speak, yes, becasue what matters, as you know is the other 70%. That other is where true learning occurs and that is where we get the kids ready to be tested..... What the teachers should be asking is what kind of support are we going to get to be able to do this? Where is the curriculum, where are the supplies etc....not fight so much against the current, its exhausting and you deserve more support than what is here!
Tracy March 10, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Alan, You are too defensive, too ready for the offense zingers, hence emotional. The March 3rd post, and any sentences that tells people what they think and why they think it......emotion. Nonetheless, you have some points that are valid but lost in a sea of turbulent emotion. Why isn't the union campaigning to raise the status and public value of the teaching profession? Yes, you are teaching our children, we love our teachers but then that union comes across with drama that undermines the greatness of teachers. Perhaps a better marketing campaign to promote rather than highlight a fight with change would be better.
Fortleehudsonliving March 10, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Tracy, What is your opinion about an administrator calling a former education supervisor a "Bozo" on national TV? Is that disrespectful? Does Fort Lee deserve better?
Alan Reeder March 10, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Tracy, I'm beginning to understand now. The issue for you is respect for authority. It bothers you that the NJEA runs ads that antagonize the Governor. It also upsets you that public school teachers, because they have the due process protections of tenure and contracts, are able to "challenge their bosses, without fear of consequence..." This presupposes that anyone who has power should be respected by those who have less power and to not do so derives from a sense of "entitlement." What you are suggesting is that teachers, with years of knowledge and experience should follow the chain of command and not challenge anyone who has been granted title and authority greater than their own. I couln't disagree more. I believe in a workplace where the professional knowledge of experienced teachers is seen as a resource for collaboration and cooperation. A blind loyalty to power and the corporate chain of command is essentially hostile to that notion and therefore incompatible. We really don't need to discuss this further as it would be impossible for me to reconcile my democratic view with your authoritarian one.
William Mays March 10, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Maybe he was a bozo. Its funny when people want honesty out of a person and when they get it, they complain.
William Mays March 10, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Experience means nothing Alan, experienced teachers could be just as bad as inexperienced ones, but the difference is that it takes longer to get rid of them. I was reading some article on a teacher in NYC that assaulted a student and she was put into a administrative position for 6 months until they can fire her.
Alan Reeder March 10, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Billy Mays, Would you prefer a surgeon two years out of med school or a surgeon with ten years experience and 100 similar surgeries under her belt?
Deb Fein March 10, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Tracy: Amen to your first comment of today!
Deb Fein March 10, 2012 at 07:50 PM
Rick: If you'd like a parent's point of view, the improvement at Fort Lee High School, both test scores and other increases in knowledge, are more a reflection of Mrs. Church's influence than anyone else's.
William Mays March 10, 2012 at 08:01 PM
A teacher isn't a surgeon.
Tracy March 11, 2012 at 01:30 AM
Alan,Emotional thought is your thing huh? I don't mind it, everything has its value, I have made it very clear that I think the union should spend money elsewhere. I will expand the thought for you, they need to spend money elsewhere and not pour more gas on a already out of control fire, it looks poor and alienates much of the private sector workers. No I do not think representatives from the unions should be coming to BOE mtgs, running their agenda about politics. No where can you get away with talking to your bosses in that manner. I would like the union to campaign for what teachers need, if that is done, it can undermine and weaken some of the political turmoil. I am talking about a different level of strategy that what you are, perhaps that is where we differ so greatly. Antagonizing the opponent just makes for a greater fight----they need to be smarter than the opponent, strategic answers, not muck. Why do you bring up teachers, teaching practices into the union business? Teachers are where its good, the union, its leaders are in a fight with the governor. Oh please if you know what I do around town, you would know I am about the greater good and always getting myself in trouble with people who are of authority. My only blind loyalty is to the the children of Ft Lee...Do you understand that both my husband and I are educators? I am a second career, my husband a teacher turned administrator.How can a person be authoritarian and have issue for respect for authority?
