Christopher Cerf, the state-imposed superintendent of the Newark district, may be stripping public schools of teachers, programs, services and support staff—but he is building up the bureaucratic hierarchy to reward loyal supporters of the now discredited Cami Anderson, Cerf’s appointee and predecessor.
The state administration of the cash-strapped Newark schools now has two new deputy superintendents, a new “director of operations,” and a dozen or more special assistants whose positions duplicate those of existing administrators. Cerf also has brought back a close friend and aide (and apparent landlord) to Anderson—De’Shawn Wright—to an unspecified position apparently paid for by private funds so it doesn’t appear in the public record.
Of course, Brittany Chord Parmley, the chief spokeswoman for the Cerf administration, won’t provide any details on the bureaucratic build-up but the new positions have been confirmed by sources at 2 Cedar Street.
The appointments not only demonstrate the state’s indifference to the children of the city who must now suffer the consequences of a $15 million budget cut imposed by Cerf, but they also show the new superintendent, a private business entrepreneur and charter promoter who served as state education commissioner, has no intention of relinquishing state control any time soon.
Members of the Newark school board, who have no power to block the administrative build-up, say they were not asked to approve the new assignments.
The first of the new deputy superintendents is Peter Turnamian, a refugee from a failed charter school he founded, who will now be making $182,000, up from $175,000. Turnamian recently called in members of the city school’s child study teams (CSTs) and ordered them to read pre-written scripts to parents of special education students in an effort to get them to agree to changes in their children’s individual education plans, or IEPs.
Turnamian will now be the boss of special education throughout the district, among other things. He is expected to continue to reduce the number of self-contained special education classes. He also is expected to continue his support for the expansion of charter schools. A former Montclair administrator, he was the founder of the Greater Newark Charter School which, until it closed, boasted a website banner in which it called itself “the best charter school in Newark.”
Turnamian also is known as Anderson’s most ardent defender of both the “One Newark” enrollment plan and “turnaround” schools. In a note last year about “One Newark,” Turnamian embarrassed both himself and the district by writing this warning to school administrators:
It is essential no family, even a family with a child who has an IEP (one that requires services you may not currently offer), is NOT turned away (sic).
The twisted syntax literally means, of course, that all children must be turned away—the opposite of what he (one hopes) meant.
His defense of “turnaround” schools showed his true loyalty to Anderson, who hired him. Her decision to declare seven elementary schools and Weequahic and East Side high schools “turnaround” schools—initially meant as failing schools that needed extra help—caused an eruption of protest and eventually brought Anderson down. But not before Turnamian was given the task of defending “turnaround” schools as not meaning failing schools at all. In fact, he wrote that the targeted schools have “outstanding leadership and terrific teachers.” That made no sense, of course, because many of those outsanding leaders and terrific teachers found themselves transferred to other schools.
Indeed, the whole “turnaround” effort—a responsibility shared with Brad Haggerty– became a debacle because of the decision to transfer teachers in and out of so-called “turnaround” schools, guaranteeing that none of the targeted schools had staffs fully committed to the reform and willing to work the extra hour the new schedule required.
Haggerty, of course, also was promoted to the position of deputy superintendent—because an over-administered school district can never have too many deputies and he, too, will be making $182,000 a year.
His was generally the face of the very rocky year suffered by student at the Barringer STEAM Academy. The children opened last school year without desks, books, teachers, appropriate courses and other fundamentals.
For his work, he was given a promotion by Cerf and will now be the boss of at least 10 “special assistants” who will, along with directors for the same services, oversee things like curriculum and enrollment and sports, just about everything.
Before leaving Barringer, however, it should be noted that one of newly-hired assistants likely to be working for Haggerty is expected to be a familiar face there as well as in the Paterson public schools—Shonda Davis.
Talk about embarrassment. Shonda Davis was the principal of Barringer but left with two of her assistants to take jobs in the Paterson district, also a state-operated system. One of them was Tyisha Bennett. The two apparently did not get along well in their new assignments because a public fight broke out between them during a state-sponsored meeting and the two, well, were no longer welcome in Paterson.
