Late Wednesday afternoon, Lamont Thomas politely excused himself from a meeting with central office administrators and returned to his inner office at the ultra-modern Science Park High School building on Norfolk Street. He picked up the microphone he used to make school-wide announcements and then said something that shocked the faculty and staff and a few students still there. He said he would probably be leaving as principal of Science Park High School. Then he returned to his meeting without mentioning what he had just done.
“We were stunned into silence,” said one staff member. “He just said he could no longer go along with the way the district was being run.”
Thomas, who had helped make the high school the jewel of a much aligned Newark school system, had just been given a “partially effective” evaluation by Cami Anderson, the state-imposed school superintendent. It was an insult and a humiliation and , within hours of its delivery to Thomas, social media reported it throughout the Newark school system.
Christine Taylor, the president of the City Association of School Administrators (CASA), the union representing school principals, brought up Thomas’s evaluation at last Tuesday’s school board meeting.
“How can she do that to the principal of Science?” she asked.
Anderson, who believes in the powers of disruption theory, had done things like this in the past. She is especially fond of humiliating strong black school leaders. She had just told the principal of Hawthorne Avenue School, the highest achieving neighborhood public school in the system, to reapply for his job–although all the teaching staff members were allowed to stay without reapplying. Earlier in the year, Anderson had suspended James and four other principals for raising questions about the “One Newark ” plan to replace neighborhood schools with charters and other privatized schools.
Of all school administrators, however, Lamont Thomas seemed the most likely to escape Anderson’s curious habit of insult strong black school leaders. After all, when she was introduced as Newark’s school superintendent by Gov. Chris Christie in 2011, Science Park was the venue and Thomas posed with them. He was considered the most successful school, principal in the district.
In retrospect, the picture looks portentous–Christie and Anderson appear to be sharing a joke Thomas doesn’t quite understand.
His supporters at Science say they do not believe this is part of some racist agenda, however. They believe its is pay-back for the quiet resistance with which Thomas has confronted Anderson over “One Newark.”
He also may have failed to impose too few “partially ineffective” or “ineffective” ratings on teachers, some sources say. And most leaders of the anti-Cami Newark Students Union (NSU) are and were students at Science Park. The NU members blocked the busy intersection of Broad and Market streets at rush hour and conducted an all-night sit-in at Newark Public School headquarters.
|“She rated him partially effective because he is not jumping on the One Newark bandwagon,” a staff member said of Anderso’s evaluation.“ Why would he when she is basically razing the school he brought to soaring heights in his four years at the helm? She loved him when she thought he was on her team. But, when he had the audacity to question her, everything started to go bad.” Lamont supports his teachers, and staff, as well as his students, and parents, the staff member said.Thomas also refused to crack down on the activities of the Newark Student Union (NSU), many of whose leaders come from Science Park High School. NSU members have led some of the strongest rallies against Anderson and “One Newark,” including the shutdown of Broad and Market at rush hour and an all-night sit-in at school board offices.Staff members say they believe Thomas may not return in the fall but, if he does, it will be his last year with the Newark system.
“Don’t worry for him– what district wouldn’t want a dynamic, youngish, African American male, who moved his school into direct competition with the best and the brightest of the schools in every suburb or NJ?” said one staff member.
But the students, the parents and the staff won’t be “fine.”
“Why does Cami want to ruin one of the few things in Newark that is working? Today was a sad day for those of us at Science who listened, in silent shock, as our beloved leader told us he will probably be leaving, if not by September, then within the next year. He’s a good man. He does not need to stay and be further insulted. Really, none of us should.”