Let’s hear it for failure, bullying, underage drinking–and, of course, PARCC testing

BLOGJELLIGSome might believe the relentless testing regime plaguing public schools—but not the most prestigious private schools—will improve learning. Others have endorsed testing as a way of attacking veteran teachers who, of course, are frequently  blamed for failure but far less often credited with success.  Then there is a group—who knows the size?—who view testing as a kind of philosophical sorting out process, all but divinely mandated, that separates the saved from the doomed.  One of these, the superintendent of a major New Jersey school district, wrote these bizarre words in a note to his staff:

“I desperately hope my children are bullied at least once a year through their K-12 experience.”

The writer is Gerard Jellig, the superintendent of the South Brunswick schools.

This site afforded Jellig repeated opportunities to explain, not just his wish that his own children be bullied, but also the entirety of a note that, while clearly odd, probably goes a long way to explain the bureaucratic machismo behind a testing regime that, among other things, allows for children to be bullied by administrators and spied upon by foreign corporations using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media.

Jellig, however, refused to respond—despite his proclivity to engage students in Twitter dialogues, a habit he forbids teachers to embrace.

His wish that his own children—and he has children—are bullied is simply the outer fringe of a manic educator’s belief in the inherent rightness of anything done in the name of education “reform,” a word stolen from plain language and now used to justify the strangest of policies. Bullying fits the context that standardized testing—which always implies failure—is part of a cosmic judgment on the lives of children and their teachers.

He begins his note by conceding the PARCC tests are difficult—“not for the faint of heart” he says, not terribly originally.  But, so what?

“What’s wrong with hard? What’s wrong with some failure? Is adversity to be scrubbed from the adolescent experience altogether?”

Jellig, a former Army ranger and private school headmaster, is clearly on a roll now as he writes his note to staff. One can imagine his keystrokes becoming more frenetic as the spirit of a world of constant testing inflames his imagination.

Read and contemplate what follows:

“I often tell the BOE that the moment at which we stop seeing HIB transgressions is the moment we’ll know we’ve stopped teaching and stopped demanding. The moment our suspension rate hits 0 is the moment we stopped having a standard of decency. And the moment we stop assigning failing grades is the moment we stop having high expectations for our children. I want for our 9000 children, as well as my own, many opportunities to fall short, engage in a teachable moment with faculty/staff, reflect, and build towards something better. I desperately hope my children are bullied at least once a year through their K-1.2 experience, fail a few tests, and like their fallen father, sneak a Genesee Cream Ale under the basement steps in high school.” (Emphasis added).

 Failing children is a legitimate goal of education?

 The elimination of harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) is a bad thing?

Having your own children bullied once a year is a good thing? No—not just a good thing, but something “desperately” to be hoped for? Has he ever heard of the name Tyler Clemente?

Underage drinking on school grounds is acceptable behavior?

I wish Jellig had accepted my opportunity to explain what in the name of all that’s decent he meant by these words. I still hope he will respond now, weeks after I offered him the opportunity.

I’d also like to believe Jellig is an outlier—but I don’t. Given the number and prominence of those who defended indefensible corporate spying on children, I have little hope that the future of education belongs to those who work against failure and do, in fact, try to prevent bullying, intimidation, harassment—and underage drinking.

  1. Oh dear. This is the Superintendent of my local school district. Very disturbing.

    I come from a different educational world, the Middlesex County Vocational and Technical High Schools, where I taught for 38 years. Our goal there was always to encourage our students to succeed. Reading this I now better understand why some of my students who were from South Brunswick spoke ill of the schools’ attitude towards low-achieving students. They were often discarded, ignored and certainly not always encouraged.

    Vocational education gave them a chance to shine in skills they could master. Academic classes worked hard to reward them as well if they put in the effort. Those who failed State mandated tests were given good solid remediation and support.

    Sure, kids failed, but that was not our goal. Our goal was to get every student to succeed.

    And in all my years there, I certainly never heard any administrator support either bullying of any kind or drinking under the stairs.

  2. He’ll just be promoted by Christie to superintendent of Camden or Jersey City because as we know Christie condones and encourages that type of behaviour.

  3. There is not an endless supply of public school teachers. Good luck attracting and retaining good ones, South Brunswick!

