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Central Jersey News from the Times of Trenton

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    New Jersey came in second in this year's Quality Counts report, trailing only Massachusetts in a comprehensive survey based on such categories as chances for student success, school finance, and K-12 achievement.

    The past eight years have been anything but a Garden of Eden for public-school teachers in the Garden State.

    They've been scorned and belittled by their governor. They've seen attempts to undermine workplace protections, and concerted efforts to expand charter schools not held to the same standards as their own in terms of transparency and accountability.

    As a contributor to the statewide political blog Blue Jersey points out in an impassioned posting, they've lived through a climate of teacher-bashing that left them reeling.

    "When I look back on [Chris] Christie's two terms, I see both a series of policies and a set of attitudes that were - and are - a threat to the teaching profession in New Jersey," writes a public-school teacher who goes by the nom-de-blog of Jersey Jazzman.

    To a long list of sins, the teacher adds Christie's "bullying, preening, sneering, dismissive, sexist attitudes toward teachers - no, not just their unions, but teachers themselves."

    Here are 19 big promises Gov. Phil Murphy made

    And yet, these heroes of the classroom have managed to survive. Indeed, not just to survive, but to shine, as a national report confirmed last week.

    New Jersey came in second in this year's Quality Counts report, trailing only Massachusetts in a comprehensive survey based on such categories as chances for student success, school finance, and K-12 achievement.

    The rankings, compiled by Education Week for the past 22 years, offer important insight into a state's strengths and weaknesses.

    That we remain one of the country's leading states for public-school education is a testimony to the teachers Chris Christie took so much obvious pleasure in bad-mouthing - telling one teacher at a town hall meeting "I am tired of you people," and referring to the state's schools as "failure factories."

    The Quality Counts report tells us that our teachers remain devoted to their mission of raising the next generation of young Americans -- even against great odds.

    And they've stayed committed even as their governor did his best to make their profession less prestigious in the public's eyes - to the point where the number of high school students who say they want to become teachers has declined at an alarming rate.

    This is one of the sober realities Gov. Phil Murphy confronts as he takes his first tentative steps as our new leader.

    But Jersey Jazzman for one is looking forward to going to work again, knowing the new governor is not going to heap blame on the state's teachers for the many problems they didn't create - and can't be expected to fix on their own.

    There's a lot of work ahead to fix the issues of funding and evaluation and tenure that legitimately plague our public schools. But it will be a relief for teachers to have an ally in the governor's office, not a bully who treats them as the state's punching bag.

    Bookmark Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find Opinion on Facebook.

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    Who shined in the past week on the basketball court?

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    He was wanted for skipping his 2016 sentencing on meth distribution in California.

    Russell Carter.jpgRussell Carter, 49, of San Jose, California. (New Jersey State Police)

    Federal agents and state police converged on a Burlington County home Monday to arrest a member of the Pagans Motorcycle Club who was wanted in California.

    Russell Carter, 49, of San Jose, California, failed to appear for his sentencing on a 10-year conviction for distribution of methamphetamine in California, according to the New Jersey State Police. A warrant for his arrest was issued in July 2016.

    U.S. Marshals and members of the New Jersey State Police Fugitive Unit tracked Carter to Tabernacle, where they convinced him to surrender without incident on Monday.

    He was jailed pending extradition to California.

    In an unrelated case, Pagans made news earlier this month when members of the gang were linked to an opioid distribution and murder-for-hire investigation in Atlantic County.

    Linwood doctor James Kauffman, 69, and reputed Pagan Ferdinand Augello, 62, of Petersburg, are accused of running the drug ring out of Kauffman's office and of arranging the murder of Kauffman's wife when she threatened to report the operation to police.

    Both men were ordered held on murder and racketeering charges following detention hearings last Thursday.

    Augello is also accused of trying to arrange Kauffman's murder while he was held in Atlantic County's jail. Kauffman has since been moved to another jail for his own safety, prosecutors said.

    Another six people are charged with racketeering in the case.

    Matt Gray may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @MattGraySJT. Find the South Jersey Times on FacebookHave a tip? Tell us:

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    JP Teti's Liberty Cheesesteak Company is a hit across the pond.

    For JP Teti, the biggest culture shock moving to London nearly 10 years ago wasn't the fact that he now had to drive on the opposite side of the road or that he had to figure out a new currency.

    It was that cheesesteaks basically didn't exist there.

    To be able to readily get one like he did throughout the years in South Philadelphia where much of his family has lived since migrating from Italy in 1904? Forget about it.

