Pastors: Cami must stop!

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Christie hugs Rev. Carter
Christie hugs Rev. Carter

Scores of Newark’s religious leaders—including nationally known ministers and a major supporter of Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election–have repudiated as potentially “catastrophic” the state-imposed “One Newark” plan to close neighborhood schools and “launch” new charter schools in the state’s largest city. The pastors,  who labeled the plan “disruptive and divisive,” called on Christie and  state-appointed schools superintendent Cami Anderson to immediately stop its implementation.

“We call upon Newark Superintendent of Schools, the
Acting Commissioner of Education, and the Governor of the State of New
Jersey to agree to a suspension of any further action pertaining to the One
Newark Public School Plan until an alternative educational plan can be
developed with substantial input from stakeholders at all levels of the
Newark community,” the religious leaders wrote.

Christie at New Hope Baptist on the morning of his inauguration to a second term.
Christie at New Hope Baptist on the morning of his inauguration to a second term.

The pastors included Rev. Joe Carter of New Hope Baptist Church where Christie attended a service the day of his second inauguration last January. Carter had endorsed Christie’s re-election, contending his support of the Republican governor shows African-Americans “have options, too.”

Rev. William Howard
Rev. William Howard

The list also includes Rev. William Howard, one of the state’s and the nation’s most prominent clerics, the first African-American president of the New York Theological Seminary and head of the National Council of Churches. Howard also served as chairman of the Rutgers University governing board. He is pastor of Bethany Baptist Church.

The strongly worded statement from the 77 religious leaders warned about the “venomous” anger that had been provoked by the Christie/Anderson plan.

“We are extremely concerned about the level of public anger we see
growing in the community, based upon an overwhelming sense of
frustration, community disenfranchisement, and alienation that has resulted
from the One Newark Public School Plan the Superintendent of Schools has
proposed. It is not overly dramatic for us to say that we are extremely
worried about the level and tone of the current emotional discourse.”

The letter from the clerics, who include a number of imams, could play an extraordinarily significant role in the future of the city and its schools. The statement is important for a number of reasons:

The declaration frames the issue of “One Newark,” not as a political or educational question, but as a moral one—a question of right and wrong.  The pastors are not taking sides on whose educational theories are sounder, but on a far more fundamental question of how people should be treated and respected. To the religious leaders, Cami is just wrong.

“As religious leaders, we cannot, in clear conscience, ignore the moral imperative that a society empowers and engages human beings to lead in charting the course of their own destiny,” the statement declared.

“There are many well-educated, reasonable minded, and rational
individuals, parents, educators and citizens in general in the City of Newark.
They all share an intense passion for excellence in education; they have
come to feel that their input and voice have been repeatedly ignored. It is
unfair to characterize Newarkers opposing the current approach to change as
irrational and resistant to change in any case. Many voices of reason have
been largely denied meaningful input into the decision-making process.”

Pastors: Cami must stop and listen to the people
Pastors: Cami must stop and listen to the people

The widespread support behind the statement also gives the lie to Anderson’s contention, repeated in speeches and articles in sites like the Huffington Post, that opposition to the plan has been stirred by school employee unions and politicians like mayoral candidate Ras Baraka. Not so, say the religious leaders. This is an issue for the people of the city– the parents  and the children.

“The presentation and implementation process of the One Newark
Public School Plan has been fraught with problems. There are elements
within it that are controversial, and make unsubstantiated claims for
potential success. It has precipitated tremendous teacher turnover and has
adversely affected the overall morale of Newark schools and various
stakeholders directly or indirectly associated and affiliated with the Newark
Public School systems.”

Christie and Anderson cannot easily ignore the moral force—and the implicit political power—of the pastors’  letter. The religious leaders are men and women who know their city—they are not outsiders like the cadre of highly-paid administrators Anderson brought in from New York and New Orleans.  The pastors know the city and they are worried about the consequences of continued anger and frustration:

“The One Newark Public School Plan, as currently proposed, is already
producing irreversible changes and fomenting widespread outrage. It has
caused unnecessary instability in the Newark public school system, as well
as the lives of thousands of its families. The disruptive and divisive nature
of the One Newark Pubic School Plan could have catastrophic and far-reaching
consequences for the children of Newark, the reputation of the
State of New Jersey, and have implications for urban education nationally.”

