In Newark, Cami Anderson Again Demonstrates Contempt for Democracy

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?

New Jersey Columnist: Cry for Newark

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, herehere, 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.)