Amid serious controversy surrounding outgoing Superintendent Marion Bolden, Gov. Jon Corzine appointed Clifford B. Janey as superintendent of New Jersey’s largest school district, Newark Public Schools, in June 2008. While new to the district, Janey is not new to the job. He contributed toward overall districtwide improvements over a decade as superintendent with Rochester, N.Y., and Washington, D.C., schools.
Based on the most recent student population data, provided by the district’s assistant director of community relations, Valerie Merritt, the district has grown to 42,000 students at 54 elementary, six middle, and 13 high schools. Janey places equal, if not added, emphasis on the 20 percent of special needs students. At the forefront of his agenda is the education of students with disabilities. “It is vital that we make certain that students with disabilities are welcomed along with receiving appropriate support and services,” he says.
In his first weeks, the superintendent secured programs, added additional programs to build up enrollment, ensured effective transportation, and disseminated accurate placement information for disabled students.
During the days leading up to the start of school, Janey established a Special Education Command Center in the Office of Educational Services. According to Newark schools’ chief of staff, Sadia White, the center was created to serve the 8,100 disabled students in the district. Special education personnel operate it from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., which ensures that high mobility families receive adequate notice of transportation and school placement assignments, reassignments, and the opening of new classes and programs. The center also relays timely information regarding enrollment of disabled students and provides parents with appropriate resolution to transportation and placement issues. During the center’s inaugural year, it received 616 calls, 98 percent of which were effectively resolved the same day.
Shawn Ferraro, an administrator in Newark Public School’s special education department, confirms Janey’s desire to embrace all students through existing programs that work. With regard to schools with poor and questionable performance, says Ferraro, Janey is wholly committed to the “replacement of underperforming schools with new schools fresh in ideas and free from failed experiments and pointless initiatives.” New and existing special needs programs for disabled students in all grade levels include programs for students diagnosed with auditory deficits or profound deafness and behavioral disorders.
The total communications program tracks the oral and signed progress of students experiencing any communications disability, from an auditory impairment to profound deafness. A further illustration of Janey’s efforts toward the progress of special needs students is a vocational training and culinary arts with computer-based training program for students with behavioral disorders. Both programs are staffed with highly qualified and specially trained special education teachers, behaviorists, psychologists and social workers. By the time these students reach high school, they are completely integrated with their regular education peers.
Commitment to Inclusion
Embracing inclusion for all students with disabilities, Janey maintains that “there is a great need to provide a network of social and academic support.” Even those students who receive instruction in a self-contained class due to the severity of their disabilities have daily exposure to their nondisabled peers through activities such as lunch, schoolwide assemblies, special event days, and field trips. “Gone are the days,” Janey says, “when our obligation to serve students with disabilities will be compromised by a business-as-usual approach to pressing issues.”
Christine James Ferlita is a freelance writer based in Jupiter, Fla.