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Perth Amboy Superintendent Vows to Stay Despite Board Opposition

7-10-12

An ongoing battle is happening in the Perth Amboy school system with some school board members wanting Superintendent Janine Caffrey gone and silenced. Last year, members of the board voted twice to put Caffrey on administrative leave and negotiate a settlement for the end of her contract but Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf overturned the decisions. This month, the school board failed to pass a resolution that would keep Caffrey from making public statements about the board. Caffrey told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that some school board members are trying to block educational progress and are upset that she put an end to a practice of them hiring their friends.

While the controversy rages on, Caffrey said she has been effectively doing her job. “The wonderful thing about Perth Amboy is that almost everybody who works for the school district wants educational improvement,” she said. “It’s just a handful of board members who are trying to block educational progress.”

Caffrey said Perth Amboy receives $180 million per year in state aid, which is meant to help raise children out of poverty through education. While she said three school board members; almost all of the district’s administrators, teachers and staff; the city mayor; and city government want that to occur, the others are causing problems.

“There are six board members who are more concerned about their own self interest than they are about educational progress and so their plans to make kind of a public works program out of the school district, which is one of the largest employers, take precedence over educational improvement,” Caffrey said. “I’ve essentially stopped them from giving their jobs to their friends and that’s the problem.”

The board members have said Caffrey’s allegations aren’t true and she has spoken to the media without authorization. Caffrey said part of her job is to tell the story of what’s happening in the district. “I’m supposed to tell the good news, the bad news and anything that influences how well our children are educated,” she said.

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In Perth Amboy, the graduation rate for seniors according to the state is 83 percent, but Caffrey said she believes the figure is closer to 72 percent because of the changes to graduation calculations.

Last year, Caffrey said 38 percent of high school students were suspended because it became the only form of discipline, not because the students were exhibiting major behavioral problems. “If you come and visit — and I’d love for you to come visit Perth Amboy High School — you will see a focused, wonderful learning environment,” she said. “We have some of the most respectful children.”

Caffrey said she will stay in Perth Amboy through the end of her contract and won’t shy away from conducting interviews to share news about the district.

“My job is to tell the story. We should be shouting from the rooftops. Seventy percent of our fifth- and seventh-graders last year were not proficient in reading. Forty percent of students entering high school were reading at an elementary school level. Ninety percent of our kids who took algebra failed the end of course examination,” Caffrey said. “We need to be screaming from the rooftops to demand the kind of education our children deserve.”