Cry for Newark

Grace Sergio: "What more do we need to do?"
Grace Sergio: “What more do we need to do?”

Sad. There’s a word rarely heard in the context of the state’s war on Newark’s neighborhood public schools. Sad. Yet the story of how a cruelly tone-deaf state bureaucrat named Cami Anderson is singlehandedly destroying a community’s neighborhood schools is just that. Sad.  And nothing more illustrates that sadness than the brave but probably futile effort of one successful neighborhood school to remain alive despite Anderson’s promise to give it to privatized educational entrepreneurs who include former business partners of the recently resigned state education commissioner.

“What more do we need to do?” pleaded Grace Sergio, the outgoing president of the Hawthorne Avenue School parent organization. “What more do we need to do?” She was speaking to a –sadly—impotent Newark school board that Anderson, appointed by Gov. Chris Christie, has all but reduced to an irrelevance. Anderson is required to attend the board meetings but has refused. She goes to out-of-state conferences instead.

Sergio’s question is important,  not only in the limited context of the state’s efforts to strip Newark of its neighborhood schools—and this in a city with little intra-district busing—but also in the larger context of the war on public education statewide and nationally. As part of what Anderson calls the “One Newark” plan, Hawthorne Avenue will be closed and reopened as a hybrid charter (TEAM Academy, part of KIPP) and so-called “Brick academy,” a quasi-public school run by a school principal, a Teach for America graduate. The arrangement doesn’t look pretty and it has been changed several times—but this isn’t about education or organizational elegance; it’s about helping Anderson’s friends politically and financially.

Sergio, who describes herself as a “stay-at-home mom,” raised every argument she could to refute the basic—and often repeated–premise underlying Anderson’s unrelenting assault on neighborhood schools, that they fail. Hawthorne Avenue is not failing, she said. It is one of the best schools in the city and she had the numbers to prove it.

The school ranked first in the city in student growth, she said. It ranked third in the state among peer schools in student growth—and seventh in academic achievement.

“What more do we need to do?” she asked again and again.

Anderson’s treatment of Hawthorne—and similar schools throughout the state’s largest district—has been a nightmare. A sad nightmare.  She stripped the school of its librarians, its counselors, its attendance personnel. She has ignored constant pleas to repair crumbling walls and leaking ceilings—promising repair money only after she gave the building to TEAM Academy, the local name for KIPP charters, and the Brick schools. The head of TEAM Academy, Tim Cardin, is a former business partner of Christopher Cerf, the recently-resigned education commissioner. All three–Cardin, Cerf, and Anderson–worked for the New York City schools.

Parents at Hawthorne and other schools believe Anderson is stripping neighborhood schools of facilities and personnel—she plans to lay off a third of the district’s teachers—so she can prove her point that neighborhood schools are failing and need to be replaced by charters and other privatized entities.

Pedro Alcivar: "Shouldn't you be proud of us?"
Pedro Alcivar: “Shouldn’t you be proud of us?”

But Hawthorne isn’t failing. It’s succeeding, and not just as measured by test scores. The school is a model of community support. Its parent group commissioned researchers at a local college to measure parent support for the school. The study showed virtually all parents agreed with statements like “My child’s school believes that every child can learn” and “My child is learning what it is needed to be successful.”

Most dramatic was the reaction of the parents to the so-called “Universal Application,” a component of “One Newark” that gave families the right to apply to any school in the city, charter or public. Hawthorne has 340 students, K-8;  Sergio reported that, not only did the families refuse to apply to other schools, but parents of 268 children registered them to attend Hawthorne Avenue for next year.

Hawthorne parents have sent letters both to Anderson and charter school leaders, pleading with them not to destroy their school. They have received no answer, not even from Ryan Hill, the director of TEAM Academy, an articulate educator who portrays himself as sympathetic to the plight of neighborhood schools. Obviously, there is too much at stake here for the TEAM/KIPP brand for sympathy to get in the way of greed.

Yet how popular will charters be if Anderson gets her way? Right now, they appear to be as insensitive as Anderson, their chief patron. Newark parents won’t soon forget.