  4. Obviously his kids have never actually been bullied. Mine has and I don’t wish that on anyones kids or the pain as parents my wife and I felt.

  5. “Then there is a group—who knows the size?—who view testing as a kind of philosophical sorting out process, all but divinely mandated, that separates the saved from the doomed.”

    The eugenics angle is getting more attention lately. Let the confessions continue.

    “‘like their fallen father'”

    I think you are on to something there with the “divinely mandated” idea.

    What an odd, twisted soul-baring. The BoE should excommunicate him. Let him contemplate his “standard of decency” without the distraction of all those children.

  6. Scary!!

  7. I have to say that the superintendent of the school district has no idea of what he is doing. I grew up in the South Brunswick school system and there were enough issues back then the children of today including my children should be getting a proper education where the teachers make the lesson plans and have a say in how the students perform. Teaching to the test and saying that kids should be bullied and drink when they are under age is not by any means a good life lesson or even a proper way of parenting or leading!!! There are more problems today then there have ever been I think that the superintendent of schools should look in the mirror and think about what he is saying.

  8. I’m glad Bob is feeling better and posting as per usual. Bravo.
    Gerard Jellig’s comments are more suited to some 1950s military academy not to a 21st century public school. There’s already enough suffering, angst and agita in life without adding to it with some misplaced Prussian or Spartan like military code of ethics. What works for the Navy Seals is definitely not appropriate for school kids.

  9. Sometimes we look for deep, profound meaning in the words of others. We may think that others say things so outlandish that perhaps there is some hidden truth to what they say….that perhaps we just can’t grasp the value of their words.

    However, more often than not they are just nuts. This guy is just nuts…

    1. Yes he is. He needs to resign. Signed, A Concerned South Brunswick Parent

  10. A lot of parents have a problem with this superintendent’s style and technique. He does try to come off like he wants to be more friends with the kids and be cool however it makes a lot of parents nervous. I know he has a Twitter account. I don’t think teaching a child disappointment by bullying is the proper technique to failure. Would he give them each a six pack to teach them about being drunk? Note to parents don’t think authority is above suspicion??? Did the district bother to do a background check on this man???

  11. Let’s hear it for Bob Braun’s recovery! You were missed.

    Would be interesting to know how Dr Jellig’s thinking evolved. In Dec 1, 2006 press release from The Summit Country Day School he was quoted: ” ‘The Summit has an outstanding reputation for strong college placement and character education. The facilities are second to none and include a magnificent chapel, state-of-the-art Lower School and seven athletic playing fields. As a parent of four young children I am a critical consumer of education and there is no where [sic] in the world where I would rather have my children’s values shaped, intellect developed, and interests supported than The Summit.'” No mention of failed tests, being bullied.

    1. That’s because your Superintendent is a master of quick changes. He will tell you what he thinks you want to hear. At Summit, he embraced all things Catholic. Now that he is in a public school, he has to move on to a new sales pitch. Slowly you will grow to understand what you have as an “educational leader.”

  12. […] a bizarre but true story, told by veteran education reporter Bob Braun about the superintendent of a Néw Jersey […]

  13. Perhaps he should release the ENTIRE email. If you read the whole email you may infer differently than just what’s listed here. Also, he NEVER said drinking on school grounds was ok.

    I am a product of South Brunswick Schools, my children are a product of the school and I work within the school. Maybe if you read the entire email you will see things differently.

    While I think he should have never put this in writing, I support what he is trying to say. Why do ALL the kids get trophies? What does that teach, that we are all winners? Not everyone wins, children need to learn to deal with adversity growing up so that at 25 they can handle themselves in the world. Do I wish my children to be bullied (both are adults now), no but they learned some very valuable lessons by being called names.

    I think that this blogger is inciting the parents of South Brunswick with part of the story.

    1. I think this blogger is informing a readership beyond S Brunswick of what a superintendent w. degrees from U Penn & Johns Hopkins is communicating to faculty. Dr Ravitch, with national readership, linked to Bob’s post.

      Am reflecting on how you think Dr Jellig should not have “put this in writing” yet you “support what he is trying to say.” Please elaborate.

