A day of resistance in Newark

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Khadija Bhatti and Jamani Montague speak to students Hundreds of students burst out of beleaguered University High School  in Newark this morning to protest what they fear are sweeping changes to a school that has been one of the highest ranking in the state for years. The changes denounced by the students included  Friday’s firing of the magnet school’s principal and six vice principals, the possible reassignment of the school’s teachers and a new “direction” for the successful school..

Chanting “Save our school!” and “Cami must go!” the students marched through the neighborhood and then headed downtown toward 2 Cedar Street, the headquarters of the Newark Public Schools (NPS) and the office of Cami Anderson, the state-appointed schools superintendent. Their representatives were not allowed to meet with Anderson.

Many of the students carried hand-made placards calling for the restoration of principal Regina Sharpe and her vice principals, protection for the school’s teachers,  the return of local control, and Anderson’s dismissal.

“Teachers are our main priority and they deserve to have job security,” said student leader Khadiha Bhatt, who also spoke later in the day at a school board meeting. “We stand together and support our teachers; they shouldn’t have to reapply for their positions, as many teachers have had to across the district. ”

She added, “We are tired of our education being played with,” student leader Khadija Bhatti told the students. “We are not commodities. We do not want to be part of privatization.”

Principal Regina Sharpe--"happy" for her students.
Principal Regina Sharpe–“happy” for her students.

Jamani Montague told the students Cami Anderson was a “monster that disrespects the parents and students” in Newark.

“We are walking out today to protest the termination of our principal, administrators and teachers. We are walking out today to advocate local control of our schools. And most importantly, we are walking out today to insist on the immediate resignation of Cami Anderson.”

At last night’s meeting, Bhatt told me she believed all teachers at University High School would not be reappointed to the school. I spoke with Jose Velasquez, the Newark Teachers Union representative at the school. He said that, of 50 teachers at University, four were non-tenured and, of those, two had received letters of non-renewal. It is, of course, still possible that other teachers might be let go.

And, in any event, the bigger problem is the alleged “new direction” of the high school. Both the students and Velasquez believe the Newark schools administration is converting the magnet school into a comprehensive high school with no special admission requirements. Both say they believe Cami Anderson is trying to demonstrate that even magnet schools cannot do better than her favored charter schools.

Sharpe stood outside the school and watched the students march out. She said she was “happy” for her students but would not talk about the circumstances surrounding her dismissal or the students’ demands.

“I have thought only of these children since the day I first got here,” said Sharpe, who became principal last year after service as vice principal at University for 10 years.

Sharpe estimated about a third of the students at the school–about 200–took part in the walkout. Another school employee put the number at between 250-300. Students themselves said they believed about 400 students participated.

Universirty High School is considered one of the top-ranked high schools in the state, according to performance reports issued by the state Departnment of Education.  Anderson has contended her plans for change were aimed at failing schools–and University is certainly not one.

A leader of the union representing school administrators called Anderson’s behavior “bizarre” and “frightening.”

Len Pugliese, the executive director of the City Association of School Administrators (CASA), called the dismissal of Sharpe and six others “just the most recent in a series of bizarre actions taken by Superintendent Anderson.” He added:

“What is most frightening is that, although Anderson has a well-documented history of unexplained behavior, her bizarre behaviors are becoming more frequent. I pray that there is some immediate intervention from the state Department of Education.”

The student walkout was only one of a number of events occurring yesterday in an increasingly tense Newark, a city torn asunder by Anderson’s aggressive promotion of the so-called “One Newark” plan that is closing neighborhood schools and launching new charters.  Parents held a 1 pm press conference to discuss a civil rights complaint filed with the US Department of Education.

Acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe met  with students who last week occupied a school board meeting and refused to leave unless at least one of their demands were met–and the meeting with Hespe is one of them.

After the meeting, members of the Newark Student Union, which organized the board session takeover, held  a press conference in which they said that, while Hespe and Anderson listened to them, the commissioner and superintendent offered no hope of a change.

Kristin Towkaniuk, the head of the Newark Students Union, said she believed the meeting was held merely to placate them. “I think they held a meeting just so they could say they held a meeting,” she said.

Towkaniuk also said Anderson indicated she intended to press on with her “One Newark” plan and gave no indication she would be leaving soon, as predicted by teacher union leaders.

Earlier predictions that last night’s school board meeting might be shut down by groups of students or teachers–or both–never became reality.

