Mike Spina’s not the kind of guy you want against you.
A former teacher of 42 years, a writer for two mayors, and a former sportswriter for two local daily newspapers, Spina has always had a way of connecting with an audience.
Now, the longtime North Bergen teacher and current Old Bridge resident has just released a book aimed right for Gov. Christopher Christie’s jugular.
His goal? “To show the public that they are being duped.”
Tenure is not a guarantee
“Teachers Under Attack!” is Spina’s response to what he feels is Christie’s personal vendetta against teachers, which he believes could destroy public education.
”If you don’t think that this goes on in a school district, believe me, it does.” – Mike Spina
“If you don’t think that this goes on in a school district, believe me it does,” said Spina, who began working for Horace Mann in North Bergen back in 1978.
Job security is an issue about which Spina feels the governor is misinformed. Particularly, it is tenure that Spina defends against Christie’s “attacks.”
“The governor keeps saying that tenure is a lifetime job guarantee,” said Spina. “It is not a lifetime job guarantee. It is a due process of law. It does not protect teachers from being laid off in a recession, nor does it protect them from incompetence or misconduct.”
Should teachers get the blame?
During Spina’s recent book signing in the Old Bridge Public Library last weekend, he spoke about problems with public education.
“Christie believes that the teacher is the most important influence in the student’s life,” said Spina, referencing the achievement gap between urban and suburban school districts. “He’s trying to say that basically it’s on the head of the teacher.”
Then who or what actually is responsible?
“Sixty percent of achievement gains [in standardized testing] are because of non-school factors,” said Spina, referencing a University of Washington study. “[They include] parental influence, things that go on outside the school in the home and the streets, and so on.”
Spina also said that any perception that charter schools are doing better than public schools is a myth.
“[Christie] makes [charter schools] out to be this savior,” Spina said. “Someone asked him for proof of that. He doesn’t supply any numbers. He’s given an inaccurate picture of charter schools to the public.”
Spina also said, “A lot of the statements that he puts out there are misstatements. They aren’t accurate.”
His aim in releasing a book
Spina’s book was self-published this year.
“It’s a response to Christie’s education reforms,” said Spina. “I just got really angry. I thought that not only the Democratic Party but newspapers and so forth weren’t really getting the message out there. They were just following Christie’s lead as truthful.”
Spina added that he hopes teachers will use his book as a place to become informed about the other side of the issue, the side that he feels is not being heard.
Christie has pushed education reform over the last few years, targeting what he believes are generous benefits for unionized teachers (and other government workers) and trying to cap the salaries of top administrators. He also has cut aid to some school districts.
“What I’d like to accomplish,” said Spina, “is for the public not to be fooled anymore” by believing that educators are the enemy.
Spina continued, “I hope to inform the public so the next time the election rolls around they’ll go out and do the right thing.”
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at email@example.com.