Cami Anderson, appointed by Gov. Chris Christie three years ago to run the Newark schools, should resign immediately because she represents a danger to the children and employees of New Jersey’s largest city. More than a week ago, she kept the schools open in Newark when all the schools in Essex and neighboring counties were closed–including Newark charter schools. Today, she did not order the schools closed until many children and employees were on their way or already in school. Most charter schools were closed by 7 a.m.
I can’t read her mind or her heart. I can’t know what her motivation is. But mounting external evidence points to this: She is trying to destroy confidence in Newark’s public school system in favor of creating support for a free-trade zone for charter schools.
In response to Anderson’s actions, the president of the Newark school board said she was “appalled and angered” by the failure to provide timely notice of the system’s closing. Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson apologized for what happened. The Newark school board, while elected, has been reduced to an advisory capacity by the state takeover law–it has no say in the school closing decision.
Mayoral candidate Ras Baraka called Anderson’s actions “yet another example of how Chris Christie’s superintendent is running our schools with reckless disregard for the well being of Newark’s parents and children.” Baraka is on leave as principal of Newark’s Central High School.
Matthew Frankel, the spokesman for Anderson, did not respond to a request for comment sent some seven hours ago.
There can be debate about how best to operate a public school system. There can be debate about how good charter schools are compared to conventional public schools. There can be a debate about bringing in administrators from New York and New Orleans to replace veteran local educators. There can be a debate about the value of Teach for America dilettantes versus well-trained teachers.
There can even be a debate about closing, selling off, or otherwise repurposing a third to a half of all Newark public schools. Or about whether the exercise of free speech represents insubordination.
And maybe, just maybe, there even be a debate about whether a school superintendent can hate school employees and their unions so much she can treat them like 12th Century serfs. But….
But there can be no debate about the safety of Newark’s children.
I have asked employees and parents to send me notes about their experiences today. I will not use their names because Anderson takes revenge against critics, suspending principals and banning parent leaders from the schools their children attend (another reason she should resign). Here’s an interesting fact sent in by many teachers–the call-in system that would allow teachers to call in as absent did not work this morning and that drove many teachers to come to school rather than face disciplinary action for being AWOL. Coincidence?
From a parent: “I wanted to tell you what my morning consisted of as a parent of children in Newark schools. I have two children–one attends public school and the other attends a charter. I received a call at 6am from the charter school informing me that classes were
canceled today. I proceeded to check NPS website expecting a cancellation
notice and nothing was posted. I got my child who attends public
school out the door by 7:00am, as her classes begin at 8:05am. I
received a call from NPS at 7:54 am about cancellations. To top it
off, the voice recording was in a foreign language that I could not
understand. I decided to check the website again to find out classes were
canceled. My child was already in school when the vice principal sent all the
students home. I was lucky enough that my child’s classmate gave her a ride
home. It was very irresponsible to make not only the children but also the
school staff come out in this weather. The last storm we had my child was
stuck on a NJ transit bus for 2 hours on a trip which would normally last
5 minutes from school. All this because someone is thinking about herself instead
of our children safety.
Here is the account of a parents who also is a teacher:
“I am a parent of students in NPS, but am also a teacher in NPS. I woke
up my three sons to get ready to go to school. Two of them attend school and
one is left home with a baby sitter. My middle child noticed that it was
snowing and asked if we had school. I contacted both their schools and they
said they were open. All three of my children are asthmatic and cold weather
triggers their asthma. Currently one child is receiving treatment every four
hours to control his asthma. Even with all this in mind, I prepared them for
school, as I know that attendance is important. Driving to my middle child’s
school, the roads were very slippery and the ABS in my car was not working
properly and I began questioning why schools were open. When I arrived to my
middle son’s school, I was alerted that school was closed by a teacher. I
turned the car around and went home. As I was going home, I almost got into a
car accident, because my brakes did not work. My car was literally inches from
being struck by oncoming traffic. As I was getting home, at 7:54 I was finally
contacted that school was closed. At 8:02 I finally received a call from
my son’s school that schools were closed. It was really inconvenient and
dangerous. What was Cami thinking? Guess this is payback for the meeting
last Tuesday.” (At that meeting, Anderson stormed out when a parent referred to her “brown baby.”)
