State-appointed Newark school superintendent Cami Anderson and her supporters have gone into frantic damage control mode to ensure her chances for reappointment next month are not hurt by a cheating scandal–but sources within the school system say she knew about the problem and may have tried to prevent its disclosure.
The original email to top school officials that revealed the breach in security indicated that a Barringer staff member who learned of it immediately called a central office staff member, Aurora Vieira, for advice about what to do. Vieira’s immediate supervisor is Gabrielle Wyatt who holds the title of “Executive Director of Strategy” and reports directly to Anderson.
“They are trying to make this look like a small problem limited to one or two students,” says Wilhelmina Holder, head of the Secondary School Council. “Only the students will be blamed for this and the adults will get away with it.”
The official statements from the central administration–one from communications director Brittany Chord Parmley and another from Newark school board president Rashon Hasan–have all focused on one Barringer student who allegedly took pictures of a state graduation exam with a mobile phone and sent them to other students at other high schools. Although Hasan promised an “ongoing investigation,” Parmley put out a statement saying only four students and, apparently, no school employees were involved.
So much for an ongoing investigation.
The original email exposing the cheating also said the student’s test answers were “corrected” by a Barringer staff member and central office was informed, but neither Hasan’s nor Parmley’s statement mentions that. It also says nothing about whether the students–at Shabazz and Weequahic–forwarded the test to other students at other high schools.
The Hasan/Parmley version of what happened does not make much sense. Barringer has a strict policy of requiring students to leave their mobile phones with the school office when they enter the building, a procedure checked by security guards. In addition, instructions for those who give state tests require proctors to ensure the students have no mobile phones.
Yet, somehow, according to the official version, a student–in the middle of the test administration–whipped out a cell phone that he got past two check-points and began taking pictures of the exam, an alternative high school assessment given to students who failed, or did not take, the High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA), the soon to be discontinued state graduation test.
The scandal comes at a very sensitive and embarrassing time for Anderson, whose resignation has been demanded by public officials, starting with Mayor Ras Baraka. Baraka, just two months ago, demanded a state investigation into conditions at Barringer. The school opened without adequate teachers, materials, furniture, supplies and even lunches.
The timing for Anderson is so bad. State education commissioner David Hespe must decide by March 1 whether to renew Anderson’s contract for another year. A scandal involving Anderson and her alleged successes in Newark also would embarrass the presidential aspirations of her supporter-in-chief, Gov. Chris Christie, just as he is expected to announce his run for the White House.
So Anderson’s subordinates are trying to make the case that she was in control of the problems at the high school, the city’s oldest. She obviously is not. Or maybe she was in control, but just couldn’t solve the problems.
Indeed, the day news of the scandal broke, Parmley and Brad Haggerty, an assistant superintendent, were touring the school with a Washington Post reporter as part of a national effort to rehabilitate Anderson’s reputation. Parmley once worked for former Washington, DC, schools superintendent Michelle Rhee, whose own legacy was tarnished by questionable testing practices. Rhee, like Anderson, is a champion of school privatization.
In comments given to The Star-Ledger, which held back publishing the story for a day, Hasan complained, not about Anderson or Barringer, but about the disclosure of the student’s name. It has not been revealed here, although the student is not a juvenile. Perhaps Hasan will reveal the names of all the adults involved in the scandal when his “ongoing investigation” is completed.