How struggling families try to help Newark–only to be punished by state school “reform.”

Lela Barrow, 6, kisses her little brother Richard, 3,  and helps him with his backpack. Because of "One Newark," they can't walk to school together with their grandmother
Lela Barrow, 6, kisses her little brother Richard, 3, and helps him with his backpack. Because of “One Newark,” they can’t walk to school together with their grandmother

Richard Barrow is only three, but he is excited about starting school. So excited  he often puts on his backpack  and parades through the house, telling his father and grandmother and sister he is  ready to walk up the street from the home where they all live to his school.  To walk with them to their school. His father’s school. His sister’s school. The school where his grandmother has taught for years. But, now, because of people who live far away and don’t understand  this is  Richard Barrow’s school–his family’s school–the little boy now must be told he can’t go to that school.

Freda Barrow on her porch--just steps away from the school where she can no longer work and her grandson cannot attend.
Freda Barrow on her front steps–just steps away from the school where she can no longer work and her grandson cannot attend.

Because it isn’t the Barrow family’s school anymore. The Barrows illustrate both the hope and despair of living in Newark–of believing in Newark, of staying in Newark. What has happened to them also illustrates the arrogance and  indifference of people–people who don’t live in Newark–who say they favor school “reform” and “turnaround.”

 

“This is my home, this is my community,” says Freda Barrow. “They have taken it away from me and my family. Sometimes, I think  I should leave–but someone has to stay here and fight.”

 

Freda Barrow is known to many as the woman brings a camera into the midst of the disruption caused by the insensitive and inept policies of Gov. Chris Christie, a Mendham resident whose family fled Newark in the 1950s.  Policies he entrusted first to Cami Anderson of New York and then Christopher Cerf, a  Montclair resident, people who have shredded the fabric of life in New Jersey’s largest city because they pretend to know better than the city’s residents–and are paid well for this profound arrogance.

 

What has happened to the Barrow family has happened to many other Newark families but Freda is willing to take risks and talk about how arrogant state control of the city’s schools personally hurts her and her family.

Probationary firefighter Richard Barrow with his son Richard and daughter Lela. Their lives have been disrupted by Cerf's "reforms."
Probationary firefighter Richard Barrow with his son Richard and daughter Lela. Their lives have been disrupted by Cerf’s “reforms.”

Part of the story is sad but simple. Freda Barrow lives a few hundred feet from the George Washington Carver School. She has taught there since 1999. Her three children–Richard, a Newark firefighter, Erica, and Aja–all attended that school. Her granddaughter Lela, 6, Richard’s daughter, attends that school.

 

“The school is an extension of our home,” says Freda, 54.

 

Or was. No more.

 

The Barrows found out that, because of an alleged “reform” known as “One Newark,” the pre-school program little Richard should have attended was moved to another school. His father applied for him to get into that school–but the little boy was denied admission.   Now he will go to a private preschool far away. So he won’t be able to walk with his sister Lela and his grandmother to the school up the street.

Richard Barrow wants to go to school with his sister, the school where his grandmother works--but he can't.
Richard Barrow wants to go to school with his sister, the school where his grandmother works–but he can’t.

But there’s more.   Because of another alleged “reform,” this one known as “turnaround,” Freda can no longer work as a fifth-grade teacher at George Washington Carver.

 

The state declared Carver a “turnaround” school and demanded its teachers sign a so-called “expanded work agreement,” or EWA, to work extra hours for minimum wage.   Like many teachers, Freda heeded the advice of her union and refused to sign it, so she was punished and transferred to the Hawthorne Avenue School blocks away where, of course, she won’t be able to walk her grandchildren to school or check  on them while she’s working.

 

“Someone’s going to be late every day–and we’re fortunate, we have a car,” she says.

 

What Cerf is doing to Barrow and other teachers like her has no basis in educational philosophy or research. It’s simply retribution aimed at those teachers who had the audacity to refuse to be used as pawns in Christie and Cerf’s game.

 

That is easy to say because, get this–teachers from Hawthorne who also refused to sign the agreement were punished by being sent to Carver.

 

Hawthorne and Carver and seven other schools–and their neighborhoods–were disrupted just so Cerf could win the approval of his boss, Christie, who has openly lied about the success of so-called “reforms” like “One Newark” and “turnaround.”

