Newark students seize Cami Anderson’s office

Charlotte Hitchcock, NPS counsel, tried to shoo students from Anderson's office. The students set up their broadcast center.
Charlotte Hitchcock, NPS counsel, tried to shoo students from Anderson’s office. The students set up their broadcast center.

A small group of Newark high school students Tuesday night seized the office of state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson in a protest timed to coincide with her imminent re-appointment to another year, her fifth,  as head of the state’s largest school district. The action, which is continuing through the night, stands in stark contrast to the failure of Anderson’s older–and, theoretically, more powerful–critics to do anything to dislodge her from her post.

The operation was executed with an efficiency that has eluded Anderson’s control of the district. The dozen students and a few adult advisers pulled off the occupation of the suite of offices on the eighth floor while a public school board meeting droned on two floors above on the tenth floor. The students had attended the meeting and some spoke, hinting broadly they were about to do something, and then left in a group–but they weren’t going home to do their homework.

Newark students sprint down long eighth-floor hallway to get to Anderson's offices ahead of security officers
Newark students sprint down long eighth-floor hallway to get to Anderson’s offices ahead of security officers

The dozen or so students crammed into an elevator and pushed the 8th floor button, then sprinted to Anderson’s office, expecting all the while to be met with resistance from security officers. Instead, the office site was wide open and empty except for a puzzled janitor who, while mopping the floors, cautioned the students not to slip on the wet tiles. “Be careful,” he said, not quite sure of the intent of the visitors.

The students–many of them from the city’s vaunted Science Park High School–set to work establishing what amounted to a communications center where they broadcast their demands that Anderson resign immediately–for, among other reasons, her failure for a year  to attend board meetings, including the one the students had just left.

Within a few hours, the students were live-streaming appeals for support like a band of revolutionaries whose first target was a government-controlled television station.

At first, top administrators of the Newark schools were not amused–although it did take at least a half-hour before they realized their offices were under the control of their critics.  Charlotte Hitchcock, Anderson’s chief attorney, stormed into the occupied office followed by her security director, Eric Ingold, and demanded the students leave. They were “trespassing” on “private property,” she told the public school students in the leadership suite of New Jersey’s largest public school system.

Hitchcock testily tried to prevent a photographer from taking her picture at that moment–resulting in a photo that shows the hubris of the Anderson administration with the added benefit of depicting students setting up their live-streaming apparatus and ignoring her and her pomposity.

“Thank you,” a student said to her after she delivered her warning.

The angry nature of the initial reaction did cause some concerns among the students, some of whom openly spoke about what might happen if the  Newark police tried to arrest them. At the same time, Hitchcock and her security crew refused demands from Newark school board members to go to the site and meet with the students.

Something obviously clicked in the minds of Cami’s assistants because, in about 45 minutes, the same Hitchcock reappeared at the offices and sweetly assured the students they would be provided access to bathrooms and food would be delivered.

(Pizzas later arrived, delivered by none other than assistant superintendent Roger Leon, often thought to be the next superintendent if  Anderson can ever be pried loose from her hold on the $300,000 job. They were, however, purchased by school board member Marques-Aquil Lewis. Sounds like something Leon would do.)

A mellower Hitchcock promises food and access to bathrooms.
A mellower Hitchcock promises food and access to bathrooms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Our main concern is the safety of the students,” Hitchcock told the students, just an hour after she warned the students her main concern was their audacity in trespassing on the inner sanctum of the Newark public school administration.

Soon, the students were welcoming school board members and others, including Middy Baraka, the chief of staff and brother to Mayor Ras Baraka, who posed for a picture with the occupying students. Thai Cooper, the mayor’s chief policy adviser, called the students and her remarks about “standing in solidarity” with their cause were loud-speakered across the room.

