Cami Anderson, the state-imposed Newark school superintendent, can be beaten and already has lost a major battle in her drive to privatize Newark schools to help her friends in the charter school industry. That’s what parent leaders at the Hawthorne Avenue school are saying in response to a letter from Anderson saying the school will not be closed and privatized after all.
Or is this just another scam by Cami Anderson and her puppeteers in Trenton?
Parents are claiming victory:
“This concludes an almost seven-month battle for the Hawthorne Avenue community to keep their top performing K-8 elementary school open under the leadership of principal H. Grady James,” declared a press release issued by Grace Sergio, the president of the school’s parent-teacher-student association.
Under Anderson’s “One Newark” plan, originally devised by a private consulting firm headed by the entrepreneur who would later be named state education commissioner, the Hawthorne Avenue school was slated to be closed and turned over to the TEAM Academy charter schools as part of a plan to hand all South Ward schools over to the national charter school chain. Former Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and Tim Carden, head of TEAM Academy, are neighbors and former business partners
Anderson has modified her plan several times. Under the latest revision, the school’s trailer would be turned over to TEAM Academy while a K-4 school would be operated as a quasi-charter school by the so-called BRICK entrepreneur Dominique Lee, an associate of Anderson through Teach for America (TFA). Children in grades 5 through 8 would have to find someplace else to attend school. Lee’s BRICK runs Peshine and Avon–schools that have not done so well as Hawthorne.
But, last Friday, Anderson sent a letter home to Hawthorne Avenue parents that seems to say the 106-year-old school would be spared from the “One Newark” plan. The school would remain a K-8 school.
“Due to family demand, Hawthorne Avenue will serve middle school grades for the 2014-2015 school year,” Anderson wrote in the letter addressed to “Hawthorne Avenue Families.” It continued:
“While we have made the decision to keep Hawthorne as a K-8 school for next year, we are currently working with school staff and the community to enrich the learning experience for students and families.”
Most Hawthorne parents have boycotted the so-called “universal application” system imposed by Anderson and insisted their children remain with Hawthorne. Anderson’s letter doesn’t mention that protest in which only 33 parents–out of more than 300–actually participated in the “One Newark” plan.
Sergio said closing and privatizing the school “just didn’t make any sense.” Along with other parents, Sergio took the cause to state Education Commissioner David Hespe. She demanded that Hespe require Anderson to follow state regulations to provide Hawthorne Avenue with a three-year opportunity to turn the school around before it is forced to become a charter school.
Although Sergio asked for a response from Hespe more than a month ago, the commissioner has yet to reply–although he has promised both her and this writer an answer. He also has refused to answer questions concerning how charter schools, that must run lotteries in admitting students, have not complied with those regulations in Newark.
The Hawthorne Avenue was not a failing school, according to test scores released by the state. It led peer schools throughout the New Jersey in achievement.
“I could never understand it,” said Sergio. “How could Cami close her highest performing school?”
Despite the promise to keep the school open as a K-8 neighborhood school, Sergio said the letter from Anderson was only a “promising first step.” She said the school succeeded despite severe staff cuts. It has been stripped of staff members, including its math and literacy coaches, its music teacher, librarian, technology coordinator, and guidance counselor. The school also is badly in need of repairs.
What’s not in Anderson’s letter, however, might be more significant than what is. Anderson does not say the school won’t be turned over to TEAM Academy and BRICK’s Dominique Lee. She doesn’t say principal H. Grady James,. whom Anderson already suspended for speaking out on the “One Newark” plan, will be rehired. She doesn’t say Hawthorne won’t become a “renew” school in which all the staff are fired and must reapply for their jobs.
Sergio says she is still concerned about the future of the school but cannot believe Anderson would, in effect, lie about the future of Hawthorne Avenue School.
“Her letter to parents said it will remain as it is,” said Sergio. “If that is not true, I’m sure she would have said otherwise. I can’t believe she would lie like that.”