How Newark set up a tenured teacher to fail

LaRhonda Ragland

Tenured Newark school teacher LaRhonda Ragland—a former member of the Alvin Ailey dance company and a New Jersey Nets cheerleader—was set up to fail  by the  state-run school administration, a state-appointed arbitrator has ruled. In a 41-page decision reinstating the teacher after the district tried to fire her, the arbitrator described how Ragland, a single mother with a teenaged child, was declared an “educator without placement” (EWP)  by the administration of superintendent Cami Anderson, then transferred from  Maple Avenue School to Arts High  where she was given non-teaching duties to perform. She was assigned to teach  only when administrators wanted to evaluate her–then gave her poor evaluations.

“The District set Respondent (Ragland) up to fail and simply marked time until it could file tenure charges against the teacher,” wrote state-appointed arbitrator, Timothy Brown.

Ragland, far right, with members of the New Jersey Nets cheerleading squad
Ragland, far right, with members of the New Jersey Nets cheerleading squad

Brown described how Ragland, who had appeared in the Off-Broadway show “Jam the Groove,” was made a hall-monitor and some-time substitute teacher of non-dance subjects at Arts High where administrators made it clear early on in her stay there that she was not welcome.  She was only evaluated for the few days she was assigned to teach high school-level dance classes, something she had  not done in her previous nine years in the Newark public schools.

“It is fiction to believe that Respondent would succeed in observations of
her teaching high school students at a high school devoted to the arts
when Respondent had previously taught dance only at the elementary
school level and had been assigned hall monitoring and substitute
teaching in non-dance subjects at the arts high school,” Brown concluded.

The arbitrator made it clear that the administration wanted Ragland to fail.

“By its actions and inactions….the District pursued a course of
conduct that assured that, rather than conduct observations of a dance teacher teaching a
dance class of the teacher’s students, the District could conduct observations of a
substitute teacher/hall-monitor attempting to teach students for whom the teacher had no
teacher-student relationship. The outcome of such observations were effectively
determined before they began….”

Throwing tenured teachers out of their jobs and making them EWPs has been a favorite strategy of the state administration under Anderson. By the beginning of this school year, Anderson had assigned more than 400 teachers to EWPs positions in the apparent hope that many would quit rather than be paid for doing nothing.

Many, however, did not quit and Ragland’s experiences shows what happens–they face being set up to fail by being assigned to jobs they are not trained to do.

The arbitrator also found the administration had no intention of helping Ragland overcome whatever problems she may have had in her difficult transition from an elementary school teacher to a EWPs position in high school. Such efforts to help teachers with alleged problems are required both by the new teacher tenure law and the district’s contract with the Newark Teachers Union (NTU).

“TEACHNJ”–the new teacher tenure law–“contemplates that, before he or she may be terminated from a teaching positions (sic), to improve the performance of the struggling teacher, such a teacher will receive a real – rather than feigned – prolonged effort to provide guidance and mentorship from the most advanced and knowledgeable educators in the teacher’s school: the principal and high-level administrators. Here, the District, through its administrators at Arts High School, predetermined that Respondent would never improve and could not be successfully reformed and arbitrarily withheld such efforts from Respondent, ” the arbitrator wrote.

Brown, the arbitrator, describes just how unwelcome the school administration made Ragland feel. He wrote, ” Only a week or two before her first observation,
Respondent was unambiguously advised in a disciplinary write-up from
principal (Lynn Irby-Jackson) that ‘…you are a EWPS teacher…you are not
an Arts High School dance teacher…’ Such
reflects Respondent’s status as an outsider at the school and the
Principal’s view that Respondent was not at the High School for
purposes of teaching dance.”

Brown also noted that the principal called Ragland “functionally illiterate” and said she was “outraged” that she was allowed to teach at Arts. Clearly, whatever the motive Anderson may have had for sending her to Arts as a EWP, Irby-Jackson didn’t want her there.