It’s not exactly accurate that Hawthorne parents received no response. While the children were away and the school closed for Easter break, a team of TEAM/KIPP Academy officials and appraisers descended unannounced for a tour of their latest trophy from Anderson. School officials have been ordered to strip the school bare—“broom clean”—so it can be turned over to KIPP. KIPP will operate a K-1 school, while Brick operates K-4. Parents in the higher grades simply will have to leave. Go someplace else. Sad.

“Our leaders have led,” Sergio said. “Our teachers have taught. Our students have learned. And our parents have participated.”

Sergio’s son Pedro also spoke at the meeting,  “Our students,” said the eighth-grader, “finally believe that we can be from an urban area and perform just as well as other schools in Newark and in the state.”

He asked this of Anderson: “Shouldn’t you be proud of us?”

Pedro is only 14. He hasn’t learned yet some hard lessons about greed and politics. Only the governor can remove Anderson, he won’t, and Anderson knows it.  It allows her, for example,  to ignore a plea from 77 of the city’s religious leaders—including a strong Christie supporter and the former president of the National Council of Churches—to suspend the “catastrophic” plan.

She responded to criticism during a panel discussion at a recent conference in Arizona where she compared critics of her plan to people who might invade an operating room and scream and shout at the surgeon working on a patient.  In an almost unbelievably bad attempt at humor, she offered to bring her brothers to Newark as a sort of goon squad to confront her critics. She referred to Newark as “horrible.”

The chances are good—barring the intervention of a new state education commissioner, David Hespe,  who held the job before and proved to be reasonable—Anderson will implement her plan, despite delays and a recent admission she has no final plan for transportation and special education.

But Newark will never be the same.  Her intransigence has all but guaranteed the election May 13 of Ras Baraka, a staunch opponent of her plan. Emotions run high in the city—students have walked out of classes twice and promise more. At last night’s board meeting, one member—Alturrick Kennedy—literally wept because he feared he had failed his constituents by his inability to stop Anderson. He has made videos of just how long it will take for children to walk to their new schools.

Alturrick Kenney
Alturrick Kenney

“It’s so wrong,” repeated the young man, choking back tears. “It’s so unfair.”

But crying for Newark will do no good to those who have no hearts. This isn’t about right and wrong. This isn’t about fairness. It isn’t even about education.

It’s about money and power and greed.





  1. Source1

    Thank you for keeping the spotlight on Anderson.
    I believe that the people in Trenton are listening. You have their attention. The question is do they have the courage to do the right thing: to prevent the One Newark Plan ( in its entirety) from moving forward, and to immediately send Anderson on her way. We will see…

  2. booklady

    Fervently hope that C Anderson was networking for a new job while at AZ conference. Maybe someone who read her Huffington Post item will hire her to handle Title IX. Many NJ folks would welcome an announcement that CA was leaving NPS.

  3. Kate

    Bob, you made your point eloquently here. I’m writing through tears, myself. How can we in the twenty-first century relegate so many human beings to such powerlessness? I’m ashamed that it has come to this, and I hope something – anything- happens to derail this runaway before it crashes into the city.

  4. Steve Des

    Let me point out three mistakes regarding intra-city busing: Newark has at least three in operation today:

    The first is between the former First Avenue School building and a church on Mt. Prospect Avenue. This one is due to the fire that destroyed Elliot Street School a few years ago and the state taking its time building a new school.

    The second is between the new Park School and Stephan Crane public housing project. Due to the isolated location of the school, children have to be bused in to fill its classrooms.

    The third one is for handicapped students. Newark has for decades bused students directly from their homes to their schools – a city wide program.

  5. booklady

    Bob wrote “little intra-district busing”; your three examples seem to suit that description considering NPS is NJ’s largest district.

    • Steve Des

      Newark provides transportation for thousands of Newark school children everyday. Children that attend private and parochial schools in and out of Newark get transportation – may it be yellow buses or bus tickets. I listed three obvious intra-city transportation that the Newark Public Schools is now paying for. When Cami’s plan takes effect – the numbers will mushroom.

