Cami’s “turnaround”: A blunder or a trick?

Ras Baraka: All neighborhoods must united
Ras Baraka: All neighborhoods must unite


Newark Mayor Ras Baraka told hundreds of supporters of Weequahic High School that all city neighborhoods must unite to block plans by state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson to strip more public schools of their faculty and programs.

“Nothing will change unless you change it,” the mayor said as anger continued to spread throughout the city over the latest round of what Anderson terms “reforms”–but what her opponents view as the relentless privatization of the city’s community schools and the destruction of  its neighborhoods.

Baraka, who has consistently called for Anderson’s ouster, praised the success of a student walkout the day before at East Side High School. He credited the work of the increasingly powerful Newark Students Union in leading nearly 1,000 students out for a three hour march that included rallies at the federal courthouse, City Hall, and school headquarters. National media were present at the courthouse because of major events tied to the Bridgegate scandal involving Gov. Chris Christie and his top aides.

“These young people have been on the front lines,” said Baraka, standing on the front steps of the iconic high school on Chancellor Avenue in the city’s South Ward.

“Our job is to support them and to protect them.” The mayor said, “It was time for us to organize the city.”

He also expressed strong support for the city’s teachers at a time when the Newark Teachers Union (NTU) has called for job actions to protest changes in work rules and schedules at Weequahic, East Side, and six elementary schools. Anderson said the changes were part of converting the public schools into so-called “turnaround” schools.

The designation has infuriated some of the schools’ supporters because, as defined by federal law, a “turnaround” school is a school that has failed. On Saturday, teachers and other supporters of Weequahic produced documentation that the school was not failing—student scores were going up despite cuts in faculty and other resources.

The federal government defines “turnaround” schools as the “lowest-performing schools.” Cami Anderson has used the same definitions, although she also uses the term “renew” as well.

Here is how one education journal describes the fate of “turnaround” schools:

“Turnaround: Replace the principal and no less than 50 percent of the staff, and adopt increased learning time and instructional reforms.”

Since Anderson announced East Side and Weequahic—and six other schools—would be designated “turnaround” schools, the backlash has been severe—even East Side principal Mario Santos, a Cami ally, has been critical.

As a result, she has tried to backpedal on her criticism. She posted on the Newark school website her own definition of a “turnaround” school. She proved only that she is living in her own reality, divorced from the plain meaning of language and the clear intent of federal law and regulation. This is what she said:

“In previous years, many people thought of a ‘Turnaround’ school as defined by the federal government as needing intensive intervention or as a “Renew” school needing major restructuring. The Turnaround schools we designated this year should not be thought of that way. We are merely seeking to work with each school community to use the previously negotiated MOU to improve student outcomes. Many of the schools that have been designated as “Turnaround” this year have outstanding leadership, terrific teachers, and real momentum.”

The MOU is a reference to the “Memorandum of Understanding” between the NTU and the state in which Anderson was limited to 10 “turnaround” schools per year–under strict limitations. Limitations she has not followed.

Failure is success. Success is failure.

John Abeigon: Anderson is trying to divide us
John Abeigon: Anderson is trying to divide us

John Abeigon, the chief organizer of the NTU, who also spoke at the Weequahic rally, said he believed Anderson was playing with the reality of language and law in order to divide the city’s neighborhoods one against the other.

“For some schools, ‘turnaround’ means failure—for others, it means success,” Abeigon said. “Anderson wants it to mean whatever she wants it to mean.”

But, for teachers, “turnaround” has real meaning. If they don’t sign an agreement requiring them to work extra hours with virtually no compensation, they can—as the federal ‘turnaround’ definition requires—be let go, sent to the “rubber rooms” as “educators without placements,” costing them their careers and  taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, a school board member and another speaker at the rally, warned the South Ward residents and supporters that Anderson may be repeating a version of what she did last year—threatening some schools with sanctions but then pulling back for political reasons. She did threaten to turn Weequahic over to private operation last year, but then stepped back—primarily because of the strong reaction of Ras Baraka, then a mayoral candidate, who rallied residents in support of Weequahic.

