The needler in the haystack.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Schools, again: Must Gallon go?




Has Dr. Gallon touched the Third Rail?


Plainfield Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon came under direct attack from the Courier Sunday, which demanded in its editorial that he be sacked by the Board of Ed (see here).

In a separate item, associate editor and columnist Jay Jefferson Cooke took on a complaint by Plainfield BOE president Lenny Cathcart that the Courier was publishing information '...designed to cast a negative light upon the district' (see here).

With all these sparks, has the Third Rail been touched?

The controversy was sparked by revelations that two administrators,
'Jane Doe 1' and 'Jane Doe 2', were not certified at the time for the positions (and salaries) to which they were appointed in July 2008 after Dr. Gallon had assumed leadership of the District.

The information appears to have been leaked and led both to intensive coverage by the Courier as well as a ruling by County Superintendent of Schools Carmen Centuolo that the contracts for
'Jane Doe 1' and 'Jane Doe 2' should be rescinded.

Just about everyone with a soapbox has since chimed in, including moi (here and here), Maria Pellum (who pays special attention to the school district -- see here), Bernice Paglia (here), Dr. Yood (here) and Renata Hernandez (former president of PEP -- see here).

Dr. Gallon's difficulties are somewhat of his own making, to be sure. The rules of crisis communications are to IMMEDIATELY get out ahead of the story, address critical concerns demanding attention, put out all the facts necessary, and outline points to resolve the situation and move forward. On every single one of these, Dr. Gallon could have done better.

While it is true that personnel matters are confidential (not only in the schools, but in government in general), this does NOT mean that communications about personnel issues are stymied altogether.

Personnel QUALIFICATIONS, CERTIFICATIONS, SALARY and NAME are matters of public record. Just like other public records, they can be accessed by ASKING FOR THEM, using the OPRA process. Officials are not required to abrogate privacy concerns with regard to personnel issues.

Much of the distraction here could have been mitigated, I believe, if Dr. Gallon had laid out a simple, direct, unemotional OVERVIEW of the certification process immediately and not in dribs and drabs.

No one who comes from another state to New Jersey's schools will have the needed certification simply upon arriving. Turns out that one must APPLY for certification, and then wait for a review by the state's educational bureacracy. These bureaucrats can deem an individual ELIGIBLE for the certification or NOT, as the case may be. But even if deemed Eligible, an applicant is not home free. One waits for a TEMPORARY CERTIFICATION, which may require further steps to be taken (exams, mentoring) before a PERMANENT CERTIFICATION is issued. Since this is a New Jersey bureaucracy, I hardly need remind readers that the process will take time. Lots of time.

Coming up short at any point in the process DOES NOT MEAN that one is NOT GOING TO BE CERTIFIED. Rather, it means that in the bureaucratic game of chutes-and-ladders, more must be done.

I understand that
'Jane Doe 1' and 'Jane Doe 2' now have been certified. You could use OPRA to verify that.

If an OVERVIEW had been put forward of all the steps and stutters in the process at once, and Dr. Gallon had referred folks to where in that process things stood, or how to get the information they wanted, his life could have been much simpler.

What has me stymied is why
'Jane Doe 1' and 'Jane Doe 2' were put forward for high-level administrative slots instead of the less objectionable 'coordinator' positions in the first place, with the understanding that once certified, Dr. Gallon would want the Board of Ed to approve higher titles for them, with the commensurate (and then proper) salaries.

The machinations at the November 17 meeting, where a walk-on item resulted in the rescission of
the contracts of 'Jane Doe 1' and 'Jane Doe 2' and their subsequently immediate rehiring (minus ONE board member's vote) as 'Coordinators' at considerably lower salaries, left a bad taste in everyone's mouth.

There is just not enough lipstick to make this pig look like anything but an embarrassing volte-face. But is this sufficient to demand Gallon's head?

Sunday's Courier editorial (here) is a point-by-point bill of particulars, topped off as the Courier sees it, by Gallon's memorandum of last week warning employees about conduct (see here, PDF).

