Sara Da Silva-Ferreira stands at the fence at the back of the property members of her family have owned for years in Newark’s Ironbound. She looks past the rough chain-links right into a school playground she knows well because she played there as a student and now her daughter Gabrielle attends school there, too. Her cousins attended the large elementary school as well. The familiar sight of the playground and the tall school walls looming behind it makes Sara sad and angry now because she has been told for two years that her son Julian cannot attend the same school. The Oliver Street School.
Newark school administrators now working for newly appointed state superintendent Christopher Cerf are trying to force the city’s special education teachers and specialists to persuade the parents of the neediest of the city’s children to buy into a special “pathway” that could rob the students of much needed services.
Gov. Chris Christie and his powerful Democratic allies–most notably US Sen. Cory Booker and South Jersey political boss George Norcross–promote charter and voucher schools as a way of avoiding the two most pressing problems facing urban public education: Chronic underfunding of the state school aid formula and oppressive racial isolation. By favoring charter schools that can help a few students, Christie, Booker, and Norcross never have to face the problem of providing all children with the constitutionally required level of schooling that is their birthright.
This is a nation that doesn’t simply tolerate felonious behavior by its wealthiest entrepreneurs–it rewards it. If you are rich enough and powerful enough, you can get away with nearly sinking the American economy and be forgiven–and even given a raise. However, if you are poor, if you are just holding on to a low wage job, you can be thrown into the streets–and the powerful among us will call it accountability. Consider the 91 Newark school employees who will be among those laid off this year to help the state reduce the $60 million deficit its mismanagement created.
A veteran Newark teacher who knows she will be brought up on tenure charges when she returns to school in the fall writes she was “heartbroken” by events in Newark because it appears nothing much will change for teachers who spent their careers in the city and face dismissal or “rubber rooms.” A parent leader describes how the “One Newark” plan continues unabated and is clearly aimed at helping to expand charters. The new superintendent will continue the old superintendent’s policies because they were, after all, the policies of Gov. Chris Christie. The strong opposition that had been building to state control has vanished in the heat of the summer–and anyone who wonders why is branded a “crackpot” or “paternalistic” or worse.
(Editor’s Note: I was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting of the state school board and asked Melissa Katz, a well-known student activist and supporter of public education, to cover the meeting for me. Her report is complete and comprehensive and will give the most thorough account of what happened at the meeting I have yet seen).
By JONATHAN ALSTON
Chris Cerf Must Not Become the Next Superintendent of Newark’s Public Schools: He has Already Exploited Us Enough
The chairman of the legislative committee overseeing the Newark schools has called on the state Board of Education to reject Gov. Chris Christie’s choice of Christopher Cerf as the city’s schools superintendent. State Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex), chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Schools, told the board that putting Cerf, a former state education commissioner, in charge of the state’s largest district would be like “putting the fox in charge of the chickens.” Rice provided each member of the 10-member state panel with more than 50 pages of documents outlining what he called Cerf’s “questionable activities and relationships.”
The family histories of so many in this nation include escape from religious persecution, wars and revolution, political oppression, famine, unbearable hardship, pogroms and the Holocaust. We are who we are because the oppressed faced the unknown and came here to start a new life. It was so jarring for Chris Christie to talk yesterday about his American Dream story as an escape from a neighborhood, Vailsburg, that was becoming integrated.