“She just could be tricking you,” she said.

Changing her mind about East Side, for example, could take the steam out of the movement in reaction to her latest changes.

“Then Weequahic will be out there all by itself,” Richardson said.

The Weequahic rally was important for another reason—individual teachers were showing they were unafraid of likely retribution from Anderson who has punished critics who work for the system. At Saturday’s rally, Bashir Akinyele, Juan Alvarez, and Kcyied Zahir, all teachers and coaches at Weequahic, criticized the “turnaround” plan.

They were joined by teachers from East Side, Elliott Street, Miller Street, George Washington Carver, and other schools who said they would refuse to sign the so-called “election to work” agreement (EWA) requiring schedule changes.

Rally organizers said they hoped the demonstration would lead to further pushback against Anderson’s plans. One of the speakers, Larry Hamm, the chairman of the Peopls’s Organization for Progress (POP), invoked Baltimore as a model for Newark to follow.

He pointed out the Baltimore city administration was not moving to address concerns about the death of Freddy Gray until thousands of high school students took to the streets in protest.

Hamm received loud applause when he ended his speech by repeating the phrase, “We’re fired up—and we’re not taking anymore!”

  1. Concerning ourselves with Anderson’s motives is certainly a diversion that benefits Anderson. She has carte blanche to dismantle this public school system – that is her singular motivation. Her approach has consistently been light as many fires as she can to see what catches. And like an arsonist with an insatiable appetite for fire, she escalates. She expects some fires to get put out while others burn. But as long as we react to her fires rather than getting out in front of them to fight for ending state control, we are fighting a well armed arsonist with a couple garden hoses. She will not obey the laws. And she will ignore the newly approved sustainable school model available for school improvement that could empower and engage the community. She will just continue to burn up this district.

    Bob Braun: You are, of course, right. The problem is you don’t show a path to the elimination of state control. Until there is such a path, then the only option open to those who see Anderson’s policies as, at best, immoral, is to continue the attack on what she does. I’m not even sure Ron Rice has introduced a bill ending state control of Newark, has he? My sense, while a bit anarchistic, is the only way out is the creation of a crisis so dire for Chris Christie that he will finally want to be rid of the problem of Newark. I think that means a strike by employees, supported by a school boycott by parents. The pain will be intense but brief. Of course, this is not my call. But the endless series of rallies and speeches and city hall presentations is going absolutely nowhere.

    1. You are absolutely right! There exists years of empirical evidence that supports the fact that the State of New Jersey takeover of the Newark Public School system has been an abject failure! What was initially a political plan to abrogate (meaning: to abolish by official means; to put an end to) the economic control of the school district by local authorities. State law dictates that school districts in the state are subject to local control; these laws regarding local control have been abrogated by state authorities. State legislators who represent Newark are guilty of dereliction of duty because a) they have not introduced legislation ending the state takeover of the Newark public schools and b) they have not formally called for hearings on the effectiveness of the education “initiatives’ brought forward by Cami Anderson and her predecessors. I don’t have an issue with rallies and protests; if you want to have a truly effective anarchistic protest, block traffic on Route 280 and Route 78 and see if that doesn’t give Christie the hives!

  2. As an EWPS at a renew school, I can testify to the uselessness of an extended day. I am amazed by the continued disinterest in the plight of the faculties and students at the schools currently under renew. As long as the consequences did not hit their wards, the schools now being attacked were conspicuously silent. The Democrats in Denial, such as Ruiz, support our governor. Christie is pleased with the progress Anderson has made in Newark moving the district in the direction toward complete charterization. Complete disenfranchisement of the poor is the goal of the haves in our country. Disemboweling the Newark Public Schools by eliminating jobs increases unemployment in the city thereby fast forwarding the gentrification process. In the event that few teachers sign the EWA, Anderson will be delighted to bring in legions of her beloved TFA. The party is over folks.