    Maybe one of 10 people even knew what the 39-year-old Lawrenceville, N.J. native was asking about as he searched London for Philadelphia's keystone meal, Teti said.

    The dearth of cheesesteaks prompted Teti to leave his tech job in 2015 and open Liberty Cheesesteak Company, which started as a London street stand and then became a popular food truck. 

    Buzzfeed named Teti's cheesesteak "the number one sandwich every Londoner needs to try" in 2015.

    Next month, the business will evolve again, as Teti opens a brick-and-mortar location with a Philly-themed restaurant and bar, dubbed Passyunk Avenue.

    But before the accolades, Teti labored over the ingredients. He wasn't going to just bring any cheesesteak over to London.

    half cheese steak copy.jpg"One wiz wit." (Courtesy photo) 

    He even butchered the rib-eye meat himself as the business jumpstarted before finding a credible butcher.

    Then, came the bread recipe. Of course, he needed a soft Italian hoagie roll, and no one seemed to reckon what that was. (London has a "pretty weak" sandwich culture, Teti says.) So, he spent six months developing a recipe and bouncing around bakeries throughout the city experimenting with different bakers.

    Lastly, the whiz. Teti tinkered with the whiz for more than two years, just recently settling on the recipe. It is made in-house and is 99.9 percent real cheese with no added coloring or flavoring. 

    "An artisan's pursuit," he said, describing the path to serving a "hearty cheesesteak," just like ones he ordered throughout the years at Dalessandro's, Philadelphia's best cheesesteak joint, according to Teti.

    Londoners wasted no time trying out his sandwich: The first day the food stand opened in 2015, there were curious customers lined up around corner. Teti quickly learned many of them were Americans simply looking for a taste of home. (More than 70,000 Americans live in London.)

    "It was a struggle to get what you grew up with here," he said. "You miss it quite a bit. ... People reacted emotionally."

    There was one man in particular, Teti said, whose response stood out. He was an older Philly native, who has lived in London the last 25 years. The man said one bite of Teti's cheesesteak took him back to Sunday afternoons, sitting on his grandfather's front step in South Philly listening to the Phillies games on the radio.

    The pride that man, Teti and many have in their Philadelphia roots is ultimately what Teti hopes to convey to the rest of the world with his food and soon-to-be-open restaurant, which will serve other Philadelphia staples like Italian roast pork and Philly soft pretzels in a space decked in 76ers, Eagles, Flyers and Phillies gear.

    He's also clearly struck a chord with those who've never had cheesesteak.

    "Today I tried something so heavenly that it is now potentially my new favourite dish," a Nigerian-raised man wrote on Instagram in October 2016 after having one of Teti's cheesesteaks. "One of the best food meals I've ever tasted in my life, hence this long post... Philly Cheesesteak and a Root Beer soda!!! Next destination is Philadelphia."

    Joe Atmonavage may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jatmonavageNJFind on Facebook

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    Who shined this week in #NJHoops?

    bb - bell.JPGWest Side #4 James Bell drives to the basket as Newark East Side beats West Side at Weequahic High School in the boys' basketball final of the Newark Public Schools Tournament. 12/30/17 Newark, N.J. 

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    Jacob Garrett got out of the river, said 'Help my girlfriend,' and left, officials said.

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    Check out the biggest stories in N.J. ice hockey from this week.

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    NJ Advance Media staff releases its latest group and conference rankings of the season.

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    The best girls basketball games in N.J. for the week of Jan. 22

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    Authorities were working to identify the second victim of the gunfire in the Chambersburg neighborhood

    One of the men killed in a Monday afternoon shooting in Trenton's Chambersburg neighborhood lived in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office said.

    Jerard Perdomo Santana, 25, also had a prior address in Philadelphia, the prosecutor's office said.

    Investigators were working Tuesday on identifying the other man who died in the 2:20 p.m. shooting in the 300 block of Ashmore, near the intersection with Washington Street, the office said.

    A third man survived the shooting. Authorities did not identify him.

    No other information about the case was made public Tuesday.

    Wilkes-Barre is a city of about 40,000, and the Luzerne County seat, and is about 20 miles south of Scranton.

    The killings are the city's second and third of the month, and year. Last Tuesday, Jan. 16, Terrence McKinney, 46, was found shot multiple times in the parking lot behind an apartment building on West State Street in which he resided.

    Kevin Shea may be reached at Follow him on Twitter@kevintshea. Find on Facebook.

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    There were plenty of shakeups.