The NTU, which has represented Ragland and nearly a dozen other teachers brought up on tenure charges by Anderson, has won all its tenure cases this year and has repeatedly called on the superintendent and state Education Commissioner David Hespe to stop the efforts to fire tenured teachers,

The other cases were thrown out because Anderson insisted on using evaluations in both the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 years as admissible against teachers under the new anti-tenure bill, TEACHNJ. However, both law and regulations considered that first year to be a “pilot” year and evaluations conducted then could not be used.

Under the anti-tenure law, any teacher who receives two years of bad evaluations must be brought up on expedited tenure charges.

The arbitrator in the Ragland case cited that reason for dismissing the tenure charges against her but he also pointed out that the district failed any effort to try to help the teacher improve.  The efforts, he said, were “feigned,” and not real.

Ragland, 44, was raised in Chicago and began her dancing there. She moved east in 1993 and worked professionally as a dancer until 2005 when she was hired by the Newark public schools as a an alternate route teacher.

Robert Pickett, the West Orange lawyer who defended Ragland, called the arbitrator’s  decision “a major victory, not just for Ms.Ragland, but for all teachers who must rely on the new tenure law to keep their jobs.”

Pickett said he already has demanded that Ragland be reinstated “in a position that is consistent with her license and her experience.”

Ragland said she would not comment on the case.

(If events like this trouble you, you might consider signing this petition: If events like this trouble you, you might consider signing this petition:

Ras Baraka did).

  1. Bring on the 400 other former EWPs. The vast majority were thrown into positions they are not certified for or at a level they have never taught, then expected to succeed using Danielson’s Framework, and set of standards, and a disatrous new curriculum. And others are placed in positions not suited to them but are content with a paycheck so the students (and other staff) suffer. Many of these teachers are in this situation because of school closings and budget cuts, both out of their control, yet they are expected to “make it work” or be forced out. The whole EWP scenario is a DISASTER, and just unethical, especially considering the shortage of teachers within the schools. Congrats on the victory!!

  2. The irony is that this inept scheme turned into an epic fail for Cami Anderson. (Maybe SHE should be fired.) What’s next from this crew? Planting evidence?

  3. Congratulations! What about the principal? Any charges of harassment filed? That is terrible!

    1. I did hear that principals just got a raise but teachers do not have contracts…..something is definetly wrong with this order…

      Bob Braun: You’re right–but the bad news for principals is that the salary settlement was imposed on them by the district. The union has been further weakened.

  4. As a hard working dance educator with a bachelors degree in dance, I can’t keep quiet about the endless lies that are printed in this article. I have been in the district for 12 years and have worked with Ragland enough to know that the allegations she faced were not completely false. She was never a member of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company because no such company exists. The proper way to refer to the world renowned dance franchise is the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and I doubt they would hire someone who refers to “Parmesan” as a dance term. I even had an occurrence where I was assumed illiterate and incompetent by a person who had horrible interactions with Ragland. (The assumption was that all dance teacher were like her). I was highly offended.
    I’m not at all a fan of the direction the district is going under this administration, but Ragland is an example of why it is so hard for my colleagues to respect what I do; why I have to fight daily to prove that I am validated in the services I provide for my students. It’s why good teachers are catching a hell of a lot of backlasJh trying to pick up slack from teachers like Ragland. I wouldn’t send my child within 20 feet of her classroom.
    Sorry, but I think the NTU messed up on this one.

