Cami insults top Newark high school principal and he says he is leaving

Lamont Thomas--caught between Christie and Anderson
Lamont Thomas–caught between Christie and Anderson

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.”

  1. Mr Thomas is a very effective leader and the Newark Public Schools will suffer a tremendous loss! Staff and students alike share this exact same sentiment! His dedication to the families of Newark has been compromised by the ineffectiveness of this vindictive superintendent! There is no continuity in her administration, the only ones that remain are the puppets that have been rejected elsewhere or the inexperienced that lack the knowledge that would contribute the efficient operation of another school system… The handwriting is on the wall Clammi, they only offered you a one year contract which is a clear indicator that they are not sure of you and your abilities to move this district forward. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the language contained in that agreement deters that cocky display of arrogance that we have been subjected to in the past…

  2. The only teachers and administrators that will remain in Newark are the puppets or as they like to think of themselves the courageous followers.
    Ineffective Evaluations are being given to the best teachers and administrators as revenge because they speak out against the injustices being done to the students and the lack of leadership in their schools. There are incompetent people running the district, protecting themselves, instilling nepotism, all in the name of the almighty $$. It is a disgrace.

  3. But this is exactly the plan! If you can’t claim a school is failing, then demoralize and humiliate the educators by making them jump through stupid, time-wasting hoops and then rate them poorly. Move ’em out, bring in the toadies and voilà, One Newark!

  4. Mr. Thomas is a phenomenal Principal and leader of Science Park and him leaving will weaken the school. So tired of political bullies. Cami needs to go!

  5. I don’t see how you are making this principal into a victim when all he was trying to do what keep low-performing and poor behaving students from ruining his scores and national profile. How is he different from a Charter principal? It’s seems to me that “separate but equal” was accepted in Newark as long as it was only happening at the Magnet Schools. For years, they’ve manipulated the per student formula to give them more money and more resources. They even made special deals with the superintendent to take SE students as long as the scores were encoded to go to their respective “feeder” schools. “Separate but Equal” has been alive and well in Newark for years, and this principal is no hero. He’s only looking after his own interests. If his school was that effective, they’d also be able to produce results with lower performing students. Science HS is no different than a charter.

    1. Mr. Thomas is the epitome of an effective, caring Principal. I know him personally and professionally.

      Bob, you got it correct in your prior piece. This is about nothing else but racism. I am not saying they went after Mr. Thomas because he is black—-I am saying they went after him because he would not succumb to the white power structure who wish to destroy the Newark Public Schools.

      Lamont, you are a brave champion for the children in the City of Newark. You will do fine in your career. If you leave Newark, I would not blame you, but I and the students of Newark would surely miss you…

    2. The commentary above is clearly from a troll who knows NOTHING about this High School. Science Park has been one of the most successful high schools in New Jersey, and not just Newark, for decades. The students are exceptional, excelling at everything from Academics and Debate to sports. It’s sad when you read comments from individuals that know nothing of the school system, it’s students or its teachers.

      1. If memory serves me, in either school year 2009-2010 or 2010-2011, parents actually lobbied to have Lamont Thomas removed from Science Park HS. Do the the research and stop riding the bandwagon. Call me all the insults you’d like, but that doesn’t negate the fact that Mr. Thomas resented the fact that he too would receive his fair share of problem students. Speak to facts. Science Park was exceptional high school throughout it’s existence, and if you actually do the research, you’d find that it actually dropped in ratings after Mr. Thomas took over up until last year. Criticize me all you’d like but please use an actual intelligent argument instead of name calling. How is Mr. Thomas being upset about taking his fair share of problems students different that a charter school doing it? I’m sure you have no explanation. Using name-calling as an argument or defense is the sign of ignorance. The “troll” looks forward to your counter argument.

        1. First of all you are clearly doing research yourself. The ranking of the school has gone up. Science Park High School is currently a Gold Standard School according to US Today, which if you don’t know or think is reliable (look it up yourself). Mr Thomas has prove himself to have been one of the best principals in the school’s history. He has not stopped any NSU students because they are correct for their protests. Science Park was on the verge of losing funding for all extra-curricular activities as well as the implementation of charter schools in the facility which would be harmful for the school. Adding more students to an already greatly populated school would contain various repercussions. Before you tell some else to do research. DO YOUR OWN!!

    3. I can tell you from experience that Mr. Thomas doesn’t have anything in common with a charter school principal. Unfortunately, I caused my daughter to waste 2 years of her education at a charter school. It was completely idiotic of me to ignore the warning signs here first year at this school, how the principal couldn’t relate to the students or parents, and especially when she fired teachers mid-school year without a plan to cover their vacancies. My “slap in the face” of reality came when I had a conference with this principal, as my daughter’s teacher advised, to discuss skipping my daughter a grade so she could progress in her learning rather than spending the school year as a teacher’s aid. In the end, the principal said, “there is nothing I can do.” Needless to say, this forced me to become more aggressive with my school search.