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    The victim's sister said she was glad he was taking responsibility for his actions

    A Bucks County, Pa. man admitted Monday he attacked and stabbed his mother to death in the kitchen of their Lower Makefield home in 2016, the Bucks County District Attorney's Office announced.

    zachary_cope2.jpgZachary Cope 

    Zachary Cope, 31, pleaded guilty, but mentally ill, to third-degree murder for the December 2016 killing of his mom, Rebecca Cope, who was 52.

    Zachary Cope had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He later told investigators and doctors he killed an assassin posing as his mother, who he believed had hired to kill him, the district attorney's office said in an announcement.

    Specifically, Cope, in admitting the crime, said his mother ordered him to rub olive oil into the new cutting board - something he said his real mother would never tell him to do - so he attacked the "imposter," the office said.

    After the killing, Zachary Cope fled his Lower Hilltop Road home in a pair of shorts and one flip-flop, in 40-degree weather, and told a passing motorist he killed his mother. Police found him bloodied in a nearby driveway.

    A judge will sentence Cope in March after his mental status is evaluated to make recommendations on the treatment he should receive while incarcerated, the office said. 

    The office reported that Julie Knepp, Rebecca Cope's older sister, told the judge that Zachary's parents divorced when he was young, and he suffered greatly from it, but that her sister, "wanted desperately to be a good mother to her son."

    "Zach had troubles; we all knew it," Knepp said, the district attorney's office reported. Knepp was not surprised by her nephew's diagnosis, and said she was glad he was taking responsibility.

    "I don't think schizophrenia is a pass. It doesn't mean you get to kill your mother," Knepp said. But she told the judge she would be there for her nephew if he needed her.

    When she was killed, Rebecca Cope had recently been named imaging research and development director of a clinical trial company based in Canada, her obituary said. She was originally from the Pittsburgh area

    "She was a devoted and conscientious mother, and spent much of her time renovating her home and tending her gardens with her special needs son," it said.

    Despite his mental illness, Zachary Cope had earned a bachelor's degree from Arcadia University, but did not have a job, the district attorney's statement said.

    Kevin Shea may be reached at Follow him on Twitter@kevintshea. Find on Facebook.


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    The inauguration of a new governor in New Jersey has injected new life into many initiatives vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie.

    During Chris Christie's eight years in office, Democrats controlled the state Legislature, but the Republican governor controlled the veto pen.

    Time after time, Christie rejected measures that would have had major impact on the state's residents, leaving lawmakers scrambling - unsuccessfully - to cobble together enough votes for a veto override.

    The inauguration of a new governor has injected new life into many of these initiatives, ranging from strengthening the state's gun-safety laws to hiking the minimum wage to $15 an hour to banning the use of exotic animals such as African elephants by traveling circuses.

    Certainly, high on the lawmakers' agenda in the Phil Murphy Era should be expanding paid family leave for workers who are taking care of a sick child or relative.

    A bill Christie partially vetoed in July would have extended such leaves from six weeks to 12, while also including siblings, grandparents, grandchildren and parents-in-law on the list of those eligible for coverage.

    11 bills Christie vetoed getting new life under Phil Murphy

    This makes abundant good sense. Families today come in many shapes and configurations, but when it comes to tending to the needs of an infant or an ailing loved one, their needs are the same.

    Immediate attention also should be paid to matters of women's health and family planning, which we were pleased to note Murphy highlighted in his inaugural address last week.

    Budgeting for these services took a hit from the earliest days of the Christie Administration. The one-time presidential hopeful slashed $7.5 million from this budget line in 2010, then year after year resisted legislators' attempts to restore the vital funding.

    The move effectively shuttered six clinics the state's women had long depended on for cancer screenings, birth control and other health services; 14 others were forced to reduce both their hours and their services.

    While we're talking health, let's not forget the critical role of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, commonly known as RGGI, a consortium of states working together to reduce the devastating effects of emissions linked with climate change.

    The Garden State was part of the agreement until Christie announced our abrupt withdrawal in 2011. The move shocked environmentalists, health officials and anyone else who preferred to breathe toxin-free air.

    News that the Senate Environment and Energy Committee on Monday released a bill moving the state toward re-entering the agreement was welcome indeed.

    Finally, any list of state priorities would have to acknowledge that a vibrant democracy needs the participation of all of its citizens to flourish.

    That means expanding voting rights: taking such steps as extending early voting periods, allowing online voter registration, automatically registering voters when they obtain a driver's license through the Motor Vehicles Commission, and making election materials available in more languages.

