Cami Anderson Moves On: Will Newark School Leadership Begin to Consider Community’s Input?

Bob Braun, retired reporter for the Newark Star-Ledger, broke the story on his blog over the weekend that Cami Anderson, Newark’s much despised state-overseer superintendent of schools, will resign this week and will be replaced on an interim basis by Christopher Cerf, Governor Chris Christie’s former commissioner of education, who, since he left New Jersey state government, has been on staff at Amplify, the tablet and on-line curriculum division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.  The Newark Star-Ledger confirmed the report yesterday, adding that Anderson will step down by July 8 and that Cerf’s appointment will need to be approved by the state board of education.

Despite persistent protests from Newark’s mayor, Ras Baraka, and the city’s elected school board, whose public meetings she has refused to attend since January of 2014, Cami Anderson has ruthlessly imposed her “One Newark” school reform plan to close neighborhood schools, open charters, and fire dedicated school principals.  She testified before the state legislature’s committee that is responsible for overseeing the state takeover of Newark’s schools only after repeated delays and only under extreme political pressure.  When she and her boss, New Jersey’s governor Christie were criticized for the arrogance of Newark’s state school management, Christie notoriously declared: “And I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark — not them.” Newark’s schools have been under state takeover for twenty years, despite evidence that state management has served neither the children nor the community.  Here are the posts on this blog tagged “Cami Anderson.”

Braun reports that Anderson recently changed her mind about imposing “turnarounds” on two of the city’s high schools: “In the last few days, Anderson also has caved in on significant decisions—to make both East Side High School and Weequahic High School, both iconic institutions in the city, so-called ‘turnaround’ schools.”

Braun reports further that the state school board has recently been listening to Cami Anderson’s critics in Newark including the elected (but powerless under state oversight) school board in Newark: “The breakthrough, according to sources who would not speak for the record, came in private talks between school board officials and members of the state board of education.  Mark Biedron, the president of the state school board, apparently has come to Newark and initiated ‘conversations’ with critics of Anderson.  Four members of the (local) school board—(Ariagna) Perello, its president, Marques Aquil-Lewis, its vice president, and Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson and Donald Jackson spoke at a state school board meeting earlier this month. ‘Too much has been happening for the state school board to ignore,’ said one source, citing the decision by Lamont Thomas, principal of nationally known Science Park High, to resign, and the extraordinary decision by the principal of Central High School, Sharnee Brown, to accuse Anderson of breaking the law by transferring special education students to her school without adequate services.”  Braun adds that students walked out of Newark’s high schools on May 22 in protest.  Students occupied Anderson’s office for several days earlier this spring in protest.

While a second Star-Ledger report claims that Chris Cerf “will be recommended for a three-year contract consistent with initial contracts in other state-operated districts,” Braun’s sources told him that Cerf will serve only in an interim capacity. Cerf, the former New Jersey commissioner of education (who initially appointed Cami Anderson in Newark), left New Jersey government to work with Joel Klein at Rupert Murdoch’s school tablet and curriculum division, Amplify.  The News Corp. has been restructuring this week, and Cerf appears to be out of a job.  Earlier this spring, Bloomberg reported that Amplify has not been making a profit: “By the end of June, Murdoch’s News Corp. will have invested more than $1 billion in Amplify, its division that makes the tablets, sells an online curriculum and offers testing services… It reported a $193 million loss last year, and its annual revenue represented only about 1 percent of News Corp.’s sales of $8.6 billion.”  “The education effort has been riddled with technology failures, fragile equipment, a disconnect between tablet marketers and content developers, and an underestimation of how difficult it would be to win market share from entrenched rivals such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Co. in the kindergarten to high school education market.”  According to Bloomberg, barely over a third of classrooms in the United States have internet capacity and speed adequate to serve classrooms of children online simultaneously.  Faster internet speed costs five times more per student, an amount that is prohibitively expensive for many school districts.

Braun reports wide speculation that the deal involving Anderson’s resignation and Cerf’s pending interim appointment also includes a promise that Newark’s elected board of education will be able to help choose the next permanent superintendent: “A bigger shocker, however, is that the school officials and other sources expect the (local school) board to be given a role in selecting a permanent replacement for Anderson.”

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka is reported by the Star-Ledger to have commented, “I would need some assurances that local control is real.”

I hope Braun’s information is correct that an effort is under way to consider the will of the citizens of Newark in the operation of their public schools.

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