Cami to principal: You’re “awesome”–and you’re fired

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Wayne Dennis drank the Kool-Aid
Wayne Dennis drank the Kool-Aid

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.”

24 comments

  1. Andrew Gonzalez

    Every stat listed is self reported by each school’s principal. Some fact checked reporting would be nice.

  2. Newarkbluesman

    The community the unions must act together and understand this occupation can only end when we refuse to be occupied.Nothing else will win this war.United we are strong.

  3. Susan Best

    Bob,
    Although I have been reading your Blog for a very long time, I have never felt compelled to send you a comment. After reading this piece, I feel a need to comment.
    Mr. Dennis’ admission that he “drank the Kool-Aid makes it clear to me that no employee who works for the Newark Public Schools is safe. What a terrible environment in which to work.
    Perhaps even more important is the fact that episodes like this will have a chilling effect on the ability of Newark to attract talented candidates for very important positions within the school system. What top quality educator in his or her right mind would apply for a position in Newark? Sad, very sad…

  4. Source1

    Bob,
    From your piece,

    Wayne Dennis delivered—higher scores, higher graduation rates, “HIGH NUMBERS OF TEACHERS EVALUATED AS ONLY PARTIALLY EFFECTIVE.”

    Yes, Principals and Vice Prinicpals in Newark are pressured continuously and relentlessly by their Assistant Superintendents to deliver, “high numbers of teachers evaluated as only partially effective.”

    An outrageous goal by Superintendent Anderson who will use this “high number of teachers evaluated as only partially effective” as a measure of her success in Newark. A second measure of her success (as she sees it) is an increase in the number of administrators she fires. With her firing of Dennis she accomplished both of her goals, more Partially Effective ratings and a fired administrator.

    A brilliant move by a soulless Superintendent who cares little about her employees and even less about Newark students….

  5. Mr. Outside

    Mr. Gonzalez is right. Each school does do it’s own reporting which presents a distortion if the facts. Objective reporting is done by the state and reflects a more accurate portrait of the school’s achievement. The following link is Barringer’s Official state report. Observe how the state recognizes only ONE Barringer High School and not two. Further, observe that the state also recognizes one principal for the school, and not two.

    Barringer on The State Department of Education Website
    http://education.state.nj.us/directory/school.php?district=3570&source=01

    Barringer School Performance Report SY2012-2013
    http://www.state.nj.us/education/pr/1213/13/133570020.pdf

    We know that the report is outdated for the school year. This underscores the pattern of “inadequate” and fraudulent reporting by Cami’s administration because although the report I linked to pre-dates Dennis and his co-principal at the other Barringer Academy by a year, the State Department of Education’s Website presently names another person who we know was only appointed recently.

    • Stressed

      The reason you are seeing only one Barringer: The school year 2013-14 was the first year of the two academies. It was one Barringer 2012-13.

        • Another staffer

          No. During 12-13 it was one school. This school year 13-14 was the first year it was split. So, as NPS saves money by firing direct student support it doubles it’s administrative expenditure by having two principals and at least 6 vice principals (hard to
          count how many there actually were due to new position titles) in one building…Yup, a lot of fiscal responsibility going on with the tax payers’ money. Not.

  6. Karen Adlum

    I want to feel sympathy for him. What a terrible thing to happen to a young family, especially with a new one on the way. But I can’t stop thinking about the teachers whose careers he destroyed by giving them poor evaluations. What about them?

    • Stressed

      Susan Best said it. We are working in an environment of terror. I haven’t spoken to one teacher who supports Anderson; we are all in fear of losing our jobs. I know several people who left the district this year – good, dedicated people.

      As for Mr. Dennis – how can you give a person ONE year to turn a school around, especially in the first year of splitting the building into two co-located high schools; keeping kids separate and working out all the bugs you couldn’t anticipate when you are trying something so radical and new. Remember those kids all knew each other and also had to adjust to the separation.

      One year… that’s what you get. This principal upstairs, I understand, got a promotion. We’d have to check that out but she’s gone. Anyone know what happened to the other principal?

      • Mr. Outside

        She did in fact receive a promotion. She is now a special assistant downtown. You missed the point I was making though about the reporting, though.

