Isabel’s children–abandoned by Newark’s schools, betrayed by its politicians

 

Isabel Troche and three of her children--William, Anthony, and Nashley. None have started school yet
Isabel Troche and three of her children–William, Anthony, and Nashley. None have started school yet

There is a lot of cruelty in the way Newark schools treat parents and their children. Especially the way the state-run school administration treats the neediest, the most powerless.  Just ask Isabel Troche and her four children.

Here it is in mid-October and Isabel’s children are  not in school yet.  They only live a few hundred feet from what should be their neighborhood public school–but they can’t go there. In fact, all four of the children have been assigned–for now–to four different schools.

If it were not so cruel, it might almost be funny. A joke about the pratfalls of bureaucracy. But what is happening to Isabel’s children is no joke. It is the deliberate and foreseeable consequence of a state policy called “One Newark” designed to close neighborhood public schools, expand privately-run charter schools and strip the school district of resources and hope.

It also is the result of the collapse of the effort by a broad cross-section of Newark’s residents to fight back against the state–a fight that collapsed in an alleged deal to bring back local control after 20 years of inept state administration.

The members of Isabel Troche’s family are, simply, victims of the state’s indifference to Newark’s residents and of the fecklessness of a local response. No one is fighting back for Isabel’s children.

Isabel's son, Jose.
Isabel’s son, Jose.

“I keep going to places–the schools, the enrollment center, downtown–and they tell me they’ll get back to me but they never do,” says Isabel. “I’ve been  trying for weeks and I still can’t get the kids into school.”

If Isabel’s children are placed in the four different schools to which they have been assigned, they probably won’t be able to get there. Isabel has no transportation and the jokers at school headquarters in Newark expect the four kids to be in four different places at the same time.

What is happening to Isabel’s children is neither rare nor complicated. Newark’s mayor, Ras Baraka–before his criticisms of state control fell quiet–charged that hundreds of families were misplaced by the state-run school administration. “One Newark” distributed children around the city as if they were goods to be delivered rather than children to be protected and educated.

Baraka once demanded the immediate dismantling of “One Newark.” Then he said it should be dismantled piece-meal. Now he doesn’t talk about it much at all.

But those scores, if not hundreds, of misplaced children are still out there, somewhere, trying to find placement in schools their parents can get to, somehow. Isabel’s children–Anthony, Jose, William, and Nashley–are among them

The burden is cruelest for those who began the process of trying to get into Newark schools late. Like Isabel and her four children who moved into Newark less than a month ago, long after most available seats were filled in what is left of the city’s neighborhood schools.

Years ago, she would have shown up with her kids, walked down the street and registered them in the neighborhood school and that would have been that. But the neighborhood school–once Madison Avenue–is now a privately run charter school, the Newark Legacy Charter School. And Isabel’s children can’t go there. That’s part of the cruel joke.

Charter schools aren’t just for anyone, after all. Besides, three of Isabel’s four children are special needs students and charter schools in Newark simply aren’t expected to shoulder their share of the burden of teaching the city’s neediest kids. That would lower their performance scores–bad for marketing.

No, in her travels, Isabel was told that the oldest, Anthony, will go to Weequahic. He’s 15. Her 14-ear-old, Jose, will go to Hawthorne Avenue’s 8th grade. William, 12, will go to Cleveland and the youngest, visually impaired Nashley, well, no one is sure yet exactly where she can go.

But, in fact, says Isabel, these designations of schools to which her kids have been assigned are meaningless because she has been told she can’t starting bringing them in yet because there is no transportation for them. The paperwork isn’t right.

And, even once the paperwork is finished and a theoretical transportation plan is developed, it is simply not practical for her to send four children, three of them special needs, one of them blind,  to four different schools spread out over the city of Newark.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” says Isabel who doesn’t own her own car and depends on  a friend to get her around. She can’t work and lives on Social Security.