Board members were finally allowed in to meet the students after 10:30 pm
Board members were finally allowed in to meet the students after 10:30 pm

Board members who arrived expressing their support included Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, Marques-Aquil Lewis,  and Donald Jackson. The board members gave live-streamed interviews endorsing  the students’ demand that  Anderson be fired.

“Can you imagine that we were not even allowed to enter the school administration’s offices?” said Baskerville-Richardson, whose husband, Essex County Freeholder Wayne Richardson, also came to show support for the students. “This is what it means not to have local control.”

This was the second sit-in staged by roughly the same group of students in less than a year. Last May, they took over a school board meeting and sat in. On that occasion, then mayor-elect Baraka came personally to support them. As of midnight Wednesday morning, the mayor had not contacted the students directly.

The student occupation of Anderson’s office was more than just a bold act by some of the city’s most talented students–it also was a reminder that the adults who are supposed to be leaders have been helpless in preventing Anderson from being re-appointed to another year as superintendent.

The mayor has demanded her resignation and so have a legion of other elected officials. She has been denounced by virtually every member of the Essex County legislative delegation and a slew of union leaders. But Anderson survives–because only one man decides whether she will stay.

And that is Chris Christie.

 

 

 

 

30 comments

  1. Pingback: BREAKING! Newark Student Union Call to Action! | The War Report on Public Education
  2. ellen rosner

    Hats off to Newark students, once again.
    Leading us all.
    Love it! “Within a few hours, the students were live-streaming appeals for support like a band of revolutionaries whose first target was a government-controlled television station.”

  3. FirstHand

    I’m so proud to be a Newark Teacher where our students have learned how to peacefully take action. What better time to do this than during Black History Month where we are once again teaching about the strength of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Civil Rights Activists.

    I’m with you students. Thank you for your strength and honesty. Newark’s Public Schools need to be returned to local power. We need to control our own destiny.

  4. Pingback: #OccupyNPS | Hear Know Evil
  5. Mythology

    Every alumni of Science Park High School should be making a goal of supporting these students as they are in the forefront of the fight for justice in the city of Newark. They are showing the leadership that represents the school you graduated from. Anything that you can do to help them in their cause is a positive step for education in Newark.

    Again Bob, without you, how does the nation know about the outstanding event occuring in Newark. Keep us posted.

  6. Sarah Harnick

    Way to go Newark students!!! Braver than a lot of adults when it comes to standing up to Anderson.
    And not “allowing” the Board to visit the students? What nerve!!
    If that’s a mellower Hitchcock, I wonder what she looks like when angry. That stance gives away a lot more than she probably intended to do.
    Not from Newark, but very proud of you nonetheless.

  7. P. Grunther

    Just a note to express support for these students and what they have done. Just as I was going to bed last night, my son rushed in to tell me that students occupying Cami’s office were live streaming in Newark…now that’s the kind of news I like to go to bed to!
    And, as always, thanks to Bob for his informed and insightful reporting.

  8. Mythology

    You have just gotten the Board to finally engage the Newark Citizens in their attempt to get your parents to come and get you out of her offices. Inform your parents to voice their support of your actions and that if you are not given food immediately they will be e-mailing the White House of this coercive action being perpetuated on their children. This action is about your education being derailed throughout her entire time as Superintendent.

    At the press conference, do not forget to inform the nation of the great legacy that is Science Park High School. This event will always be remembered as one of the greatest in Newark’s proud history.

    Check this out, Christie told an audience yesterday to look at his Youtube videos to see who he is. They’ll probably look you guys up too to see some of his policies on education!!

    Anderson, Christie and their cronies have no idea of your school’s legacy but now they do.

  9. Mythology

    Tell your parents and anyone else that holding food back from you guys to change your behavior is like water-boarding a spy.

    Also, where is Cami Anderson’s documentation of her attempts to engage you in a dialoge? Have her present the press with dates and times of these attempted engagements.

    Again her attempts to run from the situation need to be made obvious to the nation.
    Meanwhile, every school in the district has a picture of President Obama in it. This event is part of his legacy also.