Finally, the statement provides a clear and reasonable path forward. First, while not criticizing charter schools, it reminds Anderson her “ primary responsibility…should be to ensure excellent educational opportunities in the traditional Newark public school system.”

Many parents and others have complained Anderson’s primary effort has been to ensure the expansion of charter schools to the detriment of traditional neighborhood schools. That has to stop, the pastors say, and an alternative plan must be developed that would:

  1.  Employ data driven pedagogical practices.
  2. Offer stakeholders an opportunity to play a substantive role in
    determining the educational future of the children of Newark.
  3.  Provide for the citizens of Newark the opportunity to participate
    in, plan, and adopt a long term educational strategy of change
    that outlasts political tides, transitions, and tenures.
  4. Establish a working partnership between the State of New
    Jersey and the citizens of the City of Newark to successfully
    educate our children.

 

The full text of the pastors’ statement and its signatories follow:

NEWARK CLERGY POSITION STATEMENT

As religious leaders in the City of Newark, New Jersey, we submit the
following position statement regarding the One Newark Public School Plan.
This position statement represents our collective concerns with respect to the
current state of affairs facing the Newark Public School system.

We are extremely concerned about the level of public anger we see
growing in the community, based upon an overwhelming sense of
frustration, community disenfranchisement, and alienation that has resulted
from the One Newark Public School Plan the Superintendent of Schools has
proposed. It is not overly dramatic for us to say that we are extremely
worried about the level and tone of the current emotional discourse.

It is venomous and it is our view that unless we have an urgent, objective,
egalitarian discussion about what is happening now in the Newark school
system, the climate within the City will continue to deteriorate. As religious
leaders, we cannot, in clear conscience, ignore the moral imperative that a
society empowers and engages human beings to lead in charting the course
of their own destiny.

There are many well-educated, reasonable minded, and rational
individuals, parents, educators and citizens in general in the City of Newark.
They all share an intense passion for excellence in education; they have
come to feel that their input and voice have been repeatedly ignored. It is
unfair to characterize Newarkers opposing the current approach to change as
irrational and resistant to change in any case. Many voices of reason have
been largely denied meaningful input into the decision-making process.

We are unanimous in our view that major change is needed in Newark
Public Schools. Excellence in education is paramount to the forward
progress of the City of Newark and the lives of its citizens. This statement
neither condemns nor endorses Charter Schools. However, the primary
responsibility of the Newark School Superintendent should be to ensure
excellent educational opportunities in the traditional Newark public school
system.

The One Newark Public School Plan, as currently proposed, is already
producing irreversible changes and fomenting widespread outrage. It has
caused unnecessary instability in the Newark public school system, as well
as the lives of thousands of its families. The disruptive and divisive nature
of the One Newark Pubic School Plan could have catastrophic and farreaching
consequences for the children of Newark, the reputation of the
State of New Jersey, and have implications for urban education nationally.

The presentation and implementation process of the One Newark
Public School Plan has been fraught with problems. There are elements
within it that are controversial, and make unsubstantiated claims for
potential success. It has precipitated tremendous teacher turnover and has
adversely affected the overall morale of Newark schools and various
stakeholders directly or indirectly associated and affiliated with the Newark
Public School systems.

Therefore, the undersigned clergy call for a MORATORIUM on the
Implementation of the One Newark Public School Plan until a process can
be found to obtain meaningful and credible engagement of the Newark
community. We call upon the Newark Superintendent of Schools, the
Acting Commissioner of Education, and the Governor of the State of New
Jersey to agree to a suspension of any further action pertaining to the One
Newark Public School Plan until an alternative educational plan can be
developed with substantial input from stakeholders at all levels of the
Newark community.

In summary, an alternative educational plan should:
)o> Employ data driven pedagogical practices.
~ Offer stakeholders an opportunity to play a substantive role in
determining the educational future of the children of Newark.
~ Provide for the citizens of Newark the opportunity to participate
in, plan, and adopt a long term educational strategy of change
that outlasts political tides, transitions, and tenures.
)o> Establish a working partnership between the State of New
Jersey and the citizens of the City of Newark to successfully
educate our children.

It is with great humility and grave concern for our future that we
submit this plea for consideration and compromise. As members of the
clergy in this great city, it is our earnest prayer that peace and harmony will
prevail, and that every child in Newark will experience a brighter future.

