Cami Anderson, Newark’s now disgraced superintendent, was many things. Arrogant. Mendacious. Insensitive. Too willing to use Newark schools as a hiring hall for inept cronies from New York and New Orleans. But she was right about one thing–and that one thing may turn out to be the most important thing facing Newark’s neighborhood public schools. Her successor, she said, would be worse for Newark’s public schools than she was–and that’s before she even knew who her successor would be. Of course, it turned out to be her old boss and enabler, Christopher Cerf.
She wrote that in an email to the late Joseph Del Grosso, then the president of Newark Teachers Union (NTU). Del Grosso told me Anderson warned him about trying to drive her out of office back in the spring 2014.
“She said she wasn’t the problem–that whoever came after her would be much more eager to expand charter schools and close public schools,” I remember Del Grosso telling me.
Cerf is a nationally known champion of charter schools. In New York, as an aide to Joel Klein, the chancellor, he opened 100 new charters. When he was named the new Newark superintendent in the deal that supposedly will bring local control to Newark some day, Mayor Ras Baraka–who had been the leader of the anti-state control forces–inexplicably announced it really didn’t matter who the superintendent was because the city’s residents would have local control.
He couldn’t believe Cami Anderson was right. But she was.
Cerf, despite his denials and his ability to shade facts, has been brought to Newark to expand charter schools. Just look at the plans for both Uncommon Schools and KIPP schools, the two largest charter school chains operating in Newark. On top of that that, the odd hybrid known as Brick Academy with its two schools–Peshine and Avon–are expected to attempt a conversion to charters.
By the end of the spring, plans will be in place for a charter expansion that is likely to see most elementary students–certainly most students who don’t need special services–enrolled in privately operated charter schools.
Cami Anderson was right. And local control will mean nothing.
I don’t believe Baraka deliberately sold out Newark’s traditional public schools. I do believe, however, that he committed the worst rookie mistake a New Jersey politician could ever commit–he trusted Gov. Chris Christie.
The deal with Christie ended Newark’s spring and its growing anti-state energy. The students are off the streets. The loudest critics have fallen silent. The school board meets with Cerf behind closed doors with some members actually believing his oily assurances that he is “authentically” in support of local control.
The Newark Educational Success Board accomplished two major aims–two aims of the governor. It silenced and neutralized some of the loudest and most articulate critics of the state regime–while putting in positions of power outsiders like Donald Katz and Al Koeppe and Ross Danis who have a history of supporting charter schools.
The board has paralyzed itself by agreeing to a consensus method of operation–everyone has to agree. Sorry–but Donald Katz, the CEO of Audible, Inc., a Montclair resident, and a national director of Uncommon Schools, is not interested in saving neighborhood public schools. He has nothing in common with Jose Leonardo, also on the committee, who is president of the Newark Students Union.
Why should Leonardo compromise one inch to accommodate Katz and achieve consensus? Because Katz is a millionaire who contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Cory Booker?
If I–or anyone else–were to suggest to Mayor Baraka year ago that he would allow five non-Newark residents (and the board is dominated by five non-residents)–to determine the future course of the city’s schools, he would have laughed me out of town. I would have deserved the epithet he has given me–“crackpot.”
But that is precisely what happened. None of the five-member majority of the boards—not Cerf, not Katz, not Koeppe, not Danis, not Rochelle Hendricks–lives in Newark. Only one–Hendricks–is a person of color. Not one has remotely lived the life of the typical Newark resident.
Yet they will determine the “roadmap” to local control.
And they already have said it will take longer than expected.
Who’s the “crackpot” now?
Meanwhile, “One Newark” remains and children are dispersed throughout the city while parents struggle to send four kids to four different schools. The budget shortfall remains. The charters see a “charter spring” coming thanks to Cerf and Baraka.
Who would have believed it a year ago?
But Cami Anderson was right.