      Your remark re trophies for all participants must tie in to the part of the e-mail message not quoted.

    2. We have read the emails. He is a moron and needs to be fired. Go watch past BOE meetings online. He insults everyone anytime be opens his mouth.

    3. I personally have read the entire email, I’ve actually read multiple emails form him. There are certain ways he could have communicated that better. I agree with what you are saying and I think most of us understand that. The scary part is that in his mind it was acceptable to say the things he did. He had no filter, what will he not have a filter for next time? And reading the full email probably would confuse people even more because he talks in circles and makes absolutely no sense in most of the emails he sends to staff.

      1. See my reply to FedUp129 which contains two entire emails from Mr. Jellig–with my commentary.

      2. The trophy comment I was making was that, I for one, do not feel that teaching that everyone is a winner is the correct way. Children need to learn how to deal with losing as well as winning otherwise when they get to the workforce they can’t deal.

        What I meant about putting it in writing was that what he said was stupid, I feel like I know what he was trying to say but the way he said it was just that, stupid. He should have never put it in writing as it is being interpreted harshly. I support the notion that the children need to build character.

      3. I agree….he talks in circles.

    4. While I resent the implication that I took Mr. Jellig’s remarks out of context–especially after asking him to explain the context–I am happy to provide the entire email, along with a second email in which he arrogates to himself the sole right of engaging in Twitter duels with his students. Concerned parents and other residents should be alarmed. Before presenting them, however, I would like to point out to FedUp129 the clear meaning of the sentence which he opens with the “desperate” hope–that’s HOPE–that three things occur: That his children–he has four–are bullied at least once a year during their school careers, that they fail tests, and that, like their father apparently did, they sneak off to a hidden place in a public high school to drink an alcoholic beverage in violation of laws governing underage drinking; the liability of adults, including parents, who permit underage drinking, and drinking in a public property (See NJSA 2C:33-17). I find it repulsive and worrying that an adult entrusted with the care of children both professionally and personally would “desperately hope”–in a public writing–that his children endure bullying on multiple occasions throughout their school careers. Yes, of course, as a father and a school administrator, he did, in fact, say drinking on school grounds was OK. How else could anyone possibly describe his “desperate hope” that his own underage children engage in underage drinking in a school–unless he thought it was OK?
      But here are the full texts of his emails to staff:
      February 11, 2015


      I hope this finds you all well, and hopefully we all find ourselves on the back half of winter with warmer days ahead. I’ll miss the snow as when it departs so too, I fear, will all the weather and traffic experts in our community whose sage advice I’ve come to count on. J

      So we find ourselves approaching the beginning of assessment season. This is not new, but obviously the era has changed, and with it the stakes. It’s disquieting, I know, and I assure you it’s not where I would want our hearts and minds, but alas, it’s our professional responsibility. I have been to 6 evening PARCC presentations at the school level and have been incredibly impressed with the manner in which the faculty and leadership team have explained the inner workings of PARCC, frankly more clearly than the DOE has explained them to us. But this is a prodigious undertaking, so it should be hard. Still, to see our teacher leaders presenting while other faculty attend to learn and support is extremely heartening. We anticipate over 99% of our students will assess, and we look forward to supporting them through this process and then coming to understand the data.

      Lost amidst the many specious arguments leveraged against PARCC is a fundamental one, which is in effect: Is PARCC too difficult? I’ve seen sample questions and have poured through CCSS enough to
      know that it is not for the faint of heart. However, I come back to a poignant question(s) one of you reminded me of, which is what’s wrong with hard? What’s wrong with some failure? Is adversity to be
      scrubbed from the adolescent experience altogether? I often tell the BOE that the moment at which we stop seeing HIB transgressions is the moment we’ll know we’ve stopped teaching and stopped
      demanding. The moment our suspension rate hits 0 is the moment we stopped having a standard of decency. And the moment we stop assigning failing grades is the moment we stop having high expectations for our children. I want for our 9000 children, as well as my own, many opportunities to fall short, engage in a teachable moment with faculty/staff, reflect, and build towards something better. I desperately hope my children are bullied at least once a year through their K-12 experience, fail a few tests, and like their fallen father, sneak a Genesee Cream Ale under the basement steps in high school.