NEWARK CLERGY POSITION STATEMENT SIGNATORIES
1. Rev. George Blackwell
2. Pastor Malachi Brantley
3. Dr. Mamie Bridgeforth
4. Min. J. Brown
5. Min. Denise Carr
6. Pastor Joe Carter
7. Min. Dale Ciceron
8. Pastor Patrick Council
9. Rev. E. Doxy
10. Dr. K. Doxy
11. Rev. J. Escobar
12. Pastor Sean Evans
13. Pastor Friday
14. Pastor Philip Gilmore
15. Dr. Aubrey Gregory
16. Dr. G 1 oria Harris
17. Pastor Gerard Hart
18. Apostle Gennie Holte
19. Dr. William Howard
20. Pastor Craig Jackson
21. Pastor Irving Johnson
22. Min. Mitchell Johnson
23. Bishop Jethro James
24. Pastor David Jefferson
25. Dr. Albert Lewis
26. Imam Aqeel Matea
27. Pastor Darren Munroe
28. Rev. Dr. Jacobs Obaiaeio
29. Pastor Raines
30.Pastor Hilton Rawls, Jr.
31. Rev. Louise Scott-Rountree
32. Rev. Dr. M.D. Rountree
33. Pastor Tyrone Sharpe, Sr.
34. Rev. Gerald Whitaker
3 5. Min. Keith Wilks
36. Rev. Bernard Wilks
37. Rev. Andre Speight
38. Min. Juanita Mayo
39. Rev. Eric Beckham
40. Dr. Ahmed Screvens
41. Rev. George Martinez.
42. Rev. John Teabout
43. Rev. Clarence Smith
44. Rev. Grady James
45. Rev. Martin Legree
46. Rev. James Collins
47. Rev. Vincent Rouse
48. Rev. R. Curry
49. Rev. Kimberly Credit
50. Rev. Henry Clay
51. Evang. Sara Lee
52. Rev. Andre Milteer
53. Rev. Robert Morrest
54. Rev. Roy Jones, VP
55. Rev. Ileathon McLeod
56. Rev. Kareem Christian
57. Rev. Ralph Thomas
58. Min. Barbara Turpin
59. Rev. Bennett Johnson
60. Rev. James Bailey III
61. Min. Darious Smith
62. Min. Frankie Phelps
63. Rev. Alfonzo Williams, Sr.
64. Rev. Anthony Mitchell
65. Rev. Andre Coffee
66. Rev. Ray Frazier
67. Pastor Lloyd Terrell
68. Rev. Vincent Grove
69. Rev. Orlando Vick
70. Rev. Jeffrey Bryant
71. Rev. Ralph M. Branch, Jr.
72. Rev. Cornelius W. Martin
73. Rev. Floyd Gaskins
74. Dr. T. Durr
7 5. Pastor Michael T. Westbrook
76. Rev. Douglass L. Williams
77. Dr. Perry Simmons

9 comments

  1. Barry Susman

    Which charter school operators are responsible for Christie’s ascent to the state’s highest office? And he gets to weaken organized labor too. It’s a win win for the darker elements in the state..

  2. Source1

    The Clergy has displayed its collective wisdom and has provided a moral compass to guide us all through these extremely difficult times. The governor should hear their plea and order a Moratorium on the One Newark scheme.

  3. Stressed

    I can’t understand why she hasn’t been run out of town by multitudes of people on horseback carrying torches demanding her head on a stake. People are angry enough, on all levels. Why is that a secret?

  4. P. Grunther

    I had seen this petition and was very heartened by it, especially because, as Bob notes, the tone is not inflammatory but the message is clear. However, I am wondering whether Christie and Anderson will willfully ignore it as they have any other criticism of the One Newark plan up till now. I agree that it would be hard for them to label all 77 religious leaders as simple defenders of the status quo or lazy teachers who are afraid of being evaluated, or whatever shallow labels they have attached to previous critics, but my suspicion is that they will simply not respond and continue to bulldoze their way forward – business as usual in other words. In their view of the world, these leaders have no real power to stop One Newark or to challenge or remove Cami Anderson and since it is entirely in their own interest (and their numerous inter-connected friends’ interest) to continue to privatize and undermine public schools, I fear that this is exactly what they’re going to do. It seems to me that our best hope is either through the ELC and possible lawsuits or the federal investigation of Christie which will hopefully force him to resign, in which case Cami Anderson will lose her champion in Trenton. Public pressure, no matter what source it comes from, has never moved either of them an inch in the past and so I’m wondering whether it can now.