State-appointed school superintendent Christopher Cerf, the friend and former employer of Gov. Chris Christie who developed the “One Newark” plan, doesn’t like to be reminded publicly of his cruelty to people like Isabel’s children.  When a story like this one gets out–most parents are too frightened to complain or just don’t know how–Cerf usually does something to fix the problem.

Let’s hope, for the sake of Isabel’s children, he does something for them.

Let’s also hope that local politicians who were elected to defend the rights of Isabel’s children, the rights of  all public school children, find their courage again.

Isabel Troche, unlike the people who run charter schools, are never likely to contribute to a political campaign.

But, guys,  they do need your help far more than Montclair millionaires do.

Note: In an earlier version of this story, I wrote that the former public  school a few hundred feet from the Troche home was the South 17th Street School. It was, in fact, the Madison school. I apologize for the error.

 

 

 

9 comments

  1. Christine Langhoff

    Reading this puts me in mind of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”. As to the question of what Isabel Troche should do, it seems the city’s answer is, “just go away”.

    Hard to imagine something much more wrong.

  2. Cheated

    Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh the 175.000 $ newly promoted assistant superintendents…. Lavish meals…bonuses… shuffling emails..creating chaos.. and hurting little poor kids: “LET THEM EAT CAKE”

    Comfy offices… countless cronies on their hands & knees…Nepotism…Jobs for friends….Life is good!

    School reform at its best!

  3. Trevor Phillips

    She needs to go to the Education Law Center and sue the district. What is happening to her is criminal!!!

  4. Michael Fiorillo

    As always, Bob, thank you for your brave and compassionate reporting.

    As is always the case with so-called reformers, one has to ask, “Where does the incompetence end, and the malice begin?”

  5. Sharon

    This is heartbreaking but not uncommon. Bob, please tell Isabel that if her children have IEPs she should demand door to door busing. If it’s not in the IEP she should demand that the IEPs be amended to include it.

  6. Bill Wolfe

    Bob – if we lived in a sane and democratic world, this story alone would prompt the Governor to come to Newark and apologize and do the right thing by this family.

    But we don’t live there any more – corporate power and money rule. People don’t matter.

    We can no longer stand by and let this stand.

  7. Bill Wolfe

    Bob – Some people just matter more than others.

    Like those arrested and convicted for violating gun laws.

    Christie responds with pardons designed to bolster his presidential ambitions. That plays we’ll for him.

    But poor kids?

    They don’t play well with the corporate donors and republican right wing hate base.

  8. Real Debate

    Bob – your piece states that the universal enrollment system failed this family and denied access to their closest school. You are someone who believes and has lived a life based on journalism, not propaganda, so I wanted to just let you know your sources let you down on this one. The family you showcased chose not participate in the universal enrollment process at all, which is totally their right, but just so you are aware they did not come to the Family Center until October 8th. Three of the four children received immediate placement on their first visit. The other child received placement within 8 days of visit to the Center. All of this information is available for public record. You are a very trusting man – and that is why this city loves you and honors you, but unfortunately there are people taking advantage of your kindness and passion, which is ultimately hurting your great legacy for true journalism. Keep fighting the fight Bob! We need you. I thought this would be helpful for you.

    Bob Braun: No, my sources didn’t let me down. I stated in the story that the children received placements that were impossible for the family to accept, given their circumstances–four children, four different schools. Yes, they came late to the district–they had just moved in from Orange–but the “One Newark” universal enrollment program plus the conversion of some schools to charters prevented them from attending neighborhood schools. Your comment is an interesting combination of praise leavened with accusations of “propaganda”. There are few, if any, public school districts in this state that would make this family endure what the Troches had to endure. If we are prepared to accept four different schools for four children in the same family then we have accepted madness and cruelty.

    • Real Debate

      Bob – The post I sent you was out of great respect. As you report, the school closest to their home is South 17th Street School – I do not believe this school has the facilities to address the actual needs of the children. Just wanted to let you know. Keep doing what you are doing and thank you!

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