Julian Ferreira will get to go the school behind his house–and his mother Sara deserves a lot of credit for standing up to the administration of Newark public schools run by Christopher Cerf, Gov. Chris Christie’s agent in the state’s largest school district. But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other children in Newark who will not be allowed to attend the schools nearest their homes. Their struggle goes on.
“I wasn’t going to give up this time,” said Sara Ferreira. She tried and failed last year to enroll Julian in the pre-school at Oliver Street School, a school that abuts the Ferreira family property on Pacific Street.
She tried again this year but was again denied–twice. Sara Ferreira, herself a graduate of he Oliver Street School, wouldn’t stop pushing, however. She reached out to the parent organization, #ParentPower, head by Frankie Adao as well as local and state elected officials. Sara also agreed to tell her story here.
Her willingness to go public brought provoke extensive reaction, including complaints from other parents whose efforts to enroll their children in nearby schools was frustrated by the state’s insistence on pushing the so-called “One Newark” plan. That plan, originally devised by Cerf himself, seeks to close neighborhood public schools and launch new charter schools.
On Friday, one of Cerf’s bureaucrats called Sara Ferreira and said the school had somehow found room for Julian. It has been typical of the state’s reaction to try to resolve small crises before they erupt into larger ones.
Cerf headed a private consulting firm, Global Education Advisers. The firm was paid $500,000 to come up with an enrollment plan for Newark–but Cerf denied ever receiving the money. He was working on the plan when Christie named him state education commissioner. The plan’s general outlines were included in “One Newark” and are followed today.
Cerf named his protégé, Cami Anderson, to be the Newark superintendent. Then Cerf left the state to take a job with Amplify, a private company headed by Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch at a time when Amplify had $2.3 million in state contracts with the state-operated system in Newark schools.
Cerf’s return to Newark was part of the deal cut in June between Christie and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka who said he agreed to what he called a “settlement” because Christie promised the eventual return of local control.
“I fought for my child’s right to go to a local, neighborhood school,” said Sara Ferreira. “That was very important to me because I didn’t want my child attending school far away. Everyone else should be doing that, too.”
The deal allowed Christie to run for president without a building protest movement against his control of the city schools. The governor had angered many in the city when he insisted the people of the city had no role in determining the future of their schools. He called himself “the decider.”
Supporters of the Christie-Baraka plan say they believe that, once Newark regains local control, the school board will be able to determine the course of the Newark schools.
The problem is Cerf has been given a three-year contraction and Christie has not set a date for the return of full control. The agreement requires Newark officials to met still undetermined “benchmarks” before home rule can be restored–and to provide so far unnamed guarantees that the city schools will never again require a state takeover.
There is no guarantee that, even under a locally controlled school district, neighborhood schools will return to Newark–no matter how long Cerf stays in office.
The state takeover law already sets benchmarks for the return of local control. Years ago, Cerf himself, as state education commissioner, intervened to change the benchmarks and prevent the city from regaining local control.
“My child was going to school in September,” said Sara Ferreira. “I couldn’t wait any longer.”
The state administration has often caved in when a decision, like this one, creates widespread public anger. That way, it avoids allowing narrow problems from becoming a major uprising against failed state control.
Apparently, it will take parents from throughout he city to keep the pressure on the Cerf administration of Newark public schools bfore their children will be allowed to attend school nearby by.