      Because you and I are there to catch them, and we won’t always be. This is the time to err, as the stakes are still low, and our target audience still attentive. So I commend you, even as I implore you- negate the drama and believe that whatever happens in March, on April 1st your students will have you, they’ll have your relationship, and they’ll have ample time to confront the horrors of a difficult test and grow, as they always do.

      Tangential to this endeavor are the implications for you. I pledge to you all that we will continue to frame evaluation around growth and receptiveness to feedback. It’s been a safe conversation long before I
      arrived, and that will continue. The relatively small number of teachers affected by SGP, a relatively small part of our overall evaluation system, will be supported through this process as we support all our staff in their development as teachers, counselors, and advocates. Our first year with teacher efficacy numbers- I hope numerically ranking teachers never stops feeling awkward- proved that our evaluation system pre-Achieve NJ was sound, as little changed. And if you’ve been around long enough to see the latest,
      greatest improvement to public education you know that those who embrace the hyperbole generally end up feeling a little sheepish in the end. This too shall pass, and how we comport through the storm will be part of our legacy, and a gift to our children. Fascinating article for your consideration below. Thanks for all you do.



      Dr. Jerry Jellig
      South Brunswick School District

      Apr 14th, 4:37pm
      Email number 2 HS faculty- I hope you are well, and continued thanks for your efforts on behalf of our students. I was recently asked about Policy 3283: Electronic Communications Between Teaching Staff Members and Students. I suspect this is because of an exchange recently where a student criticized SBHS preparation for PARCC and included my address (@jerryjellig) in the comment. As I said to this precocious young man, I had 3 options- ignore him, embarrass him with facts, or open a dialogue, and as is my preference I asked him and his friends to sit down and talk to me. This will be tomorrow over B lunch. 4 d of this policy absolutely permits this kind of exchange, but let me come back to that. This policy, written by the state with minor edits permitted by our own board, is about primarily 3 things: First, cell phones are dangerous, and have cost too many teachers their jobs. It seeks to end any and all private texting between teachers and children. Second, it is about the elimination of non-academic conversation between teachers and students that occurs through digital mediums. And third, it is about the elimination of social media misuse- not use- between students and teachers, specifically requiring we not friend, follow, or connect with children. Reasonable people can disagree, but I’m fine with all of that and only embarrassed that some members of our vocation made it necessary through their actions. Back to 4 d, my bar is lower than yours, as I give myself permission as I am not attached to a school. For SBHS, Peter or his designee will have to meet with SB faculty and agree on which social media sites are permissible. By my actions, you can assume I endorse Twitter, which I’m on perhaps twice a week for 10 minutes, but has become the sturdiest tool utilized by Penn faculty and students to share, disseminate and discuss ideas. So the whole notion that we would ever want to restrict your use of serious digital vehicles to publically and academically communicate with students is an affront to our profession. I happen to believe that within 5 years 50% of your communication with students will happen digitally. That said, I would counsel that you are candid with your students- “I won’t follow you, don’t message me, and our Twitter conversations are to be kept separate from your Twitter conversations with friends”- if you haven’t seen these they would make a sailor blush. And with Twitter I probably prefer responding to initiating, but I can see where from your seat that might require more flexibility. So please meet with Peter if interested in opening this dialogue regarding this and other mediums, and thanks for communicating with kids in all ways, as they need you. Best, Jerry Sincerely, Dr. Jerry Jellig Superintendent South Brunswick School District

      1. I also wish he would have explained himself. I interpret his drinking comment differently and don’t see it as saying on school grounds. That comment is up for interpretation, he doesn’t say in THE high school, he says in high school. Regardless, he should not have said it.

        I am glad you released both emails in their entirety as people can read them and make an informed decision. Having said that, I was not privy to the 2nd email and thank you for sharing it.

        I hope we can respectfully agree to disagree.

  14. I guess he doesn’t need real teachers to stand around while Pearson is down for an hour and the questions won’t load. What a waste!

  15. Sounds like this fool had one to many to drink, or went off his medication. Welcome back Bob. You were missed.

  16. Welcome Back, Bob. We need you. I think this Supt made have had some Genesees as he penned this email. His intent is inappropriate, misguided and demeaning. He is not an educational leader to whom I would entrust the lives of 9000 students and staff. South Brunswick has fallen from grace.

