On appeal from the State Department of Education.
Pressler, Dreier and Bilder. The opinion of the court was delivered by Pressler, P.J.A.D.
[205 NJSuper Page 68] Donald Rowley, a tenured teacher employed by the Board of Education of the Manalapan-Englishtown Regional School District,
appeals from a decision of the State Board of Education directing his dismissal on the grounds of inefficiency. In so doing, the State Board rejected the determination of the Commissioner of Education dismissing the charges against Rowley on procedural grounds and itself addressed de novo the substance of the charge, concluding that the allegations of inefficiency had been proved. The State Board reached this conclusion without, however, making any findings of fact, without having reviewed the transcript of the lengthy hearing conducted by the administrative law judge, and without the benefit of any findings of fact by either the administrative law judge or the Commissioner, neither of whom had reached the merits of the substantive issue. We reverse and remand.
Rowley, a fourth-grade teacher, was regularly employed by the local board since 1962. Although the record is not clear as to when his teaching difficulties began, it is at least beyond dispute that routine evaluation of his performance during the 1980-1981 school year led to the administrative decision that his teaching was inadequate to qualify him for the usual salary increment for the following year. Rowley's performance was closely monitored during the first half of the 1981-1982 academic year. Eight evaluations were made of his classroom teaching between October 1981 and February 1982, three by then acting superintendent of schools, Joseph Scozzari, who was appointed to the superintendent's post in July 1982; two by Thomas W. McNearney, Rowley's vice-principal; one by Glen Allen Palmer, a mathematics and science supervisor employed by the district; one by Esther Harris, a language arts and instructional supervisor employed by the district; and one by Jeffrey Klein, an assistant superintendent.
The evaluation technique began with the evaluator's observation of the teacher in the classroom for about an hour. The evaluator then filled in a questionnaire requiring a rating of 30 specified characteristics of proper teaching, divided into six major categories. The available ratings were "observed in lesson," "observed in lesson but needs improvement," "should
have been in lesson, but not demonstrated," and "not applicable to lesson observed." The description of the individual characteristics is, by and large, expressed in general terms. A composite of the eight evaluations shows that as to fourteen of the separate characteristics, Rowley's performance was rated acceptable by at least half the evaluators. As to three others, at least half of the evaluators either rated the performance as acceptable or the characteristic as not applicable to the lesson observed. Of the remaining thirteen characteristics, all evaluations concurred in rating Rowley as needing improvement in only one area, namely, meeting "the individual needs of students within the class." As to the rest, there was a divergence of opinion among the evaluators, the majority of them having rated the performance as needing improvement. In no case did a majority rate any required characteristic as altogether absent from the lesson. Each of the evaluation forms was, moreover, supplemented by a narrative critique, giving further specification respecting the observed deficiency as well as specific recommendations for improving performance. These critiques were not altogether consistent with each other, although patterns of some specific deficiencies did emerge, including a perceived overreliance by the teacher on textbook materials, uninteresting presentation of the lesson, the failure to group the pupils homogeneously in subject areas where the class as a whole showed wide divergence in individual ability, the failure to assure that homework had been done, and the failure to grade homework. Finally, it appears that there were a number of discussions between Rowley and his supervisors during this period, including weekly conferences with the acting superintendent, respecting the deficiencies in his performance and techniques for improving it.
Following this intensive evaluation period, the acting superintendent, on March 11, 1982, filed with the local board written inefficiency charges against Rowley, alleging that he had "failed" properly to perform in 14 of the designated areas and "needs improvement" in another five. The filing of these
charges invoked the 90-day period provided for by N.J.S.A. 18A:6-11 during which the teacher is afforded the opportunity to overcome his deficiencies.
During the ensuing 90-day period, Rowley was evaluated five times, once each by McNearney, Klein and Harris, each of whom had evaluated him earlier in the school year; once by Robert Hagler, Rowley's new principal; and once by Robert Weiner, the district's curriculum supervisor. Each evaluation report included a written critique and series of recommendations and was followed by a post-evaluation conference between Rowley and the evaluator.
Based on those evaluations, the acting superintendent concluded that Rowley had failed to overcome his inefficiency and in June, 1982, served him with notice of the continued prosecution of the charges. On June 24, 1982, the local board voted to certify the charges to the Commissioner of Education who, in turn, referred the ...