      Mr. Thomas and his staff created a family-like atmosphere at Science. Most importantly, the curriculum at Science is established in a way that ensures the students will continuously progress no matter what level they’re on.

    4. In response to Aidyn J.:

      People of goof faith can, and do, disagree about whether or not selective, public magnet schools such as Science Park should be allowed to exist.

      I do not, however, understand, why the fact that Mr. Thomas thinks they should be allowed to exist causes you to believe he deserves be rated “partially proficient.” Is there a row on the admistrator’s rubric wherein principals are evaluated on their ideological correctness?

      Furthermore, the current administration has made it abundantly clear that they can and will place any and every student wherever they want to; thus, Mr. Thomas’s perferences are moot in any case.

      Nor does it strike me as reasonable that he should be downgraded for advocating that the school to receive money and other resouces from the district. Surely, a principal that does NOT urge a school district to fund his school would deserve to recive a poor evaluation, moreso than one who does.

      Mr. Thomas is primarily guilty of fending off two proposed co-locations and a draconian budget cut over the course of three years. In the eyes of Cami Anderson, these are his greatest sins. Also very bad are the facts that the school started an IB program and posted its highest ever HSPA and SAT scores under his leadership. All of these things are considered bad because Science Park makes public education (and unionized teachers) look good, which only slows down the full-scale, New Orleans-style privitization of NPS.

      Thus, all NPS schools are in the same boat:

      If your school “looks bad,” Cami Anderson will undermine you at every turn because, hey, it’s failing school and so deserves to be destroyed.

      If your school “looks good” (Science, University, Hawthorne), Cami Anderson will undermine you because the existence of such schools create the impression that “the problem” isn’t with public education as a concept. All evidence of such a heresy must be destroyed.

      Fear not, Aidyn J.! There is absolutely no chance that Cami Anderson will replace Mr. Thomas with someone who is competent and who believes in the mission of the school. Unless there is a much stronger backlash against the style of education reform Cami Anderson than has been seen heretofore, Science Park will soon pay for all its sins, real and imagined.

  6. Bob

    While I cannot fault the principal for resigning, aren’t all summative evaluations due on May 15? Why did he only now receive this?

    Bob Braun: I am not sure when he received it. Word of it got out last week.

    1. They delayed uploading the evaluation to BloomBoard until well after May 15, probably to minimize backlash from the parents and school community. That sort of thing is much easier to organize during the school year.

  7. Cami is obviously trying to “equalize” education in all the city’s high schools. Why should only one school be above the rest? Equal education for all seems to be her motto -with not one school above the rest.

    1. My issue with Cami Anderson is that she is not “equalizing” education in Newark Public Schools. Science Park High School is not rated one of the best schools in the state because a group of people decided to place it there. Science is in this position because of Mr. Thomas’ leadership, outstanding faculty and staff, the PTSA, the students, and supportive parents. If Cami Anderson is trying to “equalize” education, why isn’t she implementing Mr. Thomas’ methods in other schools? Especially, in the high schools? In which, some have taken it upon themselves to do this.

      Science Park High School did not become an IB school because of Cami Anderson, it was due to Mr. Thomas’ and his faculty’s hard work and determination.

      Being an active member of the PTSA at Science, attending advisory board meetings, and most of all, attending NPS budget meetings, it is obvious that Cami Anderson does not want to “equalize” Newark Public Schools.

      1. “Cami is obviously trying to “equalize” education in all the city’s high schools. Why should only one school be above the rest? Equal education for all seems to be her motto -with not one school above the rest.”

        Notice that the word equalize is in quotations.

  8. Great work Bob in exposing this continued madness. We have similar struggles to protect good teachers and administrators who speak up and differ with the anti union agendas being promoted by many so-called “education reformers”….right now in Belleville and even in Progressive towns like Montclair.

  9. I have taught in Newark middle schools for the past few years and I can honestly say that Science Park does not just hand pick the best students from around the District; they examine everything from grades to behavior, to extra-curricular activities. Then they determine if the student is a good fit for the school. I have former 8th graders who were accepted to Science and they were not at the very top of their class; however, they were students with great work ethics and no behavioral issues.

    The idea of “equalizing” education across the city is an admirable idea; however it is unrealistic when you look at the number of effective teachers and principals getting chased out of this district. People are under the very common misconception that great students equals a great school; but that is not entirely true. Obviously having good students is very helpful, but having a culture of success in the school and parental support is even more important than hand-picking every student with a high GPA. If Cami keeps going after teachers and principals who are establishing an environment where High Expectations are held for all students, then how will any of this change for the better?

    Furthermore, since I have been in an 8th grade classroom while acceptance letters are handed out, and I have witnessed the crushing heartache of students not being accepted to their school of choice, one would think that I would be all for equal enrollment–but I am not. Inner city students are at a statistical disadvantage as it is and it is important to foster a strong work ethic in these students while they are young. If everybody stands an equal chance to get into Science, then should everyone stand an equal chance to get into Harvard? Yale? Penn? Howard? I don’t think so; students who work hard should have an upper hand. The real world (as all of you know) is centered around competition; forcing these students to strive for a top school by 9th grade will help these students gain the advantage they need as they further their education.

