GUEST: Mayor Baraka, do something!

Mayor Ras Baraka
Mayor Ras Baraka

By Becca Fields

I admire and respect Mayor Ras Baraka.  From the first time I spoke with him, I heard a leader, a man of deep thought and action.  Then a high school principal, Baraka demonstrated  commitment, intelligence, and  a depth of understanding of the challenges facing not just Newark public schools, but the entire city.  And he clearly demonstrated his willingness to look for solutions “outside the box” and beyond the expected as he demonstrated by meeting with gang leaders as part of his  strategy to curb violence.

 

So I write this with some trepidation.  I want Mayor Baraka to succeed.  I want Newark Public schools to succeed.  I want Cami Anderson gone.  I want to see the school system come out of state control, reverse the accelerated path towards privatization,  end the chaos of moving students all over the city.  I want to see Newark schools under the control of the elected school board whose members can refocus on neighborhood schools that are good for our children and our neighborhoods.

 

But I write because I do not see that Mayor Baraka is strategically fighting against the state control and destruction of the public schools.  Indeed, after nearly six months in office, I am no longer waiting to see his strategy but rather more fearful that he does not have one at all.

 

When he came into office, he had the opportunity to support the boycott of One Newark and the alternative of  Freedom schools.  But he remained largely silent on the issue and offered no open signs of support towards the efforts.  In September, the Mayor said he would give the plan 10 days  to see how the year started.  After 10 days, when there was so much wrong, there was no reaction that suggested a plan when the warning was given. It was an empty threat that only increased the cavalier disrespect by  state officials of the city’s new mayor.

 

In October, the Mayor released a public letter to the President of the United States asking for intervention.  My hope was that there had been private conversations ensuring such a letter would result in Presidential action.  But there was silence – a deafening and power-draining silence.

 

And, most recently, the Mayor released a letter to Acting Commissioner Hespe asking for intervention at Barringer High School – the flagship of Cami Anderson’s failure since day one of the school year.  Students without books, schedules, appropriately qualified teachers, heat and food have plagued the two academies since September.

 

Is the expectation that the Commissioner, after seeing the President does not want to intervene, will question the authority of the state appointed superintendent who is confident the issues at Barringer have all been addressed?

 

None of these actions makes much sense, no matter how justified and correct in terms of content and need.  In total, they suggest a lack of a long term, sustained strategy of escalation to take back Newark schools while they still exist.

 

If letter writing and pointing out flaws in the press were effective strategies, One Newark would have been defeated before it ever was implemented.  Giving 10 days to see the problems with One Newark was generous, but only effective if there was to be a swift and decisive action at the end of the observation period.

 

Asking the Acting Commissioner to intervene is certainly a classic case of the fox being asked to guard the hen house.

 

Parents, students, education professionals and community leaders are looking to the mayor for leadership.  They are offering venues and opportunities for him to speak out and take a stand.  Indeed there have been opportunities for the Mayor to march in the streets with his supporters united against  One Newark and state control.  Mayor Baraka comes from a family whose members know well what civil disobedience is, how it is used and how it can make a difference when acting within the boundaries of diplomacy and politics, or pen to paper prove ineffective.

 

The mayor has many responsibilities to the people of Newark – the budget deficit, the continuing violence, the need for jobs, and the public schools are just a few.  I understand that the Mayor might have held back his protests at first to secure necessary state aid and prevent a fiscal agent overseeing his city budget.

 

But time is passing and One Newark is ripping apart the fiber of the Newark community further and further every day it is allowed to continue. Students with special needs are not being cared for.  Students getting to school are in danger and being hurt.  In school, students have been neglected and injured. Most tragically a student been murdered, under the negligence of state control.

 

With insufficient funds and staffing we see that our children are suffering.  It is time for the mayor to lead. We need the mayor to have a well thought out, decisive, escalating, long –term, strategic plan that uses every power available to the city’s top leader and galvanizes parents, students, educators and the community behind his leadership.  We need bold action that pushes the boundaries of the expected to take back Newark schools and restore sanity to the communities they are to serve.

 

I have no doubt this mayor knows how to implement a plan within a classroom and a school.  Now it is time to put such a plan into place for the district and the city before it is too late.

Becca Fields is the pseudonym of a community activist

10 comments

  1. Source1

    A community activist with a pseudonym ?

    Bob Braun: Yeah, sort of like you. I know why you use a pseudonym and I respect the reason. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t publish your posts. Similarly, I know why Ms. Fields uses a pseudonym and I respect her reason. If I thought her use of an alias was unethical or designed to defraud or mislead anyone, I wouldn’t use her thoughtful entries.

  2. booklady

    How many people can we get to call the White House 202-456-1111 to ask how President will respond to Mayor Baraka’s Oct letter requesting Presidential intervention?

    Half the NTUnion members; lots of caring retired Newark teachers; Bob’s readers; Ms Fields’s colleagues. More than a thousand calls.
    There’s precedent for Presidential intervention–Eisenhower did so in Little Rock.