        There was never legally two Barringers. There were never two distinct schools in one building; it’s a gimmick. To walk through Barringer in the 2013-2014 school year was like walking through night on the first floor, where the S.T.E.A.M. Academy was, and day on the second floor where the Arts Academy was. If we were strictly observing school environment and behavioral culture, then by those measures, there were two distinct schools in Barringer. But realistically speaking, it was a ruse. Students more inclined to achieve were somehow tracked upstairs, while those less so we’re tracked downstairs. It’s no secret the co-located principals didn’t get along. The Academy on the first floor even tried to extort the Academy on the second floor for funding and resources.

        Cami knew it wasn’t working. She’s changed principals mid-year. She did it at West Side. But Barringer was high profile. It was a renew school. The fact that it was failing needed to be spun into a new narrative. As they told the fired principal, “Cami wants to take Barringer in a new direction.” Yeah, a direction whose perception is much easier to manipulate. So Cami promoted one principal, fired the other, and replaced the one she promoted with the person whose name is listed on the site. But the rub is, she still hasn’t replaced the principal she fired, and the state Department of Education website somehow miraculously recognizes the successor to the promoted principal as the only principal.

        The overall district reporting to the state is past due because of the need to tweak the performance narratives of such abject failures like S.T.E.A.M., which is what the plan for Barringer SY2013-2014 was full of.

        • Source1

          Good points Mr. Outside.
          Another observation: In the past three years, under Anderson’s reign, there have been nothing but promises…renew this, transform that,…but no evidence of success, if success is measured by student achievement. If one wants to measure success by the level of disruption in the District, Anderson has been highly successful. Indeed, she even received $50,000 in bonuses for her “success” last year.

          Anderson has involuntarily transferred, demoted, and fired, HUNDREDS and HUNDREDS of teachers, administrators, and non-instructional employees in her three short years in Newark.

          This ongoing churning of staff has served to totally debilitate those who have not yet been touched directly. Employees in Newark are working in a constant state of fear. Nothing good could possibly come of this…nothing good for the employees and certainly nothing good for the students who now go to school each day and interact with adults who paralyzed by fear.

          Now, as we enter the 2014-2015 school year, to the ongoing churning of staff we add the new element of the churning of students under Anderson’s “One Newark” plan.

          The Newark Public School System is in a total meltdown. Unfortunately, most suburban residents could care less. Even though it is their tax dollars, to the tune of $1,000,000,000.00 yearly, that is paying for this farce. Many of those outside of Newark are so enamored with Governor Christie that they will chuckle with him at his town hall meetings. What they don’t get is that he and they are not laughing at the same things…they are laughing at his pleasant smile and folksy mannerisms while he is laughing at them as he picks their pockets and sends it to Anderson and her outside consultants.

          All things come to an end…let’s hope this petri dish educational experiment in Newark ends sooner rather than later…

          • Source1

            NewarkBluesMan you are correct.

            Fail all your students and you would be a Highly Effective Teacher…Kill all of your patients and you will be a successful Surgeon…Poison all of your restaurant patrons and you will be a successful Chef…and on, and on, and on…

          • Mr. Outside

            Cami and those who follow her “school” of thought apply a metric of business management to educational reform called operational efficiency. As practiced in business, this is an indicator of sustainability as measured by a ratio of operating input to operating output. If the number is too low, the business is not sustainable. Therefore, as an enterprise, the goal is usually to work towards the highest operational efficiency possible.

            There are three ways to do this:
            – same for less
            Same output for less input
            – more for same
            More output for same input
            – more for much more
            More output for much more input

            Cami & Co. heavilly subscribe to the first model, same for less. That means getting more value for less time, effort and money. Teacher and principal evaluations are some of the tools Cami uses to determine overall operating efficiency. None of the schools in the district know that they are competing against each other, but they are. And in Barringer’s case, both academies were in competition to determine whose model was [most] sustainable and would serve as the model for Barringer moving forward. The Arts academy won. How? They produced the same results with less resources. It didn’t take much. With Barringer split 50/50, all one academy had to do was 1% better than the other.

            The prevailing misconception is that you must reduce operational input such as costs to improve operational output like profit. Those terms are hard to apply to education because the input is more than money. It’s time, effort and money. While the output is student achievement, teacher and principal effectiveness, school effectiveness, parent and community participation and other things that are not quantifiable by a numeric index. So, where Cami is trying to apply operational efficiency, she hasn’t quite been able to translate how her hard operating costs transact into appraisable value propositions in terms of customer service and products.

