Newark’s so-called “Renew Schools” reform strategy may have failed, but that’s not stopping Cami Anderson, the city’s state-appointed schools superintendent, from giving a hefty raise to a private company, Turnaround for Children, that was supposed to help some of those schools improve. The company’s chief executive officer, Alison Avera, is a close associate of Anderson who was given a top Newark schools job by the superintendent and boasts a resume remarkably similar to Anderson’s.
Anderson wants to raise the amount of money given to Turnaround for Children from $700,000 this year to $990,000 next year. The item is expected to come before the Newark school board this week. It’s unclear whether the board can or is willing to stop Anderson from giving the non-profit a 41 percent raise.
Turnaround for Children provided services for at-risk children at Chancellor Avenue School, Cleveland School, and Thirteenth Avenue School. The organization brought its own people to the schools after counselors and other school employees were laid off or reassigned. Its own website says student test scores should be a measure of its success–and, by that same, self-imposed measure, Turnaround for Children failed.
From 2012 to 2014, the two years of the “Renew Schools” experiment, the percentage of students at Chancellor Avenue passing the state NJASK tests in language arts fell from 30.6 to 20.7 and in math from 47.3 to 38.4. At Cleveland, the drops were 25.3 to 21.6 in language arts and 41.1 to 26.6 in math. Passing rates at Thirteenth Avenue fell from 18.3 to 17.3 in language arts and from 24.3 to 20.1 in math.
Anderson asks for the extra money for Turnaround for Children out of a “desire to increase the capacity of the district and schools to improve social-emotional learning.”
Avera, the chief executive officer of Turnaround for Children, should be well-known to Newark residents because she was, in fact, a high-ranking assistant to Anderson for the first two years of Anderson’s tenure in Newark, which began, like Avera’s, in 2011. Avera held the position of strategic adviser to Anderson and interim Chief Strategy Officer for the Newark Public Schools.
For these two positions, Avera was paid $132,848 in 2011 and $245,845 in 2012–a total of $378,693, almost as much as Anderson herself was paid.
But–and this is probably why Avera is not well known in the city–while she worked for Anderson, she wasn’t paid by the Newark Public Schools. Avera was paid by the Foundation for Newark’s Future (FNF), that mysterious concoction of money and politics put together by former Mayor–now US Sen.–Cory Booker, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Gov.–and presidential wannabe–Chris Christie.
The FNF tax returns for 2011 and 2012 carry Avera, a Brooklyn resident, as both a payee and grantee who provided the Newark Public Schools with “technical assistance” and “consulting support.”
Her own resume indicates she left Newark to join Turnaround for Children in June, 2013, although she continues to list herself as a consultant through a private firm known as Advisera Consulting.
Avera’s and Anderson’s resumes are extraordinarily similar. They both began teaching through Teach for America (TFA) and both served as TFA officials–Avera as vice president of alumni affairs and Anderson as New York executive director. They both earned master’s degrees at Harvard. They were both graduates of the Broad Academy, an unofficial school begun by billionaire Eli Broad to train public school administrators to like charter schools and other forms of public school privatization. They both worked–and at the same time–for the New York City schools.
And, of course, they both came to the Newark schools in 2011. In September, 2013, a few months after Avera left Newark–with nearly $400,000 in FNF money–to join Turnaround for Children, Turnaround for Children was awarded its first $700,000 contract by Anderson to help turnaround the “Renew Schools” that would shed all those regularly employed counselors and social workers and other support staff whom Anderson believed were no longer needed.
Regular school employees were shown the door. Cami Anderson’s close associate got a sweet, revolving door: The company Avera runs got a $700,000 contract.
Curious minds might want to know: Did Avera and Anderson discuss what they could do for each other in the future? Did they know Turnaround for Children was going to get its big contract before Avera left Newark to work for Turnaround for Children? Could Avera’s hiring by Turnaround be a condition of Turnaround getting the contract?