  10. Tom Ferriero

    way to go students!!! You have proved to many that you can express your views in a tolerant way without destruction or negative vibes.I am teaching conflict resolution and this is one way EVERYBODY SHOULD HANDLE CONFLICT!!!! Continue on your expressive ways and have no fear!

  11. Erin Warner

    Solidarity with these brave Newark Students!!! We support and admire your efforts to shine a light and represent for public education. You rock!!!! #TBATs

  12. booklady

    Did Vanessa Rodriguez et al at 2 Cedar St consider that by delaying distribution of the breakfast burritos they could be putting the youths at risk for food poisoning?

  13. ray

    as someone who was subjected to Cami Anderson’s bullying and destructive policies in New York in District 79, I say BRAVO to the students. She is a dishonest, self-promoting fraud who’s only agenda is privatization of the school system. Will someone please investigate her relationship and support of Vanessa Rodriquez, who was the CEO of District 79 with only a BA in sociology, her hiring practices are based on loyalty rather than ability. We always said “Newark’s loss was New York”s gain

  14. Christie4BoyManLove

    The article with SL was filled with anti-Newark, anti-teacher rhetoric. It seems all the dissenting voices , like me, have had their accounts erased, so if you write something negative about Governor Soprano, Cami or mention Pink Hulahoop, you can type you comments but no one can see them but you. Same thing on YouTube. Guess the 1% are afraid of the 1st amendment

  15. Ed Whitfield

    I am many miles away in North Carolina, now, but I grew up in turbulent times for education in Little Rock, Arkansas before becoming an activist fighting for better education in college and later communities. I want the students there to know how proud I am of their actions. You are carrying on a proud legacy of struggle. What you are doing is your real education. Learning how to stand up for what is right and change what is wrong. Keep up the fight!

  16. Pingback: Shades of the ’60s: Newark Students Seize Cami’s Office During Board Meeting | Diane Ravitch's blog
  17. Hostage

    In response to Sarah Harnick’s post;
    It is obvious you are not an “insider.” Please do not think that there are not a multitude of adults who are NPS employees who would love nothing more than to denounce Anderson’s practices! However, when your livelihood is on the line and you have some common sense, you take the high road for fear of her retaliation! She does not hide beheading all those under her who stand up to her much like the terrorist group Isis! One only has to look at what she did to ostracized Principal Tony Motley for taking a stand. Not to mention that Newark’s administrators have been forced to follow directives that ultimately lead to the closing of schools all while faithfully serving the community without a contract and frozen salaries for the past 5 YEARS! While the price of EVERYTHING goes up, Newark’s administrators have been made to do MORE with less! No Sarah, it’s not that adults don’t want to take a stand, we are Anderson’s hostages and are just trying to keep our heads on our shoulders!
    Go Students!!!!

    • Sarah Harnick

      I understand the situation NPS employees face. I wasn’t encouraging employees to do what might jeopardize their livelihood. But there are parents and guardians who could support these students by whatever means they are comfortable doing.
      For example: flood email in boxes of state officials with notes insisting that the superintendent meet with the students.

  18. Light at end of tunnel

    Stay strong! CONTINUE YOUR FIGHT!
    You have many of your teachers behind you – but we are unable to join you at your events.

    Keep it going.

  19. Who else

    Where are the “3 Doctors” and other proud Newark Public Schools alumni who have left legacies? They should be supporting these fantastic students who are trying, and succeeding, in creating their own.

  20. Pingback: Livestream: students occupy Newark school superintendent’s office to protest forced privatization | CRAGIN MEDIA
  21. TK_2015

    For the past thirty-six-plus hours, every time I come near this story and Bob’s “live” Facebook feed, I weep. Big, bright, tears of joy. Isn’t that the darnedest thing? Don’t ever let it be said that kids are not beautiful, and fearless, and inspired in their ability to sort through the garbage of the previous generation.