            Having said all of that, I’m recalling a video citing the district’s rational for laying off 1000 teachers and closing schools. By co-locating schools like Cami did with Barringer, she contradicted that rationale. She hired two administrative staffs which she knew she couldn’t afford. Is it any surprise that she fired this principal and his vice principal?

  7. Source1

    My comment is really a public service announcement to those Principals and Vice Principals who will be working in the Newark Public Schools during the upcoming 2014-2015 school year:

    PASS ON THE KOOL-AID….HAVE THE ORANGE JUICE INSTEAD…

  8. Regan Shale Lefferts

    I worked for Mr. Dennis when he was VP at Broadway Elementary, in Newark. I am saddened that he was treated so shoddily, but agree with the other posts. How was he comfortable giving those evaluations, just because he was pressured to? He’s better off out of Newark. I left last year after my VP told me I deserved a higher eval, but the schools were limited on how many high ones they could give. I could have fought it, but decided that the writing on the NPS wall was too frightening. Instead, I left. Newark kids are the best around, and they deserve better than this.

  9. becca field

    No one is safe. I found the note from Anderson to Dennis particularly revealing where she speaks of the revolution which is defined as ‘a forcible overthrow of a government or social order in favor of a new system’. I might have used the term ‘hostile takeover’ but her honesty there is revealing and should not be overlooked. There needs to be a revolt against her revolution – fast.

  10. newark teacher

    Everything that is happening in Newark is an obvious set up for failure. If outsiders looking in can see this why is it taking so long for anyone to do anything about it. My principal is a very outspoken intelligent woman, however I noticed to the end of last year her mouth was shut about most of the nonsense going on around her. Sad we have to desert our colleagues just to keep our own jobs. Mr. Dennis, I feel for you but now you see no one was safe from her wrath. What goes around comes around. You played the Cami game and you are the one that got played. Cami is such a manipulating woman. September will be a disaster in Newark schools. Mark my word.

  11. Steve Des

    As much as I don’t support cami, I feel she did the right thing by dismissing Wayne Dennis. Why do I say that? Dennis gave “high numbers of teachers evaluated as only partially effective.” Yet at the same time he “claimed 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.”

    Only one does not correlate with the other. How can he with a large number of partially effective teachers achieve a graduation rate of 94.5 percent and a 60 percent college acceptance rate?
    I suspect that Cami realized he was a butt kisser and decide to cut him from doing any more real damage. Smart chick.

    • newark teacher

      Sorry Steve, you are way off base. Principals are told to give these evaluation ratings. I agree the two don’t correlate but that is part of her game. The same goes for low performing schools. Cut the budgets, take out Reading Recovery for the students who need it the most, take out the tutors, cut inclusion teachers to one per school, cut cut cut but then question why they are low performing. it is all part of her game. Clearly you are not part of the Newark School system or else you would see things for what they are…a fraud!

  12. Disgusted

    I retired from the NPS 4 years ago after almost 44 years in central office. I was there from the very first “study”, the “Wexler” intervention, survived through the State takeover and stayed for many years.
    It seems to me that the plan is simply to make the District look totally out of control. Many long time employees are given the boot, replaced or not replaced, making the workload impossible to complete.
    Some of the long time employees and some of the best employees that remain are at their wits end. Many plan on leaving, some by no choice of their own. Many are trying to hold on as long as they can.
    I’m sure that the grand scheme of things is to bust the unions and contract out the entire District. When this is completed, I’m sure you’ll find a pattern of important donors to politicos reaping the benefit from these Charter schools, at will employee jobs, etc.
    Friends, FOLLOW THE MONEY.

  13. Another staffer

    What goes around comes around. The atmosphere of fear that is pervasive in Newark Public Schools, at this time, was replicated in Barringer STEAM this past school year under the direction of Mr. Dennis. Now that he’s been treated the same way he treated his subordinates for the last year, he comes to this public forum for sympathy? Please save your empathy for the employees at NPS who have been trying to educate students, and keep their heads above water, with the constant threat of being written up, ridiculed, and, in general, despised by those outside of Newark who really have no conception of what it’s really like, and how devoted, and qualified, the vast majority of staff members are.

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