While the Courier's citations are FACTUAL, I do not think they are BALANCED. There is no on'-the-one-hand' and 'on-the-other-hand' that one expects of journalists. And the story about one of the Jane Does' scrape with the law is not relevant to her qualifications or certification. Nor does it play well in Plainfield, where some well-respected members of the community have lived down youthful lapses, and the community as a whole is supportive of 'second chances'. It certainly makes the Courier look less than 'objective'.

To be fair, Dr. Gallon has made a number of good moves since coming to the District: site inspections, trying to cut the Gordian knot of the middle school, establishing a new arts-and-technology-driven, competitve-entry school within the system, to name a few.

The Courier editorial comes off too much like the Red Queen demanding 'Off with their heads!'

Then there is the matter of Jay Jefferson Cooke's column taking on BOE president Lenny Cathcart's criticism of the Courier (see here). While he does list ten 'GOOD NEWS' stories about the District from 2009, if I were Dr. Gallon I would not draw much comfort from the list.

Eight of the ten are really about INDIVIDUAL ACHIEVEMENTS (one is actually a class activity). One of the ten is of the district-wide achievement of having been taken off the 'persistently dangerous' list by the state, and the other is on the establishment of the new school mentioned above.

That there were not more stories reflecting district-wide initiatives, struggles and achievements point to something lacking in the District's communications strategy. Dr. Gallon and his staff would be well-advised to take up the Courier's managing editor, Paul Grzella, on the opportunity to post its own items directly to the Courier's online edition.

[ASIDE: If the Courier is ever invited to participate in a charity fundraiser, it probably could generate loads of cash for the designated charity by persuading Cooke to be a sport and sit on the seat in the booth where you throw balls at a lever that, when hit, dunks the volunteer in a tank of water.]

One of the reasons editorial writers' advice is so seldom followed is that it often lacks the depth of understanding of those intimately involved in the situation being prescribed for.

As plenty of folks may be asking: 'If Gallon goes, what then?'

What then, indeed.

Plainfield has experience of having to buy out a Superintendent's contract. It cost a lot. Plus there is no guarantee there is anyone out there who will do better than the Superintendent already in place.

So, if Gallon is not to be ousted, what is to be done?

There are things that both Dr. Gallon and the Board of Ed can do that will help the community to move forward.

Dr. Gallon can be charming and loquacious. What the District needs at this point, though, is simple, direct, unemotional communications concerning the District and its initiatives.

It would be well for Dr. Gallon to entrust someone to blue-pencil his statements to help separate the strands of fact and feeling in his communications. This could have the advantage of making Dr. Gallon appear less defensive, which he needs to do. (This is not a put-down, everyone from Obama to my old boss Mayor McWilliams, gets someone to 'look over their shoulder'.)

Secondly, he must have a pro-active communications strategy. If much of the heat and smoke developed around this certifications issue has to do with a guerrilla war waged by one of the unions as part of its negotiations strategy, Gallon has been outfoxed. To date. But he can fix that.

Besides a better communications strategy, Dr. Gallon should relentlessly pursue the one piece of good luck he has gotten out of this whole mess -- the question of PERSONNEL and CERTIFICATIONS ACROSS THE BOARD.

As Maria Pellum wrote on her blog Sunday (see here, ... and as others have commented on my posts) --
... If we are ready to judge Dr. Gallon for what some think it is the truth, then let's go and judge all those who have brought their "personal cabinet" to the table, from friends to relatives and from the top to the bottom, let's be fair and do examine one and each employee's background and see where they came from and with whom, and if they had, or have, the correct certifications and, please, let's make sure to check for title modifications on each and all employees, after all, this is one of the main complains we have. Let's also call for past administrators and past BOE members that have contributed to the many ills that have been affecting the school district. If we are not going to this, then, sorry, but we are holding double standards here and contributing to the ill state of the district for don't believe that everyone that works in the school district is doing what they were hired for, and this pre-dates Dr. Gallon.
Someone has pointed out that 'Jane Doe 1' and 'Jane Doe 2' were hardly the only ones performing jobs without certifications. Time to go after this mess, from top to bottom and let the chips fall where they may. (Hint: first publicly outline the process; then announce starting the review; and finally, let it be known findings have been presented and actions recommended to the Board.)

With an effective communications plan in place and the pursuit of a thorough review of certifications, Dr. Gallon would be poised to move ahead.