    The Legislature sent Christie a bill outlining these changes in 2015. Christie wasn't buying. Murphy has already pledged his support.

    Bookmark Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find Opinion on Facebook.


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    Buried more than 20 pages deep into their annual school report cards, state education officials assigned a score of 1-100 for every New Jersey public school.

    In a trendy but controversial new rating system, New Jersey education officials have for the first time assigned a score of 1 to 100 to each of the state's more than 2,000 public schools.

    But if you missed the score in the state's release of annual school report cards this month, you're not alone.

    That's because they were excluded from the summary reports the state encourages parents to view online, and were instead placed more than 20 pages deep into each school's detailed report. They combine standardized test results, graduation rates and chronic absenteeism.

    Among the worst-rated schools was Trenton's Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, which scored a 1. Among the best schools was Jersey's City's McNair High School, which received a 97 out of 100.


    Burying the simplified scores was intentional, said Pete Shulman, a former assistant education commissioner under Gov. Chris Christie. The new ratings consider important factors the state uses to determine which schools need the most help (a federal requirement), but they don't capture the complete picture of a school, Shulman said.

    He compared the scores to a letter grade at the top of a student's essay, with the rest of the report card containing important context, such as a teacher's comments. 

    "Sometimes people would only look at the grade," Shulman said. "Those teachers' comments are really what's most important, and thats what we wanted to highlight throughout these reports."

    Whether the state intended parents to see the new ratings or not, the scores are too dependent on standardized tests, said Steve Baker, spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. 

    "To understand how a school is performing and what it needs to better serve students, we need to look at it holistically," Baker said, "not simply assign it a number that tells very little about what is actually happening in that school."

    In a statement, the state Department of Education said it designed the new ratings to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new federal education law that replaced No Child Left Behind. 

    The law requires states to "meaningfully differentiate" schools' performance based on a variety of metrics and publish that information on school report cards, said Julie Woods, a policy analyst for the Education Commission of the States, which tracks state policy. 

    Nationwide, 45 states and the District of Columbia use some form of summative rating, such as a 1-100 rating, A-F rating or labels like "great," "good" and "excellent," Woods said. 

    "Summative ratings are not required per se," Woods said. "But most states find this a simple and clear way to communicate overall school performance."

    The ratings for high schools are based on PARCC proficiency, graduation rate and chronic absenteeism, defined as students who miss more than 10 percent of the school year. Elementary and middle school scores are based on PARCC proficiency, student improvement on PARCC scores and chronic absenteeism.

    Use the tool below to find your school's score.


    Carla Astudillo may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @carla_astudi. Find her on Facebook.

    Adam Clark may be reached at Follow him on twitter at @realAdamClarkFind on Facebook.


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    Brian Hughes delivered the annual state of the county address at the board of freeholders meeting

    Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes spoke on a variety of accomplishments the county has achieved in the last year, and announced a new county counsel, at the annual state of the county address Tuesday.

    County execs Brian Hughes Mercert TofT.jpgBrian M. Hughes 

    Hughes praised the county's efforts to reduce homelessness and announced that through a partnership with the county's Board of Social Services and the Mercer Alliance, every chronically homeless person they identified in 2016 "had a place to call home by 2017."

    "I look forward to the day when anyone who needs shelter has a home," Hughes said.

    He also praised the progress of projects such as improving the Trenton-Mercer Airport, and preserving more than 5,400 acres of land through the county Park Commission.

    "Moving forward, we are developing management plans to care for our habitats, such as combating the Emerald Ash Borer, restoring grasslands at Mercer Meadows and managing destructive deer overpopulation," he said.

    Residents, county see different futures for Trenton-Mercer Airport

    Hughes recognized Mercer County Community College and its president, Dr. Jianping Wang, for a wide variety of ongoing projects such as to an art gallery and fashion design studio, a health and wellness education center, a new fashion warehouse, and the renovation and reopening of the North Broad Street Theatre.

    Construction is expected to begin on a Fine Arts building which will house the college's University Center, where five partner universities will offer bachelor degree programs.

    Hughes also updated the public on other on going and future projects in the county including including renovations to the Mercer County Courthouse Annex, and close to a dozen bridge construction projects planned for the next two years.

    Hughes honored longtime County Counsel Arthur Sypek Jr., who is retiring effective next week as well. He announced Paul Adezio, of Hamilton, the deputy county counsel, will be succeeding Sypek.

    Olivia Rizzo may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @LivRizz. Find on Facebook

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    Take a look at how your team stacked up in the latest rankings.

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