    It is our job to help them and get the hell out of their way, by digesting and completely resolving the issues of our generation—each of us—and provide for them the very best opportunity to take the world one step further in its quest for freedom from the tyranny of credentialed ignorance and the perfumed thugs who would claim to be our masters.

    Where we wind up through all of this will be something to see, something few may have imagined, something over which no one person can exert full control. Beaucoup billions do not change that immutable law, no matter how much you rub them all over yourself.

    I am moved to tears, at this point, to know that people are determined to open the floodgates and continue the long process of rinsing the soiled, the dishonest, the brutally smug from the halls of power.

    Kids come equipped with the keys—unique to their generation—to understanding it all. It is criminal to interfere with this invaluable gift to humanity. Superintendent Anderson’s instincts in the matter, like those of her handlers are, once again, clearly illuminated for all to see.

    To the people who make her job a little less trite than she once dreamed it would be … thanks. Respect.

    Take care of yourselves and one another, keep the love, follow your path to the place where we meet in a basic recognition of courage and honesty and the rejection of duplicity. Keep the bastards at bay and never, ever, let them tell you that you are not deserving of the life you now seek.

    Next thing you know, they will be offering you a contract to work for them. Think very carefully before you sign it, like Mrs. Anderson damn well should have.

    The Superintendent of Newark Public Schools claims to be a smart, compassionate, and educated woman. Why is it, the question is begged, that Cami cannot resist her bosses’ overinflated offer?

    If only the walls of those meetings would speak! We all know, however, that the parties most familiar are paid (entirely too well) to keep on message, and not, repeat not, answer to the common taxpayers they are alleged to serve.

    Where would the bosses be without the armed guards and closed doors? Without the trade secrets and proprietary algorithms? Without the comfort of the insatiably fat bank account?

    They would then be one of us, a citizen among citizens, working to make the best of it, together. I have long had the feeling that such going back would surely fry their specially modified circuits and I don’t, by now, wonder why. I would simply prefer it be their loss, alone if they insist, to absorb and reconcile, and not have them so hell-bent on making everyone else pay for their ambitious mistakes.

    Who knows … they might, at the end of a long and troubled road, become rather more human again. I think this is why people invented laws, and not just for some more than others.

    • Mythology

      A Higher Power guided your hands when you posted your thoughts. How blessed you are!!!

      Be at peace for you are seeing justice prevailing on the actions of our own children.

      These corrupt individuals make me think: “How much money do you need?”, and “What kind of future are you creating for your own children?”

  22. Want to know?

    Where is the Mayor of Newark? Has he visited the students? Is he willing to back up his letter to President Obama to remove Ms. Anderson by joining the students in their sit-in and their demands? Is he willing to spend the night with the students?

    Are the Board Members willing to spend the night with the students? They too demanded that Ms. Anderson resign immediately, but other than three of them showing up to see if the students were okay, we haven’t heard anything else.

    People, the students need the support of the citizens of Newark. The teachers would be there if their employment wasn’t on the line, so others have to step-up and support the students.

    If nothing else, write and call your legislators and let them know that you support the students and want the State of New Jersey to GIVE BACK to City of Newark to the people of Newark.

    Teachers are calling and writing their legislators, but just like the students we need the citizens of Newark to join us. The students are having the sit-in, the teachers are writing and calling the elected officials, but without the Mayor, families, community, and others this fight will continue to drag on.

    Please help the students. Join their sit-in, even if it means joining them in the lobby of 2 Cedar Street. Mr. Mayor, you are needed, and need to be visually seen supporting the students.You, not your office, but you personally.

  23. booklady

    Bob, hope the intrepid Occupy NPS students are reading this. They have international coverage.
    Google: lyceens occupent le bureau de leur directrice and find an article in observers.france24.com/fr
    It may give them a smile while waiting (students of Spanish can probably get the gist of cognates).

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