Cami wanted disruption–and, last night, she got it

Members of the Newark Students Union inside the lobby of school headquarters
Members of the Newark Students Union inside the lobby of school headquarters

Newark’s school superintendent belongs to that tribe of self-proclaimed and irresponsible school reformers who contend public schools must be “disrupted” before they can be improved–and she has done so much disrupting that scores of clergy have warned of “catastrophic” consequences. Last night, she faced  disruption aimed at her, a group of high school students who stopped a board meeting with their non-stop chants and sat in for the night. Maybe longer.

“We’re staying until we see some steps toward meeting our demands,” said Kristin Towkaniuk, president of the Newark Students Union, who led the demonstration. Chief among those demands is the resignation of Cami Anderson.

The nine students who decided to stay the night received some impressive support. School board members, city council members, and civil rights and community activists and even Mayor-elect Ras Baraka joined the students during the evening and into the night. Baraka, whose candidacy gave hope to pro public school forces in  the city, arrived just before midnight to visit with the students.

“I want to make sure they had something to eat, that they were not being mistreated,” said Baraka, who said he supported the students’ demands that Anderson resign and abandon her “One Newark” plan that would replace neighborhood public schools with privately operated charter schools.

Baraka said he would ask acting state education commissioner David Hespe to remove Anderson as a “first step” toward reaching an agreement on how the city can begin to reform education–without disrupting the lives of thousands of children and their parents. Anderson is a state-appointed superintendent because the state took over the school district 19 years ago.

Baraka also endorsed an alternative plan, called “Newark Promise,” that would base school reform in a network of community schools that would offer wrap-around services designed to help children and their families.  The protesting students wanted to deliver copies of that report to Anderson.

“But she just walked away and left it there,” said Towkaniuk. “She ignored it.”

The students had led a march and rally before the board meeting but then decided to attend the session. Anderson has refused to attend regular public sessions of the board since February but has come to the panel’s working meetings that do not hear from the public.

As Newark mayor, Baraka, a former high school principal and son of the late poet/playwright Amiri Baraka, has little power over the public schools but his campaign galvanized a demoralized community against state intrusiveness in their operation. State control had primarily been an issue only to the local leadership until, with the full support of Gov. Chris Christie, Anderson began closing neighborhood schools in favor of new charter schools. Then grass roots anger grew.

Pro-Anderson New York financiers plowed $4 million into the campaign against Baraka, culminating in a marathon of television ads in favor of his rival, a pro-Anderson law school teacher and charter school supporter named Shavar Jeffries. Jeffries, who had been on the school board, tried to distance himself from Anderson and her plan but the support from pro-charter groups gave the lie to his attempt to show his independence. He outspent Baraka 8 to 1 but lost the election by a 54 to 46 percent margin.

Last night, school officials refused to allow press to come into the building to talk to the students, but I interviewed students and others through a space in the doors to a lobby. They said they were prepared to be arrested but hoped that would not happen. Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, a member of the school board and its former president, said she would stay with the students until they left.

“I am going to make sure they are all right,” she said.




  1. Things will continue to escalate until the Governor and Hespe have the courage to terminate the Superintendent.
    My congratulations to Mayor-Elect Ras Baraka for his continued strength and willingness to support the students.

  2. Regardless of the end result, the act in itself is really great because it indicates that students are not fungible commodities and that they have needs just like any other person. The demand for those needs to be met after being neglected for so long by Cami Anderson’s throne is plausable. So people can keep saying that this is pointless, nothing will happen, nothing will change — but that isn’t the point. Their action alone means something has happened, the students finally took an initiative to be heard in a community that ostracized their voices for years and even kd demands aren’t met, they have been made. I think these types of actions are exactly what made Baraka’s campaign a success because the community is more conscious of the issues, in the same way the media is covering this event. Parents teachers and other alumni will see this and understand that Cami does need to go and the community will ensure she does.

  3. FOOLISHNESS. I am a Newarker parent who sent in a request to be placed on last night’s agenda, called to confirm said request, AND was one of the first ten people to sign the sheet for an opportunity to speak last night. You want to know what happened? NADA. NOTHING! I have legitimate curriculum assignment concerns that is blatantly racist at my daughter’s elementary school YET I was NOT heard. I do NOT support One Newark, but the protesters need to have given the other community members and parents that were at the meeting an opportunity to voice their concerns. The Newark Advisory Board has NO control/supervision over what happens to Cami Anderson. THEY do have purview, or at least could have given those who signed in, some potentially real first-step solutions to the issues we wanted to bring to their attention. The students have a right to protest, BUT their right should NOT have superseded those of us who had OTHER Newark district concerns! My ten year old is in a school with brown and black students YET on two different occasions she was given racially insensitive assignments, one of which was seeped in stereotypes about Latinos and African Americans AND none of which could have been aligned with the outdated CCSS curriculum on NPS’ website. MY VOICE WAS NOT HEARD and I am pissed because next year these teachers will still be at the school and will give out these same dumb assignments!