    Ms. Anderson needs to understand these students do not need “One Newark”; they need support. They need healthy class sizes, technology, up to date text books, challenging (and fun) novels–they need to be pushed regardless of the school or ward. They need to see that they can achieve. They need to get into great schools on the merit of their hard work, not on the back of some district plan. If she wants to help the students, help them by helping schools become environments of high achievement. Stop cramming several schools into one building. And stop cramming a flawed idea into this district.

  10. People need to pray to God that One Newark is Stopped!We need to have leaders of Newark working in the Newark Public School system that are looking out for the best interest of our children.We the parents of Newark should be able to choose the school our child attends.Schools should also be able to choose the children they want to attend.Magnet Schools should be able to test a child and then choose the students of their choice.As a parent I also believe that a child should have a balance life.I am against longer school hours.

  11. At this point, Cami can no longer shoulder the blame. She can no longer be held as the scapegoat for the failure of administrators and teachers, regardless of spectacularly effective they are, and parents feigning active participation from the sidelines.

    Cami is just a person. She is not Wonder Woman. She is not some Joseph Campbell hero predestined to succeed in her endeavors. Some of you on this blog, in reality, and employed with NPS give her too much credit. You exalt her even when you demonize and demagogue her.

    If you as a parent believe you should be able to enroll your child in a school of your choice, then do so! Cami will not personally barricade a school and deny your child entry. Stop making excuses for why as a community you are begrudgingly allowing OneNewark to propagate.

    I’m tired of reading and hearing the phrase “somebody should…” If you feel so strongly that some action should be taken against One Newark, then, take serious action by refusing to complete a universal enrollment application. Resist complicity with NPS and simply register your child with the school of your choice. You aren’t an indentured servant. Stop waiting for someone else to change your circumstances.

    Do you think the parents in the community she lives in allow an opportunistic carpet-bagger to dictate the terms under which their children will be educated? They don’t. For them, it’s a non-starter.

    Bob Braun: Strong but needed commentary. Thank you.

    1. I am pretty sure you don’t know much of what has happened so I suggest you read past news reports on the subject. Cami Anderson is the Superintendent. You are correct when you say she is not “Wonder Woman” but she is the head of the school district. She is to get responsibility because she is in charge or so we assume. It is hard for a school to do better for students if every year they are in risk of getting closed or funding is reduced, or even students are moving from school to school as if it were a random admissions process for school. Parents and students for a long time have tried to raise their voice against what Cami Anderson is doing but people like you criticize and give us a bad name. Are you even form Newark? If not I suggest not creating your own opinion.

  12. I totally agree with Mr. Outside. I love Ras. I love working in the city, but I too am tired of reading about how One Newark must be stopped. Parents just need to stop it from happening. Refuse to comply with the application process, refuse to send your child to the school that was chosen for you, just don’t send your kids in September! That’s it. Enough is Enough! ( remember that slogan around the schools?) Cami is just not going to leave politely. Parents need to take a stand as a community. As an educator in the system for about 20 years, I can honestly say the saying “strength in numbers” will never happen because many of these parents will never organize and stand up for what they believe. They will complain to the home school, complain to the playground PTA, complain to the neighbors they speak to, but they will never organize and take a stand as one collective group. that is the huge problem. Parents and community leaders need to come out strong in numbers, thousands- not hundreds- and make their voices heard. The educators can not take this stand alone.

    1. The problem is a lack of communication amongst the community. Everyone stays in their own bubble and unless they are directly being affected will not react. It is very sad it is like that. I would like there to be more community engagement. This is the advantage Cami Anderson has over Newark and at this point in the One Newark Plan it is an advantage one cannot afford. We need help from all schools not only a few which has happened for some time.

  13. Bob

    I can say as a Science Park HS parent that Mr. Thomas is an ultimate, ethical, intelligent and effective administratior.
    Mr. Thomas wants the best for every child enrolled within Science Park HS. He is the principal there after hours and fully invested in the future success of our children getting great SAT scores, a competitive education, and acceptance into the top schools not just in the US but Oxford.
    He is a Harvard educated African-American man whom has been bullied and pushed to resign!
    As parent I pray we all come out and support Mr. Thomas because yet again this machine will have won another battle!
    It is beyond awful this Plantation; Willy Lynch mentally. This is not about 1 or 2 but the best for all schools in the NPS system.
    When do we place the children first not power, egos, or political agendas!
    They are trying to destroy institutions like Science Park HS and Arts High an 83 year old pillar in our community.
    There is no room for crabs in the barrel this fight it is our city and all of our children.
    We the parents support Mr.Thomas and Science Park HS.

  14. Thomas was a jerk to me personally. I love Science Park but he was very mean and unfair to me. The current principal is great as was Taylor…Ijs

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