 

 

 

6 comments

  1. Didi Schiele-Lazar

    I retired from UHS 2 years ago and not a moment too soon! When I came to NPS in 2000, UHS was a stable high school that needed to be recharged. Roger Leon came to the helm and the school flourished, along with it’s teachers and staff. We were happy to come to work and the students knew it. As a result, their attendance improved as did their grades. Sad to see him go but happy for his advancement, Mr. Leon left us for 2 Cedar Street. Shortly after, politics began to invade UHS. Within a few short years, University started to flounder: student attendance declined; grades declined; political placements increased and Politics became invasive. I was offered another teaching job, less than 3 miles from my home, shortly after arriving at University. I turned it down as I boasted how “No one hangs in my doorway. I’m allowed to teach what’s best for my kids and do it in a manner that is meaningful to them”. I became a Freedom Writer Teacher following the successful methods of Erin Gruwell who mentored me during workshops she conducted in Long Beach, California that I attended in November, 2007. I implemented those methods in my classroom and they worked. Teaching “at risk” students isn’t easy and it takes dedicated, self-motivated, creative and independent teachers to be successful with them. University had those teachers and, I’m sure, still has…but they’re being dismissed as Politics takes over. Remember that earlier quote about “allowed to teach”? No one used to linger in my doorway; then Politics started to stop by from time to time and pause there before moving on. Within a very short time, Politics walked into my room, snooping around and criticizing what it had no knowledge of and, more importantly, what it didn’t understand. Before long, it took a seat in my room and that’s when I bid University goodbye! I served a class advisor to hundreds of students. I was their yearbook advisor, stand & deliver advisor, literary magazine advisor, mentor, banker, taxi driver, confidante, surrogate parent, and god mother to their teenage pregnancies. I loved my job and those kids! I still miss them, but I don’t miss the Politics that forced me to retire. My heart goes out to the students, teachers and staff of UHS who are the victims of Politics in NPS.

    Bob Braun: And I might add a Star-Ledger Scholar honored teacher–no small accomplishment!

    • Didi Schiele Lazar

      Thank you, Bob. And to make a bad situation worse, ALL of the department chairs were “fired” as per Ms. Anderson’s threats and demands. But then she gave them all promotions as VP’s at higher salaries! When is someone going to FIRE her? When is someone going to CARE about the kids in Newark? If it doesn’t happen soon, Cami Anderson will be responsible for the death of Newark because these kids are graduating “ignorant”, deprived of an education they deserve.

  2. Stressed

    I was so upset about the word ‘fired’ all weekend; wondering how Anderson can ‘fire’ tenured teachers/administrators. I asked my VP yesterday about this. The answer: Test scores are slipping but administrators are giving ‘effective’ and ‘highly effective’ evaluations to teachers; therefore teaching is not effective. The administrators were EWPed. They will go to Talent Match and find another position or look for jobs outside of the district. It’s really sad that this principal got only one year to raise scores when Anderson has been given several years to do whatever it is she’s doing.

    All administrators are worried about this. There is such upheaval; teachers are leaving in droves, the kids are feeling the lack of stability, and administrators are being held responsible for test scores when that’s just one aspect of their students’ lives.

    I know how the teacher above feels. It doesn’t matter how fantastic a teacher you are these days; if you’re a number that needs to get moved or sent packing or whatever… no pats on the back, you’re just gone.

  3. Tony

    After watching Anderson’s speech at Ted talk her belief in the management style of change through chaos becomes evident. She truly believes In chaos as a way of fixing the problem. Unfortunately, she has a skewed view of her track record. She was a teacher who created chaos and left. She became managing director at TFA who created chaos across NYC schools then left, she became superintendent in NYC and was chaotic then left. She has no proven track record of success. She has continually developed policy that has marginalized communities especially those most vulnerable. But here we have the typical reformer. Her resume is the prototypical résumé of the reform movement. This generation of technocrats are not just dangerous for the policies they spearhead but because of their constant illusions of grandiosity. They all see themselves as civil rights leaders, visionaries, and academics without having a vision, an inkling of what it means to be a civil rights leader, or mastery of any research beyond their viewpoint. But hey why should cami change and be humble, she could be the next Arne Duncan! Newark’s problem is the country’s problem. across the country communities are fighting but the government and these people are not listening!

    Bob Braun: As someone who lived through the chaos–and bloodshed–of 1967, I find her behavior absolutely unforgiveable.

  4. Pingback: Newark Students Resisting Neoliberal Reforms In Their City | PopularResistance.Org

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