    Bob Braun: In the website for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the organization is referred to as a “dance company.” In my story, I refer to the “Alvin Ailey dance company” without capitalizing the last two words, thereby not implying that is the formal title of the organization. So, sorry, you messed up on that one. And on other things as well. I have spoken to Ms. Ragland and do not agree she is “illiterate.” I am glad you think the charges against her were not “completely false.” Were they partially false? Would that make a difference? You complain about “parmesan.” I will complain about “endless lies.” Obviously, the lies, if any, were not endless. No list of anything is infinite. And an article based on an arbitrator’s decision that is, in turn, based on an administrative hearing, fact-finding, and briefs, is hardly based on lies. You may not agree with some of the interpretations given to the facts deduced in the proceeding, but that doesn’t make them “lies.” And, as far as the NTU is concerned, you must be unaware that the NTU is required by law to defend its members. Even if it were not, would you expect a union to do otherwise–especially if you were the object of the attack from the district? Finally, I urge you to read the decision and tell me where it was wrong–and then explain the rather detailed analysis and findings by the arbitrator–an arbitrator appointed by the state, the same state that appointed Cami Anderson. It’s clear you don’t like Ms. Ragland. That is no concern of mine, but please be careful about accusing me of lying.

    1. If, in fact, there were serious problems with her performance, the district could’ve followed the proper procedures and filed tenure charges based on actual deficiencies. But, according to Bob’s post, that’s not what happened here. By scheming to get her fired, rather than seeking her dismissal on the basis of legitimate charges, it was the leadership of the district that messed up.

    2. A r dancer,
      By “promenade” do you mean classical ballet term or American square dance call “promenade your partner”? I don’t know if there’s a modern dance connotation.

      People would consider me foolish if I said that because I had a sarcastic, ill-tempered geometry teacher that I think all geometry teachers are the same. So your being “highly offended” (along w. your other comments here) may indicate that you just enjoy feeling offended.

  5. Please excuse the typos

    Bob Braun: Happens to the best of us, even those who misspeak and call “promenade” “Parmesan.”

    1. Sorry no comparison in my opinion. Making a mistake and not knowing are 2 different things.

  6. Bob,
    There is nothing I admire more than your fight for the students and employees of NPS, but I think before you go to bat for every teacher you should know more about them and their teaching abilities. Being a teacher is something I worked hard to become and was required to take endless college courses, as well as, state tests. I don’t think being in a Broadway show qualifies you to be a teacher. Without a doubt that’s the district’s fault for letting that slip through the cracks. Would you honestly consider her “qualifications” as worthy of being called a teacher? Unfortunately, I believe this fight only hurt NPS.

    1. WfNPS, BB’s article states that LaRhonda Jackson was an alternate route teacher–so she went through an approved process/had mentor.
      She also would have had ~9 observations (I think) during first 3 years teaching (while Marion Bolden was Supt).

      I respect your study to become certified. As a performing art, dance is somewhat different than literacy (I’ve taught both).
      Bachelor’s programs for dancers are not what NCAA is for NFL. It may no longer be true but when I was an undergrad, the unspoken understanding was that the great dancers were performing, not taking college courses.

    2. Clearly, it stated that she took the alternative route to teacher certification. With that being said, you still have to take state certification test.

  7. I do not know Ragland. I am not familiar with her qualifications, nor do I have any but the most superficial familiarity with the world of dance. Newark Public Schools hired her and granted her tenure demonstrating their satisfaction with her credentials and her literacy. Her experience as an EWPS, however, is similar to my own. I am currently in my third assignment for which I am not certified and receive little to no support. Thank you Bob for sharing her story and her triumph over her adversaries.

  8. A real dancer must be connected with the principal who apparently went on a witch hunt to harm and take away the livelihood of this teacher. As a member of any union in nps how can you justify this decision to file tenure charges against this teacher? If she was as incompetent as the principal claims then the ruling would have passed. In this era we are working in, be careful how you support this administration’s illegal tactic because next year it could be you. No one is safe.

  9. A real dancer,should put his or her real name to a post before attacking the credibility of a story written by a man at the front of the war on Newark students.Great work Bob and thank you.

    1. Actually no I’m not. As stated, I’m a teacher fighting the good fight everyday to be respected as a professional craftsman and not a prep coverage. I also stated that I do not support the tactics of the district, but I guess that part must be invisible.

      Focus on the issue, unless you are writing me a check don’t worry about my name.

