Bill Gaudelli has embraced his inner egghead.
He can't help it, basically. Growing up in Millville, NJ, Gaudelli found that he was hopeless working summers for his dad's HVAC business. "I couldn't make duct work, I stepped through ceilings, hammered my knee," said Gaudelli. Fortunately, although his parents did not go to college, they valued education. Their support paid off when Gaudelli earned a scholarship to Rutgers where he concentrated on political science, history and education.
Now, Gaudelli has a Masters in Education and an EdD in Social Studies and Education. He's traveled the globe — most recently to Badal in the northwest corner of Punjab, India — where he's studied and piloted new educational practices through his work at Teachers College at Columbia University. Gaudelli lives in Maplewood with his wife who taught at Maplewood Middle School for 2-1/2 years and his son who is a 3rd grader at Tuscan.
Although he throws around words like "pedagogy" and "andragogy" with frightening abandon, Gaudelli says he knows how to roll up his sleeves and get down to work making practical applications of his educational ideals.
Patch sat down with Gaudelli and talked about a few of those ideals and applications and some major hot button topics in the school district.
About the Union Contract Negotiations
"It's obviously something that's undermining morale — both in the teachers and in the community. Parents are deeply concerned about their kids understanding" of the conflict, said Gaudelli. "The union feels it is bargaining in good faith and the board is not meeting it halfway and vice versa."
As a former teacher, Gaudelli has been through some rough union negotiation periods himself and remembers his experience of "work to rule" — performing only within the dictates of the contract and foregoing after-school activities — as "very difficult. I threw my heart and soul into teaching."
Although Gaudelli acknowledges that work to rule is very negatively viewed by the community, he said, "The vast majority are really dedicated teachers who are trying their best to do well by the students."
"The larger issue is that the nature of teaching is on the cusp of change." Gaudelli observed that once teaching was a civil service job with tenure, benefits and summers off. "For that you gave up the private sector money and entrepreneurship."
"But it's being recast. We are witnessing it. On the other side, teaching will be more market driven — there will be tighter scrutiny but the potential for entrepreneurship." Gaudelli says that teachers will be "seen as knowledge professionals."
Merit Pay and Tenure
That said, Gaudelli is not supportive of "any version" of merit pay. "It won't motivate teachers, except to cause them to teach to the test, or worse yet, teach the test. What are you testing?" he asked. Gaudelli said he found merit pay both "unfair and unethical." "I reject it on multiple grounds," said Gaudelli, who added that teachers "are not going to be motivated by an additional $1,000 a year."
Alternatively, Gaudelli believes teachers are motivated by the possibility of being able to do what they envisioned when they decided to go into teaching — really educating and engaging with kids. They can also be motivated by the possibilility of becoming leaders in their own learning communities, by developmental opportunities. "We need to create a ladder, create an expanding opportunity for teachers to become teachers of teachers."
Gaudelli said that the district "is starting to do this, but I want to push them." The incentive for teachers comes in paying them for their development and giving them grants. He said that there needs to be "more focus on building an intellectual community among teachers."
Tenure reform, meanwhile, is beyond the Board's control said Gaudelli. However, he does hope that, when tenure reform occurs, changes are made to due process "so as not to be so onerous for the district, but still ensure due process for the teachers."
As a Tuscan parent, we asked Gaudelli to comment on redistricting, a process he saw close up last year as about two dozen Tuscan students were ultimately redistricted to Clinton School.
"We were on the border," said Gaudelli. "We talked to our son. He was open to it. We have to ask our parents to be open." Gaudelli acknowledged that it's "trickier when you have more than one kid." Still, he said the district "can't afford to build so much extra space that redistricting is never necessary."
However, said Gaudelli, "the silver lining" is that the district carries only $38 million in debt (paying $3.3 million in debt service per budget year). "By October, 2017, we will have paid off more than $9 million and will be below $30 million. It's worth considering whether we can use that debt service capacity for a capital plan making permanent long-term fixes."
Gaudelli says that he was in favor of de-leveling (collapsing student tracks and putting students of varying levels of performance together) — "based on the evidence that we have." Gaudelli served on the Taskforce for Excellence and Equity that evaluated 7th grade Levels 3 and 4 before recommending de-leveling science, social studies and English Language Arts last spring.
Gaudelli said the Taskforce studied other districts that had de-leveled, but more importantly, met with and listened to the middle school teachers and parents and community members.
"The teachers supported it on the committee," said Gaudelli, although the math supervisor [Dr. Candice Beattys] was "very much opposed," so math was left out. Gaudelli said that the teachers said there was very little difference in the groups and "felt that it was not too onerous to teach a de-leveled classroom."
About complaints that there is a lack of rigor in district curriculum, Gaudelli said that that is a "legitimate critique — there's not enough rigor."
"Rigor is kids engaged in learning and inquiry, collaboration, not rote learning. Pushing boundaries in their learning."
But leveling isn't the answer for achieving more rigor, according to Gaudelli. "In the existing Level 4 classes, you still have teachers teaching to the 'middle' of the class, and many kids are bored and disengaged while others are not quite keeping up and are threatened with demotion to level three. Long-term, the solution is personalized competency-based education." Sounds high-fallutin' but in practical terms, it means "kids sitting around the classroom at stations, each with an educational plan." Gaudelli says teachers then advise and counsel the students on "anywhere, anytime online learning units," collaborative inquiries with peers, and "a lot of one-on-one with teachers."
This model, says Gaudelli, isn't just "teachers in front of the room." Also, it involves "engaging" students and "setting lifelong goals of learning. All of this isn't just theory. It is being tried and succeeding in many schools around the country, and in different ways, many educational settings around the world. And it's proven to work."
Gaudelli also stressed the need for continued professional development and support for individualized instruction to support de-leveling.
"When I decided to run for the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education, I didn't realize how much I would learn about our two towns in such a short time or how many wonderful, energetic people I would meet. It has been an exhausting but invigorating six weeks! I look forward more than ever to the work ahead if I am elected to the Board. I support the work of our current Superintendent Brian Osborne. I believe our district is on the right track, but at the same time there is much work left to be done to make ours a district where every child's needs are met, where every child is challenged to the full extent of his or her ability, one where children are fully prepared for life in our fast-paced, increasingly 'digital' 21st century.
"We need a district where every child excels on tests, but one which is a bit less focused on tests and a bit more focused on the actual learning that the tests are intended to measure. We need a district where all children look forward to school every day (it IS possible), where they are fully engaged and self-motivated learners. I firmly believe our district can close the achievement gap while meeting the needs of all students. There is evidence of this already, but we have a lot of work left to do!"
And by the way, Gaudelli says the definition of pedagogy is "how teachers engage children in light of how they learn," the same goes for andragogy, he said, "but this applies to adults."
Five candidates are vying for three seats on the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education. Each seat is for a three-year term on the nine-person Board. The candidates are incumbents Sandra Karriem and Andrea Wren-Hardin and challengers Marian Cutler, Bill Gaudelli and Jim LoStuto. Patch will be profiling all five candidates throughout the week of April 18, leading up to the election on Wednesday, April 27, 2011.