 

Carver can’t be improved on the basis of taking in new, willing teachers committed to this new approach–because the teachers it is taking in from Hawthorne and other schools also are refusing to comply with the terms of the EWA.

 

It’s mindless teacher swapping for the sole purpose of punishing teachers.

 

It will produce two sets of teachers working on differing schedules, some starting earlier in the day– and leaving later–than others.

 

Just as shuffling children around–like Freda’s grandson Richard–was merely a political ploy known as “One Newark” to weaken neighborhood schools and increase charter enrollments, shuffling teachers around for “turnaround” has the same purpose with this added incentive for Cerf: it hurts the union.

 

“But it destroys, not just neighborhood schools, but neighborhoods,” says Freda Barrow. “I don’t mind working the extra hours but the EWA was just open-ended–no one should have signed it.”

 

The kids, and their parents, and their teachers can just–in the minds of Christie, Anderson, Cerf–they can all just go to hell. Doesn’t hurt their kids, out there in Mendham, Montclair, and Glen Ridge.

 

“I know there are children whose older brothers and sisters had me as a teacher at Carver and I know they’re thinking they will have me,” says Freda Barrow. “I know their parents and they want me there, too. But the children won’t see me when they get there. They won’t know any of their new teachers. It will be a totally different school.”

 

Cerf and most of his high-priced administrative team have never taught in urban schools.  They haven’t lived in these neighborhoods. They are chasing feckless theories and political advantages while the lives of real people–children, parents, and teachers–are damaged.

Her former students, Keith (l.) and Brent Williams visit their fifth-grade teacher at Carver. Brent was later murdered in a drive-by shooting.
Her former students, Keith (l.) and Brent Williams visit their fifth-grade teacher at Carver. Brent was later murdered in a drive-by shooting.

Freda Barrow knows her community and she knows there is a high price to pay for loving that which can be so easily destroyed.

 

“You know, many of my old students come back to see me,” she says. “They come in and ask for advice or recommendations for jobs. They tell me about their families and how they want me to teach their children.”

 

And, because Freda loves photography, she has pictures of these students and their visits. Some break her heart. In January, brothers Brent and Keith Williams came to visit. Last month, Brent, 20, was murdered in a drive-by-shooting. A month earlier, Brent’s classmate in Ms. Barrow’s class, Rashawn Harrison, also was shot to death.

Two of Freda's former students were shot and killed within a month of each other--Brent Williams and Rashawn Harrison. And Cerf believes, by punishing teachers and closing public schools, student performance will improve. Cerf and Christie might as well be from Mars.
Two of Freda Barrow’s former students were shot and killed within a month of each other this year –Brent Williams and Rashawn Harrison. And Cerf believes, by punishing teachers and closing public schools, student performance will improve. Cerf and Christie might as well be from Mars. They have no clue about Newark.

She tells a story of how, after these funerals, she was in a store and saw another young man she had taught years earlier. She began to cry and embraced him and whispered, “I’m just so glad you’re still alive.”

 

Barrow’s own children have been attacked and robbed but she hovered over them and, now that they are adults, she is more determined than ever to stay and fight for her neighborhood.

 

She takes risks. The other day, she appeared at a Newark school board meeting and spoke up against “One Newark” and “turnaround.”  School employees have been suspended for less.   Of course, Cerf missed his first meeting as superintendent and didn’t hear what she had to say–but, maybe, he will listen to the tape. It will do him more good than hours’ of meetings with his over-priced assistants.

Freda Barrow speaks out at board meeting-Cerf was a no-show.
Freda Barrow speaks out at board meeting-Cerf was a no-show.

Freda Barrow knows she can be punished–again–for speaking out against “One Newark” and “turnaround” and state control of Newark’s schools. But she tells a story about her own childhood in Syracuse, New York,  that explains why she’s not afraid–not of her neighborhood, not of Christopher Cerf.

 

When she was a child, Syracuse was under a school desegregation order. Freda and many other black children were bused into white neighborhoods where they were not always welcome. The little girl was afraid.

 

“I hated that feeling of fear. I hated the feeling in your stomach–this coldness. Almost a pain. It was so real.”

 

So the little girl who would become Freda Barrow promised herself she would not let fear creep into her again.   And to overcome that fear, this is what she does:

She teaches. All of us.

