Another “oops” in Newark school plan

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Cami--Ooops. Parents, you'll just have to wait another month.
Cami–Ooops. Parents, you’ll just have to wait another month.

The “One Newark” plan is a disaster for the city’s families.  Now, even the district leadership all but admits it by again postponing crucial deadlines. Parents who were promised a “match” with a new school this week  won’t be getting it until next month.  Other parents won’t know until days before school opens. And to make things even worse, some Newark school  principals yesterday received instructions that,  if literally followed, would require them to turn away from their schools all children who had a right to be there.  How can the city’s parents feel comfortable with educators who cannot even express themselves in understandable language?

It’s what happens when you place the fate of school children in the hands of bungling, overpaid  amateurs who got their jobs because of connections with Teach for America and charter schools and who are now  trying to impose a political agenda on the people of a city just to please a governor.

“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.  Once more, its implementation has been delayed, leaving Newark’s parents dazed and confused.

In emails, conference calls, and “backpack”  letters home—many of which never found their way to the children—Christie-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson said she was postponing the promised registration of thousands of children in their new schools, including the many new charters whose operators have the most to gain from  this disaster.

The reason:  Anderson still doesn’t know what to do about the massive transportation problem created by the “One Newark” mess—and 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.

The thousands of families—numbers differ–who signed up under the Universal Application plan were promised they would receive notification of where their children would be placed by mid-April. Now, it won’t happen until mid-May.  And, for some children, it won’t happen until August.

Anderson herself, who hasn’t been in town for the last two weeks, posted an unhelpful letter on the NPS website, announcing the latest delay.  Don’t forget– the original deadlines for applying under the Universal Application plan already were delayed twice.

Anderson’s letter contends that,  after consulting with “focus groups”—remember she won’t attend Newark school board meetings as required by law—she has decided to postpone sending out so-called “match” letters to families letting them know where their kids will go to school.

“The district is working to identify transportation options before sending match letters,” Anderson wrote.

How nice—now that she’s decided to send children scrambling across the city,  Anderson finally figured out she has to find ways of getting them there.

The letter also reveals a new problem—the necessity to create a second round of the Universal Application, apparently because not enough parents signed up for the first round. Or, as Anderson says, “to ensure that those students and families who did not previously participate are aware of their options and can receive a school match by this summer.”

In other words, the original recruitment drive—touted as such a sign of support for this crazy plan—fell on its face and has to be redone.

But Anderson’s letter still isn’t telling the whole truth. In e-mails and conference calls from Newark’s very expensive leadership, principals were told the district simply isn’t ready to send out match letters because it hasn’t solved transportation and special education problems. Don’t forget—Anderson’s favored charter schools won’t take special education classes because they are not equipped to deal with special needs children.

Here’s an email sent to me by a Newark principal in which $175,000-a-year assistant superintendent  Peter Turnamian explains the problems.

Dear Network Leaders,

 I hope everyone is well. 

 The registration period for One Newark Enrolls is being postpone. (sic) It will not open this week.  It will open the week of May 12th. 

 A family letter is being finalized and will be sent to you (hopefully) before noon today.  This letter should be sent home in back packs today.

 The postponement of the registration period is necessary so the District my (sic) better prepare transportation (beyond bus tickets) solutions for families that may require transportation to accept a match at one of their top choices.

 Please do the following today:

–          Ensure the family letter is sent home

-Meet with your enrollment team (POC, clerks, parent liasons (sic), etc…) – Update them about this development

–          Update registration plans

 

Between now and May 12th, please continue to market your schools aggressively.   Please consider planning an Open House and/or school tours.  During our next meeting I will share some preliminary data about how many unfilled seats are currently projected for your school. 

 

Lastly,

 

In preparation for May 12th, it is imperative your enrollment team is prepared, willing and able to register all families at your school that produce a match letter.   It is essential no family, even a family with a child who has an IEP (one that requires services you may not currently offer), is NOT turned away (sic).   Between now and May 12th we will connect with you about specific students that may fit this category in hopes of limiting any surprise factor that may occur on May 12th. 

 

Regardless, I can’t stress enough the importance of you turn keying this message to your enrollment team.  If families are turned away from a school with a match letter we will be looking to school leadership for an explanation.   This is a huge mindset shift across the district.  It will not be successful without your leadership. 

 

Please reach out with any questions, suggestions or concerns.

 

Best,

Peter

 

To be honest,  I found this letter  so incompetently written I sent it back to both the principal who sent it to me and to the Newark school administration to ask for its authenticity.  I delayed posting this blog for a day waiting for a response. I now believe it to be authentic, although the NPS has yet to respond.

Let’s try that sentence about special education students again:

It is essential no family, even a family with a child who has an IEP (one that requires services you may not currently offer), is NOT turned away.

Yes, the letter is poorly written—and the worst is the reference to special education students.  This sentence literally means the opposite of what was intended:   It is essential no family, even a family with a child who has an IEP (one that requires services you may not currently offer), is NOT turned away (sic).  The sentence, as written, means all families should be turned away—no family will not be turned away when what he means is no family will be turned away. Yikes.

Turnamian is both a Teach for America graduate and a founder of the Greater Newark Charter School.

