Thursday, April 17, 2014

NPU Parents & NSU Students concur: Superintendent Cami Anderson is destroying Newark’s schools.

Make up snow days! SGO’s! End of third marking period! Summative! Lions, tigers and bears—oh my! No wonder I couldn’t get this blog post done sooner.

Where are all her supporters? 
I was honored that the good people of the Newark Parents Union invited me to last week’s public education Town Hall Meeting. There were about 50 people in attendance. I’m sure there would have been more had not the NAACP Mayoral debate between Ras Baraka and Shavar Jeffries been scheduled for that same night. 

Moderated by NPU President Frankie Adao, the panel included Hassan Manning, VP of NPU; Kristin Towkaniuk, President of the Newark Students Union; Susan Cauldwell of SOS NJ; John Abeigon, Newark teacher and community organizer; Leah Z. Owens, organizer with New Jersey Communities United; and yours truly.

If you’re unfamiliar with the One Newark plan, it kinda-sorta contradicts the education ‘reformers’ mantra of ‘choice’ by putting school ‘choice’ in the hands of Cami and Company. Parents fill out a universal application and central office assigns students to schools based on first, second and third choices. But in reality, ‘choice’ is a reformy misnomer because in their world, ‘choice’ does not equal ‘access’. A parent can ‘choose’ to enroll their child in a ‘successful’ charter school, but if that child doesn’t fit the mold, they are either expelled or ‘counseled out’.

“Everyone knows the charter schools don’t take special needs kids.”

That comment came from an audience member who is a parent of two special needs children. Remember, Robert Treat Academy and Discovery Charter School, arguably Newark's most successful charters, opted out of participating in One Newark.

The Jersey Jazzman/Dr. Bruce Baker/Dr. Joseph Oluwole autopsy of One Newark ain’t pretty. It’s 21st Century segregation at its finest with Black students and teachers getting the shaft. Among their findings:
  • Black students were more likely to see their schools turned over to charters, potentially abrogating the rights of their families.
  • Black staff members were far more likely to have to reapply for their jobs under One Newark than white staff members.
  • Largely, this is because black teachers are far more likely to teach black students.
  • Black teachers also take on the ‘boughest’ assignments, as measured by the state’s own classifications (remember, Newark’s schools have been under state control for 19 years). But, on average, their students show comparable rates of growth to the students of white teachers.
  • There is a history of discrimination against teachers of color in ‘choice’ plans, and NPS, if it goes through with One Newark, may be susceptible to a legal challenge under civil rights laws. 

Thank the Lord New Jersey has these three outstanding researchers who, like Discovery Health’s Dr. G Medical Examiner, look at the facts, do the research and examine the evidence before determining the efficacy of the reform-du-jour. But hey, why look at facts when ideology is so much more fun and profitable?

The biggest takeaway from the Town Hall Meeting was that—along with Cami’s other ‘reforms’—the rollout of One Newark is a hot mess. To ram through such a drastic and flawed change for 44,000 students in such a short amount of time when you refuse to attend school board meetings to answer questions, and you don't have universal community support is crazy! Cami has to keep extending the Phase One enrollment deadline because parents are boycotting it. So, what’s her backup plan if this trend continues?

Here’s what parents do know:
  • Each school has a ‘hub’ of 2.5 miles. But if a family lives within 2.5 miles of several schools, they could have children attending all of them!
  • First priority for enrollment will be given to children whose siblings already attend a school.
  • Second priority goes to free and reduced lunch students.
  • Third priority goes to other neighborhood children.
  • They are looking to fill charter schools first.

"They are looking to fill charter schools first." 

Here are some of the questions/issues parents raised that have not been addressed:
  • If you like your school, can you stay?
  • What about new kindergarten enrollees who come in late in the summer?
  • What about any student who enrolls after September?
  • What about new, non-English speaking immigrants who want to enroll their children?
  • Where will special education teachers and child study team members be assigned and when will they know?
  • What happens if you don’t like the school you’re assigned to? They have no transfer process in place.

"What happens if you don’t like the school you’re assigned to? They have no transfer process in place."

Mind you, those are only questions about the enrollment plan. And they’re just the tip of the iceberg. The meeting could have gone on all night had not Frankie Adao kept the conversation moving along. The following is a synopsis of questions/comments on other topics.

On the conditions in many Newark public schools:
  • A kindergartener asked why there are bugs (cockroaches) at his school. (Why in God’s name should a kindergartener—or any student—have to ask that question?)
  • East Side High School is dirty and smelly. There are rats and cockroaches in the classrooms. They only have part time custodians and they are not provided with the appropriate cleaning supplies. NSU President Kristin Towkaniuk said that’s why students cut class. (Can you blame them?)
  • Why do we always have to go to court to get things that are basic civil rights like clean, working toilets in a school?
  • Oliver Street School is indeed being rebuilt—into a charter school!

"Why do we always have to go to court to get things that are basic civil rights like clean, working toilets in a school?"

Student/parent/teacher comments on the quality of curriculum, instruction and supervision since Cami took over:
  • Why don’t they allow teachers to teach, and not have someone who has never taught tell me what to do?
  • Why don’t they have open electives at the high schools again?
  • We are testing about 1/3 of the year.
  • Kristin Towkaniuk on the pilot PARCC test: It was 3 days. The server went down. When you make the tests unnecessarily harder it pushes kids out of school… I opted out of it. I didn’t answer any of the questions, and in the narrative section I wrote why the PARCC is bad.
  • Why aren’t there enough courses in the trades offered?
  • On the closings of libraries: They are robbing our kids of the resources they need!
  • Instruments sit in closets in our district because they are cutting the arts in our schools. They are hiring consultants to come in to ‘teach’ the arts. So, when you get free tickets for all these wonderful performances [at outside venues], realize it’s coming at the expense of band, chorus and performance clubs and classes.
  • Arts High School (an arts magnet school) is no longer holding auditions because Cami says magnet schools segregate. (Yes, you read that right, folks! I’m not making this up—just reporting what I heard.)
  • Creativity and imagination are being taken out of our children’s minds.
  • East Side HS classes have exploded to 30+ in a class. Students have to talk to teachers after class or school to get any kind of one-on-one instruction.
  • Anything that’s successful in this district will be destroyed by Cami Anderson.

"When you make the tests unnecessarily harder it pushes kids out of school."

Public education is a right of every citizen in this state. Any child’s education that is compromised should concern us all, because if it can happen in Newark, it can happen anywhere. That’s why the Newark Parents Union deserves our help and support. Their efforts are just getting off the ground. They are committed to fighting for control of their public schools. They are drafting a plan to counter One Newark. They have a vision, they have ideas, and Superintendent Cami Anderson won’t attend school board meetings because she doesn’t want to hear them. Her arrogance is astounding.

"We control Newark schools, not them."

Adding: Shortly after attending this meeting I received word that Cami is privatizing the summer program which has been in place for many years and is run by teachers who know the students! I'm hearing reports that it will now cost Newark parents $150-$200 a week to enroll their children. If anyone has a link to an article, please post it in the comments.