6 comments

  1. Sistateacher

    This is a great article of how it profiles generations of families and the destructive impact upon neighborhoods.

  2. Public Education Supporter

    Thank you Bob Braun, for even as your posts break my heart, I am so thankful to you for bringing these situations to light. If we had to depend on the mainstream media for our news, Lord knows we wouldn’t be aware of half of what’s happening in Newark. And thanks and recognition to Freda Barrow for standing up and speaking out – we need people like you – thank you!

  3. Saveourschools

    Thank you Mr Braun, for always shining light on the issues plaguing our school district. Ms. Barrow has become a monument to NPS, she played a great role at Carver and in the lives of many children. Those who are making the decisions for our children do not live here, they do not know what our people experience and they have no right to make theses decisions without us. We can’t go to Montclair or any of the districts where their children live and call shots and say what’s best when we aren’t from there, but we the people who endure every inch of the killing, the robbing the stealing of our children’s lives and the poverty know first hand what our children need and we should have the right as well as control of our school district. They do this because it’s not enough of us who can fight, this fight takes all of our energy, in which some of us don’t have after having to work out several minimum wage jobs to feed our children. Thanks Bob Braun

    Bob Braun: In a few words you have said what it has often taken me thousands of words to say. Thank you.

  4. Latifah

    I have only worked with Ms.Barrow for one year. During that one year, I must say “Ms.Barrow is there for the children and she LOVES what she does.” She gives all such warm vibes and a very good person to talk too and even listen to her stories. I will miss Ms. Barrow and her ppleasant aroma of oils as I walk down the corridor of G.W.C-Eagles!!

  5. Standing next to Ms. Barrow

    Can someone please answer this question or explain the thinking behind what is happening in Newark’s Public Schools? I am trying so hard to understand this madness.

    As teachers that are assigned to renewed/turnaround schools we are told that if we refuse to sign the Employee Work Agreement (EWA), to work which adds up total to an extra month for less than minimum wage, that we are no longer welcomed employees in our present schools.

    I am one of those teachers that refused to sign the EWA agreement. This means, just like Freda, I have been removed from my school and have been assigned to work in another renewed/turnaround school, where I will once again refuse to sign the EWA.

    I am replacing another individual that refused to sign the EWA, who has been moved, and probably sent to my last school, to take my place.

    My question is these:

    What sense does this make to remove a teacher from a school where he/she has developed a relationship with the students and their families, because the teacher refuses to sign a work agreement to work longer hours for minimum wage, only to move that teacher to a different school with the same agreement, that the teacher will still refuse to sign?

    I know the answer is really to disrupt the Newark Public Schools system, but my mind still cannot wrap itself around a State, City and District that thinks so little of its students, families, teachers and the community.

    I too, like Freda, have built a relationship with the neighborhood. I have had students from the same families over the years. I have families and students telling me I will be their teacher, and look forward to joining my classroom. Unfortunately, that will not happen this school year, because in June, I said goodbye to my “school family,” and on September 1st I will be joining a new “school family” because of a piece of paper that I refuse to sign.

    Actually, it is not just a piece of paper that the district wants me to sign. What the NPS wants is my soul that they want to own. I will not give up my soul.

    Therefore, as I begin this school year I wonder how much I should bring of my own personal materials to the classroom. I wonder how involved I should get in the school community. I wonder if I should bother making friends or going above and beyond, because in reality come this next June I’ll be saying goodbye to this new school family and moving to another school when I once again refuse to sign the EWA and give my soul away.

    What makes me the saddest is as long as I am rated a highly effective teacher, I will have a job, but I will no longer have a “school home” and a “neighborhood school” that I can call “home.” My students and their families are the ones that suffer from the One Newark Plan the most. They are the ones that keep losing people that they respect and love not because of death, but because of a piece of paper, and a district that does not value education despite the politically correct words that they use.

    Bob Braun: Thank you for this. What you describe is a tragedy.

  6. Colleague

    We will go above and beyond because we are great teachers, stewards, Professionals that cherish and respect the lives of children. We recognize that families send us their babies, not perfect but with hope that we will empower them o become greater than those who tower over them. Children need to unturned in a stable community …. we know that .So come September like you I
    Will recieve our children with open arms.

Leave a Reply to Colleague Cancel reply

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.