Can he get a handle on his propensity for gold-plating his language and demanding unconditional respect for his positions? Only he can answer that question, but more fact-based, direct and less emotionally vested language can dial back the heat, and be the key to his success.

Dr. Gallon should be aware that in Plainfield, no one's voice is regarded as coming from within a Burning Bush, and no one is prepared to remove their sandals in fear and awe.

As for the Board of Education, saddled as it is with the many demands of the state's educational bureaucracy, its own stupefying agendas, and the push-and-pull of parents, unions, politicians and taxpayers, it could certainly do worse than to adopt an attitude of CRITICAL SUPPORT of the Superintendent. Supportive yes, but with eyes wide open and challenging as necessary.

There are a lot of things to be done
to move Plainfield's educational enterprise forward, but throwing the baby out with the bath water is not among them.

For my money, Gallon stays.

For now.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Dan. Your comments and suggestions are thoughtful, well written and not at all condescending and demeaning. Others should take your lead.

Anonymous said...

Dan, Maybe you are right. Gallon could have played it differrently, but I must say he has NOT gotten a fair shake in all of this.

The guy was clearly sabotaged from within and once you start discussing the cerufucation issues for a few you are stuck with discussing them for all.

Yes, he could have posted the process but he said all along that the process was being implemented. He even discussed in detail the process using his own certification as the example. You know what some people sitting behind me still snickered in disbelief.

It comes down to the fact that some answers will NEVER satisfy some people.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Dan,

I have to disagree with you on this one. The Courier News covered the story about "Jane Doe's" run-in with the law for a very specific reason. Gallon knew about it, failed to let the Board know, and in doing so, misled the board and the community.

When applying for administrator's certification, the applicant must swear that they have (a) never been convicted of a crime (of which we are not sure) and (b) never had their license/certification suspended, here or in any other state. Now, if Jane Doe answered that she (a) wasn't convicted (I don't know for sure) and (b) she's never had her license suspended...that's fraud. Sorry, plain and simple. That is the major issue with Gallon.

He brought these two women in, paid them excessive amounts of money they were not qualified or certified for, and managed to keep them on even though they were unable to get the proper certifications necessary.

How the people of Plainfield are not enraged about this is beyond me. As a taxpayer, I can tell you that I am. If this continues in Plainfield, it just gives me more reason to sell my home.

Anonymous said...

See here's where I get frustrated He ONLY provide HISsss experience AFTER all the issues surfaced. He certainly could have provided that insight earlier on...

And people should never be SATISFIED with ANSWERs but rather THE TRUTH.

Anonymous said...

If the information about these women is a matter of public record, or available via an OPRA request, then name them already!

Anonymous said...

Sabotaged from within, please! Gallon would like for people to think that but the bottom line is the only administrators with certification issues were Jane Does 1 and 2.

He needs to go. Both Jane Does can stay but Gallon needs to go.

olddoc said...

You are right, personal matters must be confidential. However, and here Dr. Gallon is wrong, the BOE which must act on personnel issues must have complete access to all facts. The members of the BOE must be bound to keep confidentiality. If they can 't they should be expelled and perhaps subject to civil action.

Anonymous said...

9:59

I disagree with you. The state reviews this information and has issued both ladies a certificate. From what I read the girl was 18 and was not convicted. There was no certificate revoked. Get the facts straight. Gallon hasnt gotten a fair shake because of the misinformation that is being put out there. Dan I think you advice is good. I think the guy is good for Plainfield and maybe will learn from all of thisand move on to improve the district which he showed he is capable of doing.

Dan said...

@ 3:00 PM -- They have been named, previously in the Courier and also on PT.

Randy Schaeffer said...

Dan --

I was wondering what your thoughts were on the status of the Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs?

Also, is it true that there is an INS officer stationed within the Plainfield Police Department?

Thanks

Randy Schaeffer

Anonymous said...

How can he discuss his credentials but no one elses? If it is an issue of confidentiality across the board then why lower his standards and release his info?

Anonymous said...