  6. Disheartened Teacher

    It is hard to understand how all of this is happening and keeps on happening. You have spread the word and the downfall of public education continues. It’s traveling down the turnpike to Camden, where the Norcross Family and cronies are pilfering Camden.

  7. annie

    We always hear so much about the problems in the Newark elementary schools. After what happened at Westside today, it seems the controversy is reaching all levels. Cami was actually on the news tonight with a brief excuse, but a man who was interviewed outside the school expressed his concern about the leadership.

  8. annie

    The story aired on CBS New York 5 pm news. There is no coverage about the incident which happened this morning on The student body trashed the school after learning a favorite teacher had been fired. The students, who were totally wrong in their reaction, stated that mace had been used to diffuse the situation, school security flatly denied the accusation. The reporter on CBS stated that the video backs the students’ story. If I were a parent of a Westside student, I would expect an email or some type of contact from the school by now.

  9. Kate

    West Side has had four different leaders since this time last year, and the current school leader is in an “acting” capacity. Only eight current teachers were at West Side last year. Students have been expressing their displeasure with staff churn since the beginning of the school year in a variety of appropriate and inappropriate ways. Unfortunately, there are few remaining staff members there to hear them.

  10. Jersey Jazzman

    As Bruce Baker and I showed, there is evidence to make a case that Hawthorne gets BETTER results than TEAM:

    p. 22: “According to a draft of the One Newark plan published by NJ Spotlight, NPS has considered allowing TEAM Academy Charter School (the Newark branch of the national KIPP charter chain) to take over both Hawthorne and Bragaw schools (the Star‐Ledger reports that Ryan Hill, Executive Director of TEAM Academy, says the charter operator and NPS remain in negotiations). But both of these NPS schools perform above prediction, while TEAM performs below.”

    Bob Braun: JJ–Thanks for reminding me about your good work on this.

  11. P. Grunther

    Sadly it’s becoming easier and easier for me to see how people are driven towards violence. When every reasonable attempt to put a stop to a clear injustice is met with indifference and completely ignored I think people become desperate and see no other alternative. I am so outraged by what is going on in Newark and feel so powerless to do anything about it that I find aggressive thoughts creeping up on me…in other words, it’s not hard to understand the reaction of the kids at Westside today. I only hope Source 1 is correct in thinking that Trenton is beginning to get cold feet, realizing that any serious investigation of what has gone on and what is going on in Newark will uncover an abundance of unsavory and illegal doings and the last thing they need is another federal prosecutor sniffing around and the threat of further scandal. God knows they won’t put a stop to it for any other reason apart from fear of discovery – they have long shown that they have absolutely no morals whatsoever…I have said it before and I repeat, many of the players in this farce are truly evil.

    Bob Braun: I understand what you’re saying, but please don’t fall into the trap of believing the people of Newark will resort to violence, no matter what the provocation. I lived through 1967 in Newark and most of the violence was directed AT the people of the city.

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  14. ellen rosner

    Sergio’s 14-year old son Pedro is learning some hard lessons:
    1. to speak up for himself and others
    2. that right does not always outweigh might – at least in the short run.

    May the long-term lesson he learns be that the people united can defeat the forces of greed.

  15. DA

    This administration and Cami Anderson have behaved as though Newark Families are poor Latino and African American who are ignorant people who must be told what to do and put in their place. To hear her speak of Newark in a National conference with such contempt for Newark Families is not only offensive but insulting! We should be outraged and massive protest should now go to another level! She basically stated a threat that her siblings were ready to come to Newark to put us all in our place! Really! As for West Side HS she has a master plan; she had personally destroyed the Newark Early College HS (which no one even knows about and the abuse the parents and children have endured despite high scoring children with extreme perfect state scores; which was formed 3 years prior to Bard HS; but unfortunately did not have Bard president as a good friend of the administration or prior Mayor) the now Early College puzzled non funded program and staff will be place to run West Side! As a Newarker I would compare this just as bad as the Clippers owner; someone just needs to record her true thoughts too and make them public! I am disgusted and sadden!

    Bob, thank you for giving families a voice! Let them know that many families here in Newark are college educated; not just ready to pick cotton as told!

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