      1. Real Dancer – you want us to
        Focus on the issue? The issue is the arbitrary and capricious treatment of educators under Cami Anderson. She could just as easily come after you, Real Dancer, and I suppose if there was someone out there who questioned your teaching abilities, it would be ok with you to be victimized by a superintendent not following law or regulation? The issue is not, nor should it be, about personal opinions or even capabilities of a teacher — but the process. And clearly the process has been violated – repeatedly under this administration. The failure to recognize that is indeed a very real issue.

  10. And State Senator Teresa Ruiz, much heralded for her plagiarized TEACHNJ, remains silent to the vicious abuse of this woman.

    Senator Ruiz, Christie will never be president, have a bit of courage and defend Essex county! Speak out Senator Ruiz! Are you ok with this abuse? Your silence is suggestive.

  11. This is happening every where in NPS, the African American principals are worse. This lady Cami used them to achieve her selfish goals of hiring TFA to replace tenured teachers. God forbids, they do not like you because you are more qualified than them academically, they invite their friends to observe you, guess, you know what that means. People have no conscience and have no absolute regard for their creator. It is a shame! really shame!
    Bob!, what is the fat boy doing in declaring his position for the white house?

  12. Congratulations to the NTU lawyers and to Ms. Ragland for winning her case. I am a NPS teacher and I am seeing first hand what is happening to teachers throughout Newark, but especially to EWP teachers.

    NPS is using the TeachNJ Law to “set-up” all teachers, but especially EWP teachers and veteran teachers. It is their way of bringing more Teach for America people into the buildings. They can use these people for two years and then get another group for the next two years, and so on and on and on.

    We need to ask who is suffering from this abuse of power? The answer can only be THE STUDENTS of Newark Public Schools. We know this because they are not getting the experienced teachers they deserve, when they get a TfA person. I am not totally against TfA teachers. I have worked with some that are excellent. They have been totally committed to their students and work hard. I am against the ones that are only in the position for two years and then move out, because they are taking the positions away from teachers that have committed their career as a teacher.

    What NPS is doing to EWP teachers should be illegal. Why are so many teachers EWPed and brand new teachers hired for the positions these EWP teachers can fill? Many people are EWP not because they aren’t good teachers, but rather because NPS has closed their school or renewed their school and the new principal hired different people.

    The rule should be that before an outside person is hired an EWP should be hired for that position, if one is available in ones certification area.

    Taking a person and putting them on hall duty, just because they are EWP, does not make good, sound business use of that person. Then putting that person in a classroom for an observation is setting the person up for failure. Even if Ms. Ragland was a math teacher, for example, having her work hall duty, then put her in a classroom to teach a math lesson to students she isn’t familiar with would have set her up for failure.

    This ruling for Ms. Ragland is a ruling for ALL NPS teachers. It is saying that the district has a responsibility to insure that all students have a qualified teacher and all teacher have a right to teach in their area of expertise.

    Had Ms. Ragland been assigned to a class in her area of expertise for the entire year and been rated ineffective, I am sure the end result would have been different.

    Ms. Ragland, and many other EWP teachers in Newark, was and are being set-up each and every day. Come on people, wake up and smell the coffee. NPS is a hostile work environment for many people, but especially for people in the EWP pool. Newark wants to get rid of these people and since they can’t just let them go because they have certain rights, NPS has developed this other means of getting rid of them. Put them in an area that they are not certified to teach and then evaluate them ineffective, or in Ms. Ragland’s position, evaluate her in her area, but not in a class she teaches all year long. Only insert her – rate her poorly – move her back to “babysitting a/k/a hall duty.”

    As NTU members we need to stick together and speak out about these injustices. We need to constantly call and write the elected officials and let them know what is happening in Newark and to our students, the future leaders of our city and country. NPS is doing a great injustice to the students, teachers and citizens of Newark.

    Others in the State of New Jersey also need to support us in Newark, because Big Brother is on his way to get you next!!!!!

    1. Need to Talk,

      You are right on target. I am in my third out of certification role this school year. It is the goal of the administration to set EWPS up for gotcha observations rather than place us in existing openings in our certifications where we could truly be of service to the children of Newark.