    1. The protestors aren’t responsible for your voice. If you want it to be heard, then make that effort but don’t expect the protesting oppressed voicing their own discerns to carry what you have to say. Find a way to get it out there.

  4. Glad to see at least History is being taught in the Schools — Rosa Parks STOOD FOR SOMETHING, MARTIN LUTHER KING STOOD FOR SOMETHING – I’m happy to see if it has to take a page out of their book of History meaning “STAND FOR SOMETHING OR FALL FOR ANYTHING” that the Students Stood for something “AMEN”

  5. These students have taken a stand and have rightfully shamed those teachers and other NPS workers who simply will not make the time to have their presence felt during rallies, marches, etc. I’m calling all of you out. Teachers, Administrators, Service Workers, andy all other NPS employees, GET IN THE GAME!!!! THE CHILDREN HAVE TAKEN A STAND. WHEN WILL YOU????

  6. Cami got what she wanted, an opportunity to go home early from the meeting, had to deal with the public for only 20 minutes, and not have to answer any questions or hear any comments from the public.

    The Newark Teachers Union wanted all school employees to attend a “large” rally at Board headquarters, 2 Cedar Street. What they got was about 60 people, mostly students. Even with the threat of 300 school employees being laid off, the union could not get teachers and other employees – even those affected by layoffs – to appear for the protest..

    As long as Cami has the blind Christie’s support, she will continue to do what she wants to the detriment of Newark school children. As things stand now, school will open September in chaos. Parents will keep their children away from school they don’t want their children to attend, transportation will be inadequate, and many classrooms will be empty because of layoffs next month of teachers and aides.

    And while this is all happening, the school system is bleeding $24,000/child/year to continue a dysfunctional school system. Unbelievable!!!

  7. I commend those student,it is time we newarkers wake up and fight for what should be.

  8. Thank you Mr. Braun for covering this important and poignant demo by our children. And, please allow me to give a heartfelt thank you to the Honorable Ras Baraka for his continued love & support of our
    children, along with Mrs.
    Baskerville-Richardson, for staying with our children to ensure their safety. God bless all of you & let’s pray that God gives the powers that be in Trenton, to make changes we so desperately need. Amen!

  9. I am glad to see that the students in Newark are exercising their right and duty to fight those who do not have their best interest at heart. Proud to see, that 60 years after Brown v. Board of Ed, that our students are strong enough and willing to say, “enough already.” I say, fight for what you want, if it’s the removal of Cami Anderson, then don’t stop until she is gone. To the adults of Newark, tell our young people, “Hey we got your back.”

  10. I am so proud of these young students and how peacefully and non-violently they protested. I hope we can continue supporting their efforts and I wish them loads of luck and success at being recognized and heard. Please contribute to their cause.

  11. […] dozens of others protested Anderson’s reforms in the street. (Here’s more coverage from Bob Braun and Rosie […]

  12. All I have to say is that I sure am glad that I worked for Ras Baraka and that he won! The arrogance of Chris Christie, Cory Booker and Cami Anderson thinking that they, without the collaboration of Newarkers, improve Newark Schools.

  13. There is a saying: “Out of the mouths of babies comes the truth.” Our students have been and continue to speak the truth.

    When we heard what the students were doing, the entire district should have joined these young people. Only when we stop being afraid and stand together will change happen.

    Thank you students for reminding so many of us that sometimes we need to stop conforming and peacefully demonstrate. Sometimes this is the only way to get the attention. Thus far, we have been doing it the traditional way. This has not worked. Maybe now, with this peaceful demonstration, people in the position of making decisions will stop, listen, and realize that the ONE NEWARK PLAN is not in the best interests of the students of Newark.

    Closing public schools and replacing them with charter schools is not the answer. Working together with the students, staff and the community is what will make Newark’s Public Education strong once again. Give us back our local control. Give us back our public schools.

    Let us work together to make Newark a place where people want to invest by moving here and sending their children to our public schools, and not just come to watch a hockey game or attend a concert.

    Thank you students for being “leaders” in this time of mass confusion and destruction of Newark Public Schools.

  14. Time to Sue the State for taxation without representation regarding the State appointed superintendent and her railroad of charter schools and Pink Hula Hoop Corporation and concepts down our children throats, without public input, benefitting private businesses.

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