But it’s nice that she was welcomed back to Newark.
There was another homecoming at school headquarters this fall—that of De’Shawn Wright, a man who is considered one of the founding fathers of school reform in Newark. The relationship between Wright and Cami Anderson—a relationship that also included former Mayor Cory Booker—goes back about 20 years. Wright now will be some sort of high-level adviser to Cerf, but paid off the public books. It’s not yet known where the money will come from, but a good guess is the Foundation for Newark’s Future—the Mark Zuckerberg money. Wright’s been paid by that fund before.
A good summary of Wright’s relationship with Anderson, Cerf and the Newark schools was dramatically detailed recently in the blog, The Teacher’s Desk, so I’ll just repeat an excerpt here:
“Cami pulled some strings when she was relocating to Newark in 2011 and didn’t have a place to stay. Records show that she shared the same Kinney Street address as one of Cory Booker’s former aides (De’Shawn Wright) before she moved to Glen Ridge. He is the same aide who worked for Booker as one of his policy analysts, who was on Cami’s transition team, and who was paid handsomely with Zuckerberg’s Facebook money several times over, in several different roles at several different organizations, and who recently returned to Newark as what else, but a consultant…
“The whole arrangement stinks of the tumescent afterfunk of conflicts of interests meeting and chaffing one another, again, and again, and again, and….Wright and Anderson have a working relationship spanning 17 years. It’s unclear whether or not she knew exactly who he was back in 1998, when she was Executive Director of Teach For America, and he was a Teach For America teacher, but one can not deny how closely and how often they’ve worked among one another over the course of 17 years. He taught under the TFA banner for four years, the last of which, in 2002 was when Wright and Anderson both worked for Cory Booker; she as Booker’s strategy director, and he as Booker’s policy analyst. What a convenient relationship.
“After leaving Booker’s administration briefly in 2003 to work in for NYC’s Department of Education, Wright returned in 2006 as Chief Policy Advisor until 2008. In 2008, Wright would leave Booker’s employ to found The Newark Charter School Fund. In his role as founding partner, Mr. Wright was instrumental in managing $20 million dollars in private donations from The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation, The Fisher Fund, The Robertson Foundation and Howell & Simon LLP, and essentially funneling the money to ed reform groups. He would, according to himself, ‘manage relationships with national partners including New Leaders For New Schools, The New Teacher Project, and Teach For America.’ Coincidentally, by manage, he means to say that he paid New Leaders for New Schools $468,866.
“The records for the founding year make no mention of The New Teacher Project nor Teach For America, but they do show that even now newly appointed Deputy Superintendent Peter Turnamian’s now defunct Greater Newark Charter school got some money, $35,600 to use on– wait for it. Consultants. Sploosh. Ewww. But Mr. Wright would only stay with The Newark Charter School Fund until embarking on his own consultancy in 2009, where again as a Strategic Management Consultant, according to himself, he ‘developed a portfolio of investment options to guide $200 million in philanthropic contributions from major donors including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Pershing Square Foundation CEO William Ackman.’”
But the house—the bureaucratic mansion—that Cerf is building on the backs of Newark’s public school children doesn’t end there. Also new to the new state team is Brenda Lee who, according to sources at 2 Cedar Street, has been given the title of “director of operations.” The district is not providing information about the post and its holder but Lee apparently was a vice principal at Ann Street School.
The sources say this is a new position but Keith Barton, according to the district’s (admittedly outdated) website, holds the position of “executive managing director of operations.”
Perhaps, some day, the executive director of communications will answer the questions posed to her and the people of Newark will at least learn who holds what well-paid position in the state administration of Newark schools.
Editor’s note: The irreverent illustrations are the contributions of Mike Simpson, a public school parent and believer in public schools who reads us all the way out in Sacramento.