Here’s the account of one teacher:
“I got up and checked NPS website, the news and my voicemail to see if there was a delayed opening or cancellation of school. No message. I left my house at 7:15 am and arrived at school by 7:45. I don’t live very far, but there were white out conditions and very slippery roads. When I got to work I was met by my vice principal who informed me that school had just been called closed. She was texting as many people as she had numbers for. There were several teachers already there, one who had left her house at 5:30 and driven up the Turnpike. The climate of fear at NPS keeps people from calling out, even on dangerous snowy days. Students were sitting outside in the snow and parents were calling the office frantically trying to figure out where their kids were. My vice principal stayed and manned the phones as there was no one else in the office. I left with four other teachers at about 8:30. When I got home, I saw there was a voice mail on my land line that there was no school. That voice mail came at 7:55. Many of the teachers who were already en route got the text message from my vp to turn around and go home. Teachers had already been in their cars for over an hour braving the terrible conditions. Other teacher friends of mine from different NPS schools reported the same conditions. Teacher and students who were already in the building told to turn around and go home. Disgraceful.”
From a vice principal:
“My husband, a VP at —– and I cleaned off our cars and left with enough time for a longer commute. As our house is on a high elevation, about 45 minutes from my school, my car became stuck on the road near our house. My husband managed to back it down the hill and safely into our driveway. I called the school, and one of our secretaries was already there. She said that quite a few staff members had already called out. I was worried that children would be in the school without supervision and begged my husband, owner of a lightweight Honda Civic, to drive me to my school. I was determined to keep my babies safe. Though the wheels were spinning and the car was emitting gas fumes, we finally made it up the hill. We navigated 202 to 287 to 80 and were finally on 280, headed into Newark, when the phone rang at 7:45 with the snow day announcement. I called the school. The secretary told me that at least 20 staff members had already made it into the building as well as quite a few children. Our parents view our school as a safe haven, and we often have children dropped off early. Our parents are mostly hourly workers and don’t get paid when they don’t show up. As it was too late to arrange for childcare, many were quite upset that they had to return to school to pick up their children. What’s more, the special ed buses were already on the roads picking up our disabled children. The late announcement of a snow closure put our children and staff at risk. “
From a school employee who also is a charter school parent:
“I work at a charter school and I got the call at 630. My daughter attends Newark public schools and the call came in at 755!!!! Outrageous !!!”
From a preschool teacher:
“What about the collaborative teachers and students in the Newark preschool system? We are not part of the union and no one seems to remember us, even though we are 80% of the population of pre-k kids in Newark. We have wrap around through DHS and open at 7:30am. We had school open and had to frantically call parents who were already at work. My friend got into a car accident coming to work. We are dedicated teachers and we are (literally) putting our lives in jeopardy now.”
Here is one that’s so interesting because of what you will read at the end:
“I was in the building last time they failed to close and I had 2 out of my 11 students. Other classrooms had close to the same number. We have a building of about 500 students and we probably didn’t have more than 20-30 students in the building. Today, I was fed up and was going to call out sick. We are told that if we use over 5 sick days our evaluation gets dropped in rank – so effective teachers are listed as partially effective and then no pay increase. But I didn’t care anymore, it’s my first year teaching and I’ve been getting sick every month since September. We get penalized even though we have 15 sick days in our contract.
” Either way I was done being terrorized and I chose to stay home. I have a sinus infection and didn’t want to force myself in such horrible conditions. Like last time, the substitute teacher system was backed up with calls. So many of us couldn’t get through and had to go to work because we couldn’t get substitutes. Today was the same thing, same problem. The system was backed up and many of us couldn’t get through again.”
“Those teachers who were able to get into the building were told to stay until all the children who showed up went home. It’s absolutely insane that we are put through these conditions. That our students have to be forced to walk in those conditions.
“Lastly, I wanted to let you know that I’m a Teach for America corp member. And I’m appalled by what’s happening in Newark. There are many of us who feel this way, who are teaching in public schools and feel that what Cami is doing is wrong. When we signed up we didn’t do it to hurt veteran teachers. We signed up to make a difference. To teach students in communities in need, low income communities where some of us came from. To serve students who share our same background. I hope you realize that many of us are supporting NPS and wish we weren’t part of this mess.”
Can’t think of a better way to end this tale of stupidity, incompetence, and mean-spiritedness.