Bob Braun was a reporter for 50 years for the Newark Star-Ledger. These days he blogs about the public school crisis in Newark, New Jersey. Newark’s public schools have been under state control for two decades. As in most places, state takeover has never worked in Newark. Today the strings are being pulled by Governor Chris Christie and Cami Anderson—the state-appointed overseer superintendent, alternatively trained at the Broad Academy and formerly employed by Joel Klein in New York.
Anderson has brought a plan, One Newark, to take over neighborhood schools, bring in KIPP and other charter management companies, and give parents school choice. Newark has erupted this spring as parents have continued to defend their neighborhood public schools. This blog has recently covered the school crisis in Newark here, here, here, and here.
Last week Braun described the botched roll-out of Anderson’s One Newark plan. By mid-April, Anderson had promised to announce to parents their children’s school choice match assignments for next fall. But in a letter posted on the school district’s website and notes sent home with children in backpacks, she delayed the assignments until mid-May. Anderson and her staff have been unable to finalize a transportation plan, there have been problems placing students with special needs, and it turns out many parents did not apply for school choice, which means there must be a second application process. According to Braun, “One Newark was not only unworkable in design but now the state regime running the schools is so incompetent it can’t figure out what to do about the transportation and special education problems it created.” Anderson “still doesn’t know how to handle the placement of special education students, especially those whose parents might want to go to charter schools that are unprepared to deal with them.”
According to New Jersey Spotlight, just last week in the midst of the school district controversy, Cami Anderson was awarded promised bonuses from Governor Christie’s administration for reaching performance goals. Anderson receives a base salary of $247,500, but she was awarded $32,992 in bonus payments: “And according to details released this past week by the administration, she continues to hit a majority of performance goals that have gained her tens of thousands of dollars in additional pay.” Her new bonus is for hitting five of seven targets that “included both qualitative and quantitative measures, from new evaluation systems for principals to test score gains in individual schools.”
In a very moving post yesterday, Bob Braun describes the plight of parents and children trapped in this controversy. Cry for Newark describes the pleas of Grace Sergio, the outgoing president of the Hawthorne Avenue School parent organization, and students from the school who made formal presentations to the school board (elected but rendered powerless by state control) charged with implementing One Newark. The protests have become so contentious that Cami Anderson has stuck by her announcement several weeks ago that she will no longer attend these public meetings.
After presenting data that Hawthorne Avenue School has met the demanded achievement goals—first in the city in student growth, third in the state in student growth, seventh in Newark in academic achievement—Sergio asked Newark’s school board, “What more do we need to do?”
Brawn writes: “Anderson’s treatment of Hawthorne—and similar schools throughout the state’s largest district—has been a nightmare… She stripped the school of its librarians, its counselors, its attendance personnel. She has ignored constant pleas to repair crumbling walls and leaking ceilings—promising repair money only after she gave the building to TEAM Academy, the local name for KIPP charters, and the Brick schools (which will co-locate in the building).”
Braun notes that parents of 268 of the school’s 340 students chose Hawthorne for next year when they submitted the Universal Application. The rest might have done the same, but Hawthorne will no longer be a K-8 school; its charters will serve children only through the fourth grade.
Braun concludes: “Sad. There’s a word rarely heard in the context of the state’s war on Newark’s neighborhood public schools. Sad. Yet the story of how a cruelly tone-deaf state bureaucrat named Cami Anderson is singlehandedly destroying a community’s neighborhood schools is just that. Sad. And nothing more illustrates that sadness than the brave but probably futile effort of one successful neighborhood school to remain alive despite Anderson’s promise to give it to privatized educational entrepreneurs who include former business partners of the recently resigned state education commissioner… It’s about money and power and greed.” (Thanks to Diane Ravitch for circulating Braun’s powerful column, Cry for Newark, late last night.)