  3. Of course I can’t deny that the impact of the community involvement will foster change this year, but why did it take a proposed action against East Side in the North Ward for the strong impact. What about the closing of schools in the south ward last year and the reclassification of all South Ward Schools as Renew or Charter. Where were the speakers and community activist. And again I applaud the principal of East Side for his efforts. But when the South Ward Principals made similar efforts. The received immediate retaliation. Be fair. Any action against any school should be receive the same mayoral and community support. The tale of two cities has become one. What was once the north and the south has become one Yankee town. But it is still a direct insult to those other schools who receive NO support. Do unto one as you do unto others. It’s unfortunate that the other schools can’t undo what was ALLOWED to be done to them. And since this principal can speak out without any retaliation maybe he should speak out for all of the other schools who’s principals maybe afraid to speak out because of fear of harsh discipline.

    Bob Braun: I cannot disagree with most of this, but I would point out that Ras Baraka, as both candidate and mayor-elect, did speak out for the schools in the South Ward last year. I have made the same points about retaliation against South Ward principals and the response to me has been that the future right now is more important than the past. I’d also point out East Side is in the East Ward, not the North Ward. I agree that only a united city will rid itself of state control and Cami Anderson–but we mustn’t lie to each other while we embrace that future.

  4. We have allowed this crime to go on far too long , Cami Anderson s destructive tour through our public school system has left many victims already….OUR CHILDREN. Backed by the powers that be whose sole purpose is make profit off the backs of our students using funds to expand their charter schools and further oppress the communities and its people. When is it going to be enough ?
    We have to unite as ONE and fight , fight, fight !!!!

  5. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka has a bully pulpit to speak about what is going on in Newark. He more than anyone must lead this fight against Christie and Cami. He more than anyone as mayor has the right to speak for the children of Newark and can not be easily ignored and brushed aside by the media.

  6. The cracks are increasingly evident in this farce of an education plan in Newark, and in New Jersey. More people are needed in this fight. This is not just a Newark thing. I hope no one is thinking it is not their issue because they do not live or work in Newark, or they do not send their children to Newark schools.I clearly see that the problem in Newark is a direct connection to the problem in our state. The rallies were held to raise awareness. More people are needed to attend these rallies: alumni, residents, voters, because what happens to the schools directly affects your community. More people means more concern for Cami, Christie, and their quest to force their agenda on Newark, and on the state of New Jersey. The obvious next step is to bring this to Trenton. Cami inconvenienced schools, so let us inconvenience her. Christie inconvenienced schools and voters, so let us inconvenience him. If you throw chaos at someone, do not be surprised when it is hurled back at you.

  7. Bob, I’ve read your Facebook page & the linked blog posts by Dr Bruce Baker & Mark Weber re Julie O’Connor’s Star Ledger 5/9 Editorial re Team/Kipp charter. She has nearly 300 comments, so my queries may be moot, but
    1. Do reputable news editors compose editorials regarding what “seems impressive,” a phrase she used more than once?
    2. J O’Connor’s closing notes cited the NWEA MAP test. That may be used by Kipp but it isn’t a NJ test– so why does she think that is valid to compare charter school students’ performance?
    3. J O’Connor’s e-mail style–typing Ok at start of any message–and no recognition of Dr Ravitch’s or Dr Baker’s professional expertise (that surpasses hers) led me to reflect on news editors’ courtesy. I know that you would not address a professional so cavalierly. What are prevailing rules of courtesy for journalists today? Thank you

    1) I noticed that myself. The term “seems impressive” is clearly a hedge.
    2) You know and I know and all persons who have respect for data would question that.
    3) I don’t want to engage in personal commentary. IT speaks for itself.

  8. […] current Mayor Ras Baraka called for her removal on the same […]

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