    When you call, you can also thank Obama for inviting Newark students to computer coding session. I’m sure they got a more hospitable reception than Rick Hess of AEI gave recent Newark visitors to DC

    • Another staffer

      Thank you, Booklady! Sometimes we need a simple phone number handed to us to light up the way (I know we should/could look it up ourselves but we often get distracted). I will be calling 🙂

      • Mr. Outside

        The White House is an office, just like any other government office. When you dial, your call won’t go straight to the President’s office. It doesn’t even go straight to his secretary’s office.

        Let’s think about this. In Little Rock, you had a spectacle. A violent spectacle. A nationally televised violent spectacle. Like Ferguson. Not like Newark. Not like quietly protesting in Newark. Not like one person suffering a broken wrist protesting in Newark. Not like mild annoyances like rush hour traffic protesting in Newark.

        The President and the nation will not take Baraka or the citizens of Newark seriously until Baraka and the citizens of Newark take the situation in The Newark Public Schools seriously.

        I want to be clear. I am not advocating violence. I am not advocating riots in the streets. But I am and I have been saying that the Mayor and the citizens of Newark must exercise behavior that disrupts Cami Anderson’s and her Newark Public Schools’ order of business.

        Mayor Baraka can do so by enforcing local ordinances such as fire codes, and building safety concerns. He doesn’t need to exercise supreme influence over the schools. He just has to show that he has influence in them. He can do so by enacting and enforcing new and current laws about food and food service safety that treat school cafeterias much like local restaurants.

        He can apply pressure by making it difficult for schools to operate normally by closing off unsafe areas in and around schools, forcing Cami and Trenton to play their gambit in public.

        Citizens of Newark shouldn’t be calling The White House. They should be calling NPS all day everyday asking for answers to questions like:
        – How does the One Newark algorithm work?
        – Why aren’t all special needs students in the district receiving the support they need and the that the law requires?
        – Why are teachers working outside of their certifications in Renew schools?

        Citizens should be making appointments to meet and speak with NPS officials in person to seek answers to questions. They should be standing patiently one by one, in a line occupying the public entrance to 2 Cedar Street and snaking around Broad, Cedar, Halsey and Raymond Boulevard; and willing to stand in line all day everyday until they get a response.

        Strategically, none of the anti-Cami reform efforts have worked because Baraka and the citizens of Newark keep thinking someone else needs to come in and do something. Whether it’s Randi Weingarten, David Hespe, President Obama, The New York Times or whoever. And they expect that through these elaborate demonstrations, something will happen. But it will not. Mayor Baraka and the citizens of Newark are trying to satisfy an itch on their back by asking someone else to do it for them rather make a serious attempt to do it themselves first.

        You want a President’s attention? You want to talk about Little Rock? Bill Clinton was a President. Bill Clinton was from Little Rock. President Bill Clinton from Little Rock responded to Soweto, when he and the world community observed the spectacle that was taking place in South Africa ONLY when the STUDENTS took the situation seriously.

        History, recent history has already laid the blueprint. And again, I am not suggesting, or advocating violence in any way whatsoever. I am pointing out that when the situation in South Africa reached a tipping point, the students stepped up, with the support of their leaders, and they got the world’s attention.

        So they may continue to exercise pretend activism if it eases their consciences, if it satisfies their impulse for action to some moral imperative; and they may continue to invoke random historical anecdotes if they seek to justify complacency with intellect, but they should know this:

        When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

        * * *

        That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

        * * *

        But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

        The adage is true. Actions speak louder than words. A declaration need not be spoken, nor written. An act, if purposeful, consistent and meaningful is it’s own declaration.

  3. Urban Teacher

    Obama’s policies are disastrous to public education. Have you heard of Race to the Top and waivers from No Child Left Behind? He is not a knight in shining armor waiting to save us. Writing Obama a letter is a publicity stunt.

  4. NWK TEACHER

    I love Ras. I really do and I know he can do great things for the city and the schools. He is passionate about his beliefs and will do all he can do for the people of the city. Mr. Outside was right though. parents need to call 2 Cedar Street all day, every day! IEP’s are told to be altered because we can not meet the child’s needs. It is a crime here in Newark with what is happening in this city. I can not believe Barringer is still a disaster in December!!! How is this OK with anyone?? The district is a complete mess. No one is doing anything at any level- elementary, middle, or high school to fix any problem!

  5. Galton

    Ms. Field,
    Might some of your message be directed at State Senator, and Deputy Chief of Staff for the Essex County Executive, Teresa Ruiz?
    No one doubts Mayor Bataka’s commitment to the children of Newark, but what about Senator RUIZ?

  6. DA

    Bob,

    Funny I think years back in the Mayor Sharpe James years he would have used all city power to shut down all of Cami Anderson poor Charter schools with city inspectors, fire inspectors, and many other city findings and/or violations. Where did we Newarkers stop fighting complete injustice? We have legal recourse too; we are all aware that this is all NPS does bullies everyone but I am very disappointed to see that we have yet to play the political chess power game to protect our children. City Hall (Council and Mayors office) can make legal choices also to protect their citizens!

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