The right of confidentiality is there to protect the privacy of the individual employee. If that employee wants to air their own information in front of the public, then that is their perogative. In fact, an employee that has been provided a "Rice notice" has the option of having of being present at the closed door meeting where they and their employment is being discussed. They also have the right to request that the discussion about them be held in a public meeting in front of the general public. Each individual employee has the right to divulge their own information or to have their information discussed out in the public. Dr. Gallon excersized his rights to divulge his own information. However, he has no right to discuss any other employee in public without their consent.

Anonymous said...

Olddoc,

I didnt get that the BOE didnthave access.What was discussed is that Gallon did not want to send personal information on employees home to BOE members. It was clear that they had access but Wilma Campbell said she did not have time to come in and review the records. In this age of identity theft and the like I can see why one wouldnot want to senda persons personal information out. That information shouldbe stored in a secured location.

9:34 ,

A persons discussion of their own information is not a break of confidentiality unless he plans to sue himself.I thought it was a good description and way to describe the process which I agree with Dan may rest with the state's bureacracy.

Anonymous said...

7:16 p.m.

I have gotten my facts straight. You right now have the spin that Gallon wants you to have. Whether or not she was convicted, I said I didn't know. What I do know what that her certification was revoked for two years for the incident. I know because I have the paperwork from Florida DOE.

As I said earlier, when applying she is asked if her license/certication was ever revoked and she stated "no" under oath...that's fraud. And Gallon knew about it...

Don't question my facts when I have them in black and white.

Anonymous said...

Dan,

Why do you rely on Maria (or her blog) as your source for information? You were a journalist and a journalist goes with the facts. I was very dismayed to read this piece today and see that instead of facts you went with the biased opinion of someone else.

I don't know what Maria is getting out of her devotion to Gallon, but she has lost all integrity in the community in my eyes.

Anonymous said...

"No one who comes from another state to New Jersey's schools will have the needed certification simply upon arriving. Turns out that one must APPLY for certification, and then wait for a review by the state's educational bureacracy. These bureaucrats can deem an individual ELIGIBLE for the certification or NOT, as the case may be. But even if deemed Eligible, an applicant is not home free. One waits for a TEMPORARY CERTIFICATION, which may require further steps to be taken (exams, mentoring) before a PERMANENT CERTIFICATION is issued. Since this is a New Jersey bureaucracy, I hardly need remind readers that the process will take time. Lots of time."

You make a good point...if you come in from out of state you need a CE, but these administrators couldn't and didn't even have their CE when they arrived. Instead, they took the jobs and went to school on our dime and attempted to get certified for the positions they were in. When they couldn't, that is when the contracts were rescinded and new positions were created. I think the way it was handled is what has people up in arms, and that is why Dr. Gallon has no credibility with the staff, administrators or community.

Anonymous said...

Dan,

I have to ask, do you have children in the school district or are you planning to in the near future? If not, then you are making a decision (saying Gallon shouldn't go, at least not yet) that will not effect you personally. That's unfair to the community.

Anonymous said...

Only in Plainfield...drip, drip, drip.

Anonymous said...

The City of Plainfield can ill afford more unflattering publicity like this. Gallon is an embarrassment and hired these two folks with the full knowledge that there were issues. Keeping Gallon employed with a slap on the wrist is not the answer. We need to send a clear message that this type of behavior is not acceptable. There are many other qualified educators out there so the notion of keeping him on as the least disruptive option is a cop out. We deserve better and the BOE should wake up.

Dan said...

Randy S -- I noted your comment. Since it is not germane to this discussion I'm not posting it here, but I am aware of rumors concerning ICE. Will post on this later.

Anonymous said...

Lets just all look the other way...God forbid we call things like they are, not as we want them to be, but just as they are...another sad state of affairs that is all too common here in good ol' Plainfield.

Anonymous said...

Me thinks Dan is positioning himself to be the new Communications Director for Gallon and the BOE. Why else suggest what he suggests? As we can see, positions can easily be created.

Anonymous said...

Let me add to the others that have voiced disappointment in this piece. No more free passes. The BOE needs to act now. Think of what this teaches our children about integrity, honesty, transparency, respect for the system and the list goes on...Plainfield schools might be off one list, but I can think of many other lists this incident places us on. And at what cost?

Anonymous said...

Get rid of the baby, bath water and the entire kitchen sink. We pay this man almost 200k for this nonsense.