    Bob Braun: I’m afraid you’re right. As much as I hate the phrase “new paradigm,” Christie has introduced a new way of behaving to New Jersey politics and, because the people of the state have endorsed it by re-electing him, there is no reason to expect him to change. He is a parody of good government, a preacher of qualities like opposition to corruption while he abuses pay-to-play openly; he contends he gets things done while the horror of endless suffering from Sandy shows it is untrue; he argues he can negotiate with political opponents but really means he buys political opponents or pressures them into submission. He is a liar and a fraud and, is by far, the worst governor I have known in a half-century of writing about them. I’ve never known anyone in politics like him and I’ve also never known an electorate to act so foolishly and a mainstream press to fawn so obsequiously. Chris Christie makes me sick.

  5. Jody Pittman

    Mr. Braun,
    With regard to your previous post, I am saddened by this article. I am an employee of the NPS and respected your perspective; however, you have definitely shared false information with your readers and since you asked for clarification, I am, without fear, forced to do so. Mr. Olagadeyo is an employee of the NPS – yes, he works in the Facilities Department – yes, this company you discussed has no connection with the Superintendent – no, Mr. Olagadeyo was here long before the Superintendent came to NPS – yes and is not a part of any consulting firm connected to the Superintendent – no. Mr. Olagadeyo does work in a unit of NPS Facilities Mgmt. that is responsible for environmental issues in any building owned and/or operated by NPS and is licensed to do so. It is his job to ensure that no child in the city of Newark, will walk in a building that is ridden with asbestos and/or any other hazardous material and as a parent in Newark, I would hope this would be regardless of whether the building is operated by a charter or public school as you seem not to be concerned with. Mr. Braun I give this true information to you with full knowledge of Ben’s position with the NPS and I should know because I sit within five (5) feet of him daily. He is a not only an employee of NPS, but a parent, a warrior for truth, a man of the Most High God and I am disgusted that you have brought such ugliness to his door. He is traumatized by your vilifying his character and honestly, put him jeopardy with his employment, because you state “your facts” with such strange and twisted assurance. It appears that as usual, those of you who have the ability to share true information, fight for those of us who may not be able to fight for ourselves, ultimately, do what you accuse your “target of the moment” of doing – destroy innocent people along the way. I’ve witnessed such behavior first hand and yes, it is appalling. I hope you rectify this article and apologize to Mr. Olagadeyo and his family, because once the ugly and false rumor is out, it has a way of sticking like glue. I as many who know Ben Olagadeyo are very disappointed in this article, but I unlike them have no fear of any retribution. Someone must stand for the truth and set your very inaccurate record straight.

    Bob Braun: I have answered your post.

  6. Jody Pittman

    Mr. Braun,
    I posted at 8:39 am and 8:50 am and it still says “your post is awaiting moderation.” What does that mean? Is it because my post is adversarial to your blog entitled Who is Benjamin Olagadeyo? Hmmmm……

    Bob Braun: Hmmmmm? I was unaware I was under any time constraints to answer posts, adversarial or positive. I don’t do this for a living, Jody Pittman (I’m sorry, I don’t know whether you are a Ms. or a Mr.) and most mornings I run for several hours in a nearby park. As you know, I’ve asked you some questions in my response to your earlier. You may take your time answering them.

  7. Bill Wolfe

    What is that police officer doing with that military assault weapon? In a church?

    When and where was that photo taken?

    Way over the top.

    Bob Braun: The photo was taken at New Hope Baptist Church, Newark, Jan. 21, 2014. It was the inaugural service for the governor. I cannot account for the assault weapon. Hell, I cannot account for Christie’s election,

  8. NJGS

    Earlier this week I read the letter that the Newark Religious leaders wrote and I applaud them. The letter is well written and expresses what the people of Newark and the teachers and support staff feel. We are angry with having ONE NEWARK shoved down our throats without any input from any of us. I am praying that this letter is the straw that breaks the back of all of this foolishness, but I fear it will be either ignored or misused / misquoted. I wish I knew what it would take to stop ONE NEWARK from continuing. It is like a slow boiling pot of water. I fear what will happen when it overflows. I am extremely fearful for my students. I don’t know what will happen to them and their families and I am concerned about their education if ONE NEWARK is not stopped.

    Bob Braun: Your fears are justified.

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