Tracy March 11, 2012 at 01:33 AM
I did tell him what I thought. What I think is we need a straight shooter, no nonsense, willing to go out on a limb to get what we need and make change leader......not a union guy, not a charming suit.
Tracy March 11, 2012 at 01:40 AM
Can that be any worse of an analogy Alan? I had three low spine surgeries, first with a Doctor had 20 years experience, the next with ten and the third with three........I can walk today because of that (by your terms) 'inexperienced' doctor understood the spine and the new methodologies. You should never discount youth to mean incompetence----sometimes they see how situations are different in the current world..........
Alan Reeder March 11, 2012 at 04:32 AM
Tracy, Sorry about your back, and I am glad to hear you can walk today. Any chance those surgeries were paid for with health benefits collectively bargained by the teacher's union?
Deb Fein March 11, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Alan: That's a really low blow to Tracy. Have you worked at a job without benefits? I can tell you from personal experience its a horror, and the employees help to pay for those benefits as well.
Tracy March 11, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Alan, no, car accident insurance.....
Tracy March 11, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Thanks Deb. No need to worry about Alan, he is just a non-Fort Lee resident frustrated union rep....if he understood that life does exist outside of his world, he would not ask such nonsense. It was paid for by car accident insurance.....eish.....maybe that is where he should use his talents---- go fix that industry ;)
Alan Reeder March 11, 2012 at 05:39 PM
How is it a low blow? I have been called "emotional" without any textual evidence to support this assertion and chose to ignore it. I expressed my sypathy and well-wishes after Tracy raised the issue of her multiple surgeries. I have read numerous attacks on the teacher's union and thus it is absolutely relevant to inquire as to whether those medical bills were covered by her union negotiated benefits. When you reduce the role of unions to some abstract evil it is the obligation of those who know otherwise to point out these inconsistencies.
Alan Reeder March 11, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Billy, It is true that teacher isn't a surgeon but a teacher is a professional. As in any profession there are skills that develop with experience. If the surgeon example doesn't work for you how about a contractor? Lawyer? Plumber? Personal trainer? Home health aid? Or do you think teaching is unskilled labor? The point being that if we remove tenure and seniority in this difficult economic climate, why wouldn't a district lay off every teacher that is at the top of the pay scale? Older teachers cost more in health benefits as well, would it not be tempting to cut them loose for that reason also? To suggest that experience is meaningless defies all logic, evidence, and experience.
Deb Fein March 11, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Alan: It is a low blow because if Tracy is a teacher she helps to pay in for those health benefits. This is the same as an employer paying a percentage and the employee the rest. Those of us without insurance have suffered tremendously. How would you like paying off three emergency rooms as my husband and I are doing? It's not a pretty picture.
Tracy March 11, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Alan- you have created the attacks....have you read your own words? ugh! Go back to your own town, we will take care of our Ft Lee teachers, they don't need the likes of you representing them! Out for now, can't take the banter any longer!
Alan Reeder March 11, 2012 at 07:50 PM
I agree, it isn't a pretty picture but Is your lack of health insurance somehow my fault? I have been a lifelong supporter of single payer nationalized health insurance. Have you? Employers are not obliged to provide benefits and up to this point neither is the government. Those who have benefits more often than not are union. Why is that? It is because they used their organized collective bargaining power to negotiate benefits. I am sorry you don't share in these benefits and I will continue to support any political party or candidate that promotes the extension of these benefits or Medicare for all. I am also willing to pay higher income taxes in order to help folks like you get coverage. What I will not support is continued subsidies to unregulated, for-profit health insurance companies that parasitically skim profits and cut coverage and ration quality care. Where do you stand? Where does Christie stand? Where does your anti-union Superintendent stand?
Deb Fein March 11, 2012 at 08:40 PM
Alan. alan: you are using this column as some kind of platform to espouse your views. However, do you have health insurance on your job? it should be a right to all, and yes, i was in favor of a single payer option. employers do not have to give it, but its ironic in a lazy economy that bosses get all the profits and employees have to be happy just to have a job. They are preyed upon. The End.

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