Guest Blog: For public school advocates, it’s Fight Week in NJ


By Becca Fields

Throughout New Jersey, throughout the nation, public schools are under attack
Throughout New Jersey, throughout the nation, public schools are under attack

Every day has been a struggle for those believing in public education–genuinely public education–in their fight against forces set on dismantling our schools and selling them for auction on the corporate market.  But this week in New Jersey is an exceptional Fight Week.  Across the state, especially in urban districts, meetings and protests will define the issues and, maybe, help determine the future of our public education system.

Principals strike back, file federal suit alleging “conspiracy” to silence critics of “One Newark”

Dorothy Handfield, H. Grady James and Tony Motley speak Jan. 15. Photo by Black Snow
Dorothy Handfield, H. Grady James and Tony Motley speak Jan. 15. Photo by Black Snow

The five Newark school principals and one parent leader punished by state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson for speaking out against her plan for closing public schools have filed suit against her and the school district in federal court, contending their First Amendment rights were violated and they were subjected to “public ridicule and scorn.”

Three Newark principals reinstated, two reassigned to central office

Three of the five Newark principals suspended after criticizing the “One Newark” plan have been reinstated.  H. Grady James of Hawthorne Avenue,  Tony Motley of Bragaw Avenue, and Dorothy Handfield of Belmont-Runyon will return to their jobs Monday. Two others will not be permitted to return to their schools. According to union sources, Deneen Washington of Maple Avenue and Lisa Brown of Ivy Hill School have been reassigned to the Central Office.

Don’t call it educational child abuse. Just child abuse.

christiecamiIn 1987, then Gov. Thomas Kean, pressing for passage of the state school takeover law, called the failure of urban schools “educational child abuse.” On Jan. 22, 2014, the state administration of the Newark schools—now in power for 19 years—kept public schools open in single-digit degree cold and more than 10 inches of snow. But Newark’s charter schools–so obviously favored by state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson,  state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, and Gov. Chris Christie–were allowed to close.

Charters closed, public schools open in snow emergency: Does the state care about Newark’s children?

Newark when the decision was made to keep schools open--but only publics, not charters. Courtesy of Alturrick Kenney.
Newark when the decision was made to keep schools open–but only publics, not charters. Courtesy of Alturrick Kenney.

Newark public schools are open today despite some 12 inches of snow in some parts of the city. The city’s charter schools—whose leaders insist are just as public as conventional public schools—were closed. Apparently the safety of charter school children and teachers is more dear to the hearts of Newark’s school leaders than is the welfare of  conventional public school children and employees.

Newark’s schools–where parent notices are torn up and bathroom conversations are monitored

Daryn Martin
Daryn Martin

The  Newark school principals suspended for speaking publicly now have company.  The state-appointed administration has cracked down on a parent organization president taping up notices of a PTO meeting and a central office clerk talking on a cell phone while using the ladies’ room. Welcome to Newark’s schools, the Republic of Fear, where even using the potty can be monitored by spies for state-imposed superintendent Cami Anderson, who, in turn, has emerged as the latest of Gov. Chris Christie’s mini-me surrogate bullies to achieve notoriety—and shame.

Newark school boss Anderson cracks down on critics, suspends five principals in one day

H. Grady James--too successful?
H. Grady James–too successful?

At Newark’s Hawthorne Avenue School, the test scores are up, higher than state-imposed goals—and certainly better than those of the highly touted “Renew” schools favored by the administration. The hallways are quiet. Teachers and administrators get along. And this was all done despite central office’s stripping away of faculty resources and shameful neglect of the building. So, in the crazy, bullying logic of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration of city schools, it was time to suspend the school’s successful  principal, H. Grady James. He was just too good to be allowed to stay.

Bridgegate: Did opposition to Christie school reform play a role?

Superman Steven Engravalle and an admirer.
Superman Steven Engravalle and an admirer.

What about Fort Lee  ticks people off?  Like all those aides in the governor’s office. The mayor, Mark Sokolich? Or state senator,  Loretta Weinberg—the woman Chris Christie said we  should “take a bat to”?  Some say it’s the Hudson Lights building project. Or, just maybe,  the school board’s disdain for charter schools and firing of a  superhero of school “reform,” Steven  Engravalle.