The state-appointed Newark school superintendent stormed out of an angry, tumultuous School Advisory Board (SAB) meeting a few hours ago after a parent, infuriated by Cami Anderson’s treatment of the city’s children, asked “Do you not want for your brown babies what we want for ours?”
Anderson, who had sat passively without reacting to repeated and often angry demands for her resignation and charges of bullying and indifference toward the city’s children, reacted instantly when someone referred to her own child. She is the mother of an interracial child.
“Not my family,” she said repeatedly, shaking her head and staring at the woman who had made the remark, Natasha Allen, the mother of a Newark Vocational High School student. “Not my family.”
Allen said afterward Anderson “attacked” her child and all Newark children by requiring them to attend school in the midst of a snow emergency last week when all other schools in the county–including Newark’s charters–were closed. Allen also said Anderson’s school closing plan “will hurt children throughout the city–my child–because she is bulldozing their schools and their neighborhoods.” Allen said she was upset by Anderson’s actons, as if the state official were “personally attacking my child.”
As Allen spoke, Anderson gathered up papers in front of her and gestured toward her staff members sitting with her at a table on the stage and in the front row of the audience. She led the parade of central office staff from the stage to a rear entrance while the audience roared its approval and mockery of her leaving.
The explosion of personal anger occurred at 8:30 pm, two hours after the meeting at First Avenue School got off to a delayed and troubled start. Scores of residents who wanted to attend the meeting were kept outside in single-digit temperatures. Then some were allowed to enter an unheated cafeteria. Police officers, citing fire regulations, said the auditorium in the school was too crowded.
The venue clearly was chosen to keep the size of the crowd down. Although the meeting was televised by local access television, the school administration did not provide remote feeds inside the schools.
“They deliberately chose a small auditorium,” said Grace Sergio, head of the Hawthorne Avenue parents’ organization.
The raucous meeting and bitter remarks dramatically illustrated the simmering anger in the Newark community. It followed a month of what residents and union leaders viewed as repeated, hurtful insults to the parents, employees, and children of Newark schools–a letter to families that suggested if Newark children were home from school they would get into trouble, make the city “less safe” and cause crime to go up; the imposition of a “universal application” form that favors charter schools; the adoption without widespread input of a sweeping “One Newark” plan that will close, sell to charters, or otherwise “repurpose” nearly one half of all Newark schools; the suspension of five school principals and a central office clerk for criticizing the plan, and the banning of a parent leader from the school attended by his two children.
In the midst of these controversial moves, Anderson ignored the impact on children of 12 inches of snow and frigid, subzero temperatures to require the city’s students to attend class last Wednesday–although charters were allowed to close. All other schools, public and private, in Essex and neighboring counties were also closed.
It also didn’t help her for Anderson to be singled out by the man who appointed her–Gov. Chris Christie–when he delivered his State of the State address. Christie himself faces his own political crisis because of his own political bullying against critics.
“She punished our children for not wanting her plan,” said Allen. “Would she want someone to punish her child?”
(Help me here about something else. If Allen had not referred to the color of the child’s skin, but had merely wondered whether Anderson wanted for her child what Newark parents wanted for their children, would the superintendent have acted so insulted? Was it just the reference to a “brown baby” that set her off? If so, what does that mean?)
The meeting did not begin well for Anderson. Early in the agenda, Alturrick Kenney, a board member, praised parent leaders who opposed the “One Newark” plan. He described the courage of Daryn Martin, the PTO president of the Ivy Hill School, who was banned from his children’s school after he tried to stop two central office administrators from tearing down meeting notices he had posted.
Board president Antoinette Baskerville Richardson, sitting inches away next to the superintendent, then described Anderson’s plan as “monumentally destabilizing” and “destructive” and criticized her for suppressing “freedom of speech.”
In a clear reference to the mounting revelations of scandals related to political retribution surrounding Christie, Baskerville-Richardson said, “It is clear the attitudes and actions of Cami Anderson reflect the attitudes and actions of Gov. Christie.”
Her closing comment provoked a floor demonstration ending in chants of “Cami Must Go!”–”Newark is at crossroads, but don’t be discouraged. In the end, if we stick together, we will win.”
Until Allen spoke, the loudest responses were directed at remarks by Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, and Ras Baraka, the mayoral candidate who has made opposition to “One Newark” a central theme of his campaign.
“I could have been in Washington watching the president deliver his State of the Union address,,’ said Weingarten whose office is in the nation’s capital. “But I wanted to be here because the whole nation is watching Newark.”
She promised the national union would continue to support opposition to the “One Newark” plan “until this community gets its schools back.” She said she knew Anderson and pleaded with her to change her mind and reminded the audience that the Philadelphia schools superintendent reversed his plans after residents rose up against them. Christie, however, has promised to ignore the city’s community while he imposes his own plan on Newark.
Baraka’s appearance was in some ways the most dramatic. The audience cheered him when he rose to speak and frequently applauded him. He said he felt responsible for the suspension of the principals because four of them spoke at a community forum he sponsored. But then Baraka called on all local school administrators to stand up and show their solidarity with the punished principals.
“They can’t suspend you all,” he said. “Stand up and show your solidarity.” About one hundred men and women stood in response to Baraka’s suggestion.
He revealed that many charter school leaders are hesitant to support Anderson’s plan and suggested she was on weak political grounds. He then issued a series of demands he said were put forward by the city’s residents. They included a return to local control of the schools, the upholding of employee rights, a moratorium on all school closings, and finally, he ended his speech with:
“We demand the immediate removal of the state appointed superintendent of schools.”
His remarks set off a long demonstration by members of the Newark Students Union who snaked through the aisles of the auditorium chanting, “Cami Must Go!” and “No Justice, No Peace.” The demonstrators were allowed to continue their march for about ten minutes and then ended when Baskerville-Richardson called for order.
Parents then spoke and many of them expressed anger about how badly they believed Anderson treated their children–a series of criticisms capped by Natasha Allen’s comments.
After Anderson left, Baskerville-Richardson said the meeting would continue. “This is not the superintendent’s meeting, it is our meeting,” she said.
Natasha Allen said she was upset when Anderson left.
“I still had a lot more to say to her,” she said.