  13. when a teacher is being observed, it is to support a teacher, not tear her down. When there are things that need improvement, the observer is to discuss ways of improving. Observing is not a “gotcha” exercise…it is a means to help teachers do the best they can with the children assigned to her/him. This is just ridiculous and shame on the principals who do this without a word of complaint! The other issue is how wasteful to pay teachers sitting and doing nothing! This district is a mess!

  14. Arts administrators, namely the Principal and the Vice Principal are totally incompetent. LIJ is immature and vindictive, and those who worked with her at the elementary level knows why she was moved, and it is LIJ who should be fired. The vice principal is culturally inept, and stuck in the dark ages, he has no business working with people as he has no people skills. If you stand up to him and are female, you are EWP as fast as he can make it happen. Good win, hopefully LIJ and Pediro will get fired soon, they are not what Newark kids need

    1. Great. I live in South Orange and this is now my son’s current middle school principal.

      1. Don’t believe everything you read. Give her a chance. Sometimes there’s a lot more to a story.

  15. Pick one:
    It would be refreshing if writers and speakers would stick to one issue at a time. I’ve been teaching in Newark since 1988. I’ve come to realize that there are many, many problems facing the NPS. (duh) Trying to identify and solve them all at once is a mistake.
    For now, I’ll point my finger at people who focus on Cami Anderson. Cami is doing what she was hired to do. Getting rid of her, without replacing her boss, won’t guarantee any improvement. The havoc and heartbreak that’s being visited on the EWP’s will continue with or without Cami. Chris’s agenda is clear. His intentions are being carried out by her.
    By focusing so intently on her ouster, you are providing a distraction from all the other problems.
    Bob Braun: So which one would you pick and why?

    1. Nick Straus – I agree with you – the state is perfectly willing to allow lots of energy be burned fighting Cami because in the end whether she stays or goes, the state still controls. I would focus solely on a path out of state control – which would not just get rid of her but also any replacement for her still under the thumb of this administration. Things might improve slightly under another state appointed superintendent — or get worse — but it will still all be happening under state controlled districts fast tracking charterization of the districts.

      1. As long as the State controls the purse strings, local control will be minimal. The only solution, however impractical, is to set up a county district whereby Newark will be divided up and matched up with surrounding surburban towns. This would of course never happen because it would cause white flight and a mass exodus into private schools.

    2. (I didn’t realize my full name would be published. I would prefer to become anonymous, but if that’s not possible, so be it.)
      This may sound glib, but every day I go to work I do my best to deal with any one, or several of the problems that we face in the NPS.
      Of course i also enjoy the rewards, so please don’t think I’m complaining.
      But since you asked, Newark lacks a leader. History teaches me that strong leaders make things happen, for better or worse. Christie is living proof.

  16. Would the fact that Principal Irby-Jackson has a sister who is a dance teacher in a NPS elementary school be considered a conflict of interest for Jackson’s conducting observation/evaluation of Ms Ragland?

  17. I am a proud graduate of Arts High; in the era of Mr. Otero as principal. Unlike what most think we did get a comprehensive and well rounded education. I had a very high SAT score and many of the 98 graduates did as well! The difference was we had invested teachers and administrators who understood their purpose was to mentor, coach, and teach students. Bottom line they cared and were all invested in our success. As a Newark parent now all I see is a complete systemic fail. Cami Anderson has to resign because she doesn’t understand the true needs of our children and community. However, there are many teachers and administrators that should be leaving with her! There are teachers and administrators that have bleed the system, gotten free degrees and certifications and never cared or were connected to the success of Newark children. As a parent I am exhausted is not receiving quality educators who empower our children and community. Education has become the new corporate board room full of sharks feeding on the helpless souls of our children. Families and children in Newark deserve better teachers and administrators that place their needs first and prepare them to compete in the real world! What is happening in Newark is Social Public Policy at its best; its a failure by many in the system!

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