  17. Note to Dr Jellig, who is a Cub Scout Master (per S Brunswick district website): April is Youth Protection Month for Boy Scouts of America.

  18. Bob. I am happy to see you are back. I was just talking with a colleague and wondering how you were doing. Because of your writing we get to be in the loop!

    Bob Braun: Thanks for your kindness.

  19. This whole adversity is good thing is spinning out of control. Let’s throw all the kids into traffic and see who survives, why don’t we? Of course, qualities we need and value in a balanced, functioning society may not survive death by traffic . Who is best at dodging cars, I wonder? The fast? The agile? Those with sharp vision? Is that all you need? I think we need people with numerous abilities and strengths–the warrior is just as important as the peacemaker and bread baker and brick layer and doctor and nurturer to name a few. All of those talents and proclivities are needed. The problem with “the philosophical sorting process ” through testing thing, is that testing is a rigged game, with goods and bads defined by the test makers. Testing is not a true measure of anything but how people respond to a particular test. Testing is biased by culture and wealth and now–in the age of common core, PARCC, data collection and politically manipulated cut scores–biased by the design to serve masters other than learning.
    This Superintendent should retire.

  20. Welcome Back Bob!!! We missed you in Newark and all that is going on. I am probably seeing more than just the clear stupidity of this statement made by the superintendent. I understand what he means when he say”The moment our suspension rate hits 0 is the moment we stopped having a standard of decency. And the moment we stop assigning failing grades is the moment we stop having high expectations for our children. I want for our 9000 children, as well as my own, many opportunities to fall short, engage in a teachable moment with faculty/staff, reflect, and build towards something better.” I agree that it is ok to fall short and always strive for more or for better. Everyone doesn’t need to win to feel like a winner. When everyone is getting A’s in my class I know I need to raise the bar and teach more rigorously. Believe me I see it everyday when fights occur or teachers get cursed out or intimidated and nothing happens to the student, never mind suspended. We have lowered the bar in Newark and make the unacceptable now acceptable behavior, which is why maintaining order everyday is an ongoing issue. So I see his underlying point but extremely bad choice of words. He should have allowed himself to clarify by answering your questions.

  21. Jellig decided to write me a personal email after I asked him about being okay with a bullying culture… He made sure to preface it by saying he doesn’t waste time on twitter wars with easily offended people.

    He said that bullying is sometimes name calling and he is fine with that. What he fails to recognize is that is not how the state defines bullying. So, that is a bit telling.

    1. HE is a bully, he bullies anyone who DARE speak out against his royal highness. He’s forced GREAT teachers out of their jobs out of spite. He is a terrible person.

      1. Naf, He’s been in SB since July. Just curious how many teachers have left mid-year in this job market?
        What’s teachers’ association doing?
        Or are you describing a district he worked prior to SB?

      2. As your teachers and community will discover, Jerry Jellig will terminate employees who dare to speak out against him. He may preach tolerance and flexibility, but watch what happens when it offends him. It has happened before in previous jobs, and is one of the reasons he departed so suddenly and without speaking to his faculty in Ohio. One day he worked at Summit, the next day he was gone. Good luck, South Brunswick!

  22. The star ledger should fire you. your twisting what he meant emails to his staff to make him out to be a bad guy. It must have been a slow news day. He is the best boss I ever had and most of my follow teachers feel the same way. He is not only a father but a foster parent to many children and a war hero
    he is not saying bullying is ok. He is saying he hopes that negative things happen to children now, so we are still here to catch them when they fall. time to go back to your Cami articles

    Bob Braun: I don’t work for The Star-Ledger. Please let us know about Jellig’s status as a “war hero”. His official biography says he served in Panama in the mid-1990s. We are all grateful for his service but war veterans are especially sensitive about those who portray themselves as heroes when they did not serve in war time. I hope you will provide details. Thanks.

