He was, he says, one of “Cami’s people.” Hired just last year to run Barringer STEAM, one of those untested innovations that state-imposed Newark superintendent Cami Anderson likes to inflict on the people of Newark. He did everything that was asked of him, including attending a charter-based conference in New York when he should have been taking care of his very sick mother. And Wayne Dennis delivered—higher scores, higher graduation rates, high numbers of teachers evaluated as only partially effective.
“I drank the Kool-Aid,” says Dennis.
And, the day before the new school year began for principals last week, Wayne Dennis was fired.
Unlike many of the school administrators who have lost their jobs since Anderson became Gov. Chris Christie’s agent in Newark, Dennis, 42, might not win a lot of sympathy from other school employees or many parents. He was admittedly a strong Anderson supporter and was worried when rumors spread she might leave Newark.
“I was upset about my future if she left,” says Dennis. “I thought she was on my side.”
It certainly looked that way, from messages Anderson sent the principal she hired a year ago. He forwarded a message from the superintendent in which she wrote:
“This will be an awesome thing. Barringer is transformed thanks to you….It is among my greatest sources of pride and priority to stay the course and make it a school that rivals magnets. We will have done what no urban district has done.
“Please know school-based leaders to me are the most critical people in this revolution. Hands down.”
Barringer, the oldest high school in Newark, was divided into two academies. Dennis ran Barringer STEAM, devoted to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
Among his accomplishments, were a graduation rate of 94.5 percent; a 60 percent college acceptance rate; the accumulation of $640,000 in college scholarships by the school’s seniors; a 99 percent decrease in fights, and a variety of partnerships with local colleges including Rutgers, NJIT, and Essex County College.
“We were doing everything right,” says Dennis.
But last week, Dennis says he received a text from newly minted assistant superintendent Gary Beidleman, who recently replaced Tiffany Hardrick. Hardrick, it might be remembered, came to Newark after an unfortunate business involving her running of a New Orleans charter school that hired her brother’s transportation firm. The text asked Dennis to come in to talk to him.
When he got there, Beidleman told him he was fired—just a day before he was to begin a new school year. According to Dennis, Beidleman said Anderson—just after saying how awesome Dennis was—wanted the school to go in a different direction.
Anderson did not need to consign Dennis to the city’s rubber rooms where unwanted but tenured employees are kept—because Dennis didn’t have tenure. He could just be flat out fired.
Dennis insists he has “absolutely no idea” why he was fired.
Wilhelmina Holder, a leader of the citywide secondary school parents council, says she supports Dennis and believes his termination is part of a wider plan by Anderson to make public schools look bad so that the state-appointed superintendent can fulfill the vision of Christie and former Mayor Cory Booker to make Newark “the charter school capital of New Jersey.”
“She is trying to destroy public education and this is just part of it,” Holder says. She also says she believes Anderson is trying to destroy the careers of successful black male principals.
Dennis says he is not sure what to do. His wife is expecting their third child.
“It took me two days to tell her—I just couldn’t face it,’’ says Dennis, who left a job as a Trenton elementary school principal.
Now, he says, he can’t sleep. “I just don’t know what to do.”