It’s that “mindset shift” I guess—write exactly the opposite of what you mean and leave everyone guessing. Welcome to the new world of educational reform.

By the way, those backpack letters never got to many schools in time to be sent home with the children yesterday.  If the district can’t send home letters describing how bad their plan turned out to be, imagine how bad the implementation in the fall will be.

 

17 comments

  1. Michael Fiorillo

    For years, I have been rhetorically asking about the so-called reformers, “Where does the incompetence end, and the malice begin?” This episode is yet another example.

    Unfortunately, it’s much easier to destroy than to build, and while these vicious incompetents can’t do much right, even by their own debased standards, they are capable of much destruction.

    The model for so-called education reform in urban districts is Smash and Grab: scapegoat, undermine and destabilize the public schools so that the public is indifferent to their eventual takeover by private interests, who then turn them into an investment portfolio for favored cronies and organizations.

    In a more just world, these people would be living in terror of a RICO indictment.

  2. Yolanda Greene

    As a parent, this not the first time I have read a poorly written or insensitive piece of communication from this administration. It is embarrassing to our profession that top ranking administrators have similar writing skills to the students they often talk about! If you can’t construct a well written letter how in the world can you implement such a controversial “mind shifting” plan. I pray someone steps in and stops this mess! Who’s gonna write THEM up??? All these repeated mistakes aren’t just mistakes…it reflects the caliber of professionals were dealing with!!

  3. Becca Field

    willfully blind or ignorant. There are those of us who have been screaming about the ridiculous obstacle of transportation since day one of One Newark……and it took Cami how long to figure out she has a problem????

  4. DeeplyConcerned

    Yikes!!! How would Turnamian (who earns as much as Christie) do on the language arts literacy section of a standardized test?! Since teachers are now judged on the basis of how well their students perform, shouldn’t Cami Anderson be held to the same standard with her top administrators?

  5. Kate

    So, let me see if I have this right . . . If you’re a parent who signed your child up for One Newark, you still don’t know which of your eight “top” choices your child will attend four months from now? How do you arrange after school care or activities? What preparations can you make for the inevitable emergency? Few children get through a school year without some situation where a parent has to pick them up or drop something off. I’d think it would be good to know whether the trip will be across the street or across town.
    Maybe the benefit to administration of late notification is fewer appeals of placement decisions…

  6. Jim

    Peter Turnamian … did one or two years in the classroom, couldn’t hack it, and went to grad school. He came back and obtained a position at a charter school in Newark. He turned many parents away using illegal tactics and also told parents that their children could enroll but at lower grades than they were currently in. All this in an effort to keep test scores higher. I’m not surprised he is one of the players in this criminal network called “One Newark.” He fits perfectly.

  7. Down Brown

    They are just not planners!!! I have to witness the mass confusion of this administration on a daily basis and the special education Assistant to the Superintendent is special and in need of an evaluation herself.. Their last minute antics are affecting the progress of the district. Why else would their own be leaving on a weekly basis. That says a lot about their leadership. These people are unorganized to say the least!

  8. NJGS

    The “backpack” letter was given to me to send home to my students yesterday around 2:00 p.m. I did give it to my students. I did tell the students to please give it to their families, but that doesn’t always happen, as I teach young students and not all families check their book bags. I have to admit, I found the letter extremely confusing to follow.

    I’m still hoping the ONE NEWARK plan is stopped and the schools slated to be turned over to Charter Schools stay public schools. Wishful thinking on my part, but I’m still fighting to make this happen.

    Once again, thank you for all that you are doing for Newark students, residents and NPS employees that work with Newark students each and every day.

    Bob Braun: Thank you for your note. Apparently not all schools received the letter in time to send it home yesterday. Newark children, residents and employees are simply the first who will face the radical restructuring of public education as a consequence of a “reform” movement driven by ideology, resentment, and greed. To me, public education is essential to my definition of this country. Without it, we will have regressed to a neo-Darwinian state in which the rich eat the poor. I am fighting for my grandchildren as well.

  9. Educator

    At least the letter didn’t use “irregardless”

    Lets be thankful for that.

    Bob Braun: That’s funny–I had exactly the same thought

  10. A concerned parent

    Bob: Isn’t it strange that Ms. Anderson has been talking about this for almost a year, yet at the last second she brings up this transportation issue? She did not seem to care about this before. Do you think this might be about the election? That she does not want to cause a stir with these “match” notices right before we vote. If letters do go out on the 5th and we don’t like our match, that does not leave us a lot of time to organize before the election. I think we should have our results before we elect our next mayor. thank you for your reporting.

    Bob Braun: Yes, I do believe it’s connected to the election. I don’t expect the match letters to go out until May 12th or later and I understand the vast majority of families will not get their first through third choices.

  11. Stressed

    As a lowly teacher, I have been wondering how the high cost of buses and insurance is considerably less than closing schools. I suppose it is less but at what cost?

    I’ve been through so many ‘reformers’ in my career as a teacher in this district; this has been the worst.

  12. Bill Wolfe

    This guy makes $175,000 and can’t write a simple letter?

    Allows something so important and subject to intense scrutiny go out with multiple egregious and totally unprofessional errors?

    How low can they go?

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