You will remember New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s description of his role as the most recent caretaker in the 20-year state takeover of the Newark Public Schools: “And I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark — not them.”
It is a troubling take on the meaning of public education when a state runs a school district against the will of the people whose children are served by the schools, especially when the guy in charge makes no attempt at all to disguise his disdain for the people whose lives are affected.
The arrogance of the Christie administration’s management erupted again last week when Governor Christie’s appointed superintendent, Cami Anderson finally consented to go before a state legislative committee that is tasked with oversight of state operated school districts. John Mooney of New Jersey Spotlight notes that this was the first time Cami Anderson has consented to appear at a hearing of the oversight committee in three years on the job. The chair of the committee greeted her by pointing out that, “Anderson’s attendance came only after repeated requests.” Anderson has also pointedly refused to attend meetings of Newark’s elected board of education for a year now.
Bob Braun, a blogger and former 50 year reporter for the Newark Star-Ledger bluntly depicts the legislators’ outrage as Cami Anderson defended her One Newark school choice plan, denied wrongdoing, and expressed contempt for the people of Newark: “Not a great day for Cami Anderson. The chairman of the legislative committee that oversees state-operated school districts Tuesday accused the state-appointed Newark superintendent of ‘taking the fifth’ because she repeatedly refused to discuss her personal and business ties to a Newark charter school leader to whose organization she sold a Newark public school at less than fair market value. Anderson also was openly caught in a lie when she insisted before the Joint Committee on Public Schools… that no school principals were in so-called ‘rubber rooms,’ getting paid to do nothing—apparently unaware one of the principals was attending the hearing. She also was openly laughed at by committee members when she talked about a ‘legislative liaison’ aide whom none had ever met. But the oddest thing that happened at the four-hour hearing was Anderson’s insistence that her reform efforts should not be judged by falling state test scores because such scores were ‘inaccurate’ and ‘unfair’—this, from a woman who has closed public schools and fired educators because of falling state test scores. Anderson, a woman who has shown nothing but smug contempt for critics, was reduced to offering what amounted to personal pleas that the legislators try to ‘understand my journey’ or ‘my passion’—mawkish and overplayed efforts to depict herself as someone whose past helped her understand the problems of poor people… The day was clearly an embarrassment for her—and for Gov. Chris Christie who has held her up as a symbol of his devotion to what he calls ‘school reform.'”
New Jersey Spotlight reports that Cami Anderson is now facing an annual performance review. Her base salary this year is $251,500, and her performance review will determine whether she will be awarded a bonus on top of that of up to 20 percent. Neither the people of Newark nor their elected representatives to the legislature—even those who serve on the Joint Committee on Public Schools that supposedly provides oversight of school districts under state takeover—will be part of Cami Anderson’s performance review, which will be conducted by the state education department headed by another Christie appointee, Education Commissioner David Hespe.
The New Jersey Spotlight describes the goals on which Cami Anderson is to be evaluated: creation of snapshots for schools based on data performance; creation of a policy manual informed by an advisory group of charter and community leaders; a facilities proposal for “fewer, better” schools; development of a three year portfolio plan; a 5 percent drop in students’ absence from school; an increase in high school graduation by 3 percent; and a 3 percent increase in 11th graders reaching proficiency on the ACT exam. You will note, as does the New Jersey Spotlight, that these criteria neither consider her policies nor her leadership style.
New Jersey Spotlight adds that there is more at stake in her performance review than a bonus: “Anderson not only has her bonus on the line, but also her job. She must be renewed each year to retain her position.” One hopes that, while her dedication as a public servant is apparently not being considered in her performance review, Cami Anderson’s tone-deaf arrogance—so flagrantly on display at last week’s legislative hearing—will have been noticed.
Would it be possible for a supposed New Jersey public servant to demonstrate such contempt for the public that even Chris Christie would feel compelled to fire that person?