  23. I feel sorry for the teachers who have to work under this man. So, he thinks that it is good to have a hard test. Does he expect kids who are bullied to score well on it? Evidently he doesn’t know much about social and emotional learning. Kids who are bullied dread school and miss it when they can. Anxiety interferes with their learning. Likewise being high or drunk in class. It’s not just a little high-jinx anymore. Substance abuse is a serious matter. By the time kids are caught smoking or drinking, they’ve done it more than once. Gee? I wonder how well they’ll score on the test? Bottom line: stop blaming teachers for low test scores. He is a very poor spokesman for his district.

  24. There are multiple issues that can and should be addressed regarding Mr. Jellig’s writings, but I would like to concentrate on one in particular. Bullying. South Brunswick School District “claims” to have a zero tolerance position regarding bullying. In fact, a letter is sent home for students/parents to sign at the beginning of each school year. As the Superintendent, I would have hoped that Mr. Jellig supported the concept of “zero tolerance”. I guess that letter is a formality “forced” upon the district by the NJEA?
    Through these emails, we learn that Mr. Jellig not only condones bullying but actually hopes his own children fall prey to it. It begs the question, does this man have any clue how much damage can be done to a child victimized by bullying? In the era of Columbine, Sandy Hook, etc. I would have expected someone entrusted (and PAID) with our children’s education and development to have a serious attitude toward their safety. How can an educator, let alone a father, wish for his children to be victims of bullying. He should be aware that one of the contributing factors to teen suicide is being bullied. I believe part of the reason for this apathetic attitude is what seems to be his philosophy of winners and losers.
    I’m not sure how many parents believe that “all” students are winners at everything and need a trophy. That there are no losers when it comes to competition. In fact, I feel confident that most parents understand that there are the kids with a 4.0 and those who are failing. There are the varsity players and then there are kids who just aren’t good at any sport. We, as parents, aren’t as ignorant as has been suggested.
    Back to the email, Mr. Jellig suggested that the moment there are no more HIB violations, the school has stopped teaching and demanding. Mr. Jellig, how about the moment there are no more cases of serious abuse toward another student inside of a learning institution, we consider it a success and not a failure? A HIB violation, “harassment, Intimidation & Bullying” can be extremely serious!
    As a parent who has had to deal with their child being bullied, I would sacrifice anything to take my child’s pain away. I have reported very serious threats to the school staff involving a student with a “hit list” that my child was on. It was “investigated” and I was told it was just a “joke”. By the way, this same student often spoke of burning the entire school to the ground. that was just “joking” as well.
    Most of us are fully aware and understand that it is normal to disagree, not get along with others, and argue… maybe even call others names if angry. Those defending this man seem to be insinuating that those of us who disagree with him cannot understand basic child psychology. It seems to me that possibly it is he and his “supporters” who do not understand just how dangerous this is.
    I am no longer surprised. I believe that maybe men/women like him may not have ever experienced true bullying or at worse, they may agree with their dog eat dog world view. Not all children are future Army Rangers… some have disabilities, some aren’t as athletic or maybe they are less attractive. My son happens to have a disability, a medical condition that makes him “different”. I have spent years in this district having to watch my son suffer as those who “bully” have very little consequence. In fact, my son is usually moved instead of the “bully’s” having to be held accountable.

  25. Army Ranger? Not impressed. This 0351 will wipe the floor with this sandbagger, even 30 years and 20 lbs later.

  26. This man is ridiculous. Have you ever heard of a little thing called depression? Anxiety? We do not want our kids to be bullied because they will start to fear coming to school. We want school to be a safe environment where our children can socialize and be educated without being scared of getting harassed. This just makes me so mad. How dare he say these things? What in his mind thinks that this is a good thing? I don’t want my children going to a school where this man is in charge of it.

  27. Welcome back Bob and my apologies for not checking in more recently until today.

    Aside from the mean spirited, Hobbesian, Social Darwinism of this Superintendent’s worldview (that “every kid gets a trophy is not a cliche on the cultural right), I was taken by this assertion, which bizarrely portrays Twitter as some form of intellectual medium:

    “Twitter, which I’m on perhaps twice a week for 10 minutes, but has become the sturdiest tool utilized by Penn faculty and students to share, disseminate and discuss ideas.”

    Twitter does in fact help disseminate ideas, but never allows a discussion of them – the man is a joke.

    And BTW, it’s spelled “publicly” not “publically”. Little things like that – about exceptions and rules – are revealing.

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