Newark: Why the student sit-in really matters

BLOGSITIN3The Newark high school students who occupied the offices of state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson for four days forced her to meet with them but they did not, of course, get her to agree  to their most important demand, that she resign.  It’s unlikely any of them believed they could get Anderson to quit. Far beyond their stated goals, however, what this small handful of students did truly mattered—mattered in ways the students and their adult supporters might not even have considered.

Sure, there was the publicity. Stories about the sit-in were published in France and by Al-Jazeera. Even The Star-Ledger, which often ignores what’s happening  to the children attending Newark schools, was forced to provide daily coverage—because, well, a sit-in is a sit-in and the DNA of a mainstream newspaper doesn’t allow a sit-in to be ignored just in case the authorities go crazy and heads are busted.

And the bad publicity for Cami Anderson came in the midst of a new charm offensive she had launched, timed to coincide with her expected reappointment for another year. The kids in the building made that effort an international  joke.

But even the publicity really wasn’t what mattered most. No—this is what the students did that will contribute to the inevitable return of local control to New Jersey’s largest school district: They proved, as they always do, just how inept, incompetent, and just plain dumb Cami Anderson and her regime of New York City school refugees truly are.

Usually,  the only people who see the bungling are parents and teachers who suffer from it and really aren’t in a position to do anything about it. Parents still waiting for placement for their children. Teachers who are assigned to classes outside their licenses. Evaluations that are thinly covered hatchet jobs. This has been going on for years under Anderson and the subordinates she promised the Aspen Institute and the Broad Academy she’d bring on board as part of her duties to her ideological masters.

But, when the students refused to play by Cami’s  rules, the amateurs running the comedy show at 2 Cedar St. tripped over their own feet. They couldn’t even tell, when the students all left  a board meeting in a group, carrying backpacks that were dead giveaways to their intentions, that they were on their way to Cami’s office. And that was far from all.

My favorite candidate for NPS amateur of the week was Charlotte Hitchcock, Cami’s counsel and chief apologist who often takes on the role as the person who, at public meetings,  talks down to parents and others who haven’t had the privileges of her education and six-figure salary. A stranger to the proceedings might think Hitchcock is the real superintendent now that Anderson refuses to attend board meetings.

Stop! In the name of Cami!
Stop! In the name of Cami!
Body language?.
Body language?.

The students did a real rope-a-dope on Hitchcock that upset her timing and balance–and this was a lawyer who once worked for Sheldon Silver, until recently the New York assembly speaker (but now indicted, oh well).  She stormed into the occupied offices, tried to avoid photographs of her from being taken—thereby looking like Diana Ross in a “Stop! In the Name of Love” MTV video– and called the kids “trespassers” on “private property.”  She demanded the students leave. They politely ignored her.

blogstopAn hour later, she came back and did a little gig on how she so much cared for the children’s welfare and safety and would make absolutely sure they had food and water and access to bathrooms.  I have no way of knowing whether she was lying then—her body language suggested fury rather than reconciliation, as one reader pointed out–or just double-crossed. But Cami had no intention of bringing food to the students. Cami’s kiddy show cast subsequently blocked the food. Then relented under pressure from clergy while Cami went out to have a drink at Tiffany’s in Union.



Cami enjoying a moment while children were deprived of food.
Cami enjoying a moment while children were deprived of food.

That wasn’t all. Someone had the brilliant idea of sending uniformed Newark police officers to the homes of the parents of the demonstrators, thereby scaring the hell out of some of them. This was clearly an attempt to intimidate the families. As  teacher and blogger Marie Corfield pointed out, “Nothing shows love more than sending police  to students’ homes.”

I still don’t know who authorized the use of Newark police to be delivery persons for Cami Anderson. I sure wish Mayor Ras Baraka would answer my repeated question to him: Why were cops sent to these kids’ homes? How does Cami get to run the city police? I can’t figure why he’s ducking it.

But the best demonstration of Cami’s lack of qualification for her job came in her refusal to agree to the students’ most reasonable demand—that she, as the Newark superintendent, attend public meetings of the elected Newark school board as required by her contract. Why do protesting students have to demand she attend her own board meetings—something every school supe in the nation is expected to do as a matter of course, to say nothing of job requirement?

Make it simple. She’s the supe.  Supes go to board meetings. She won’t . Students sit in and demand she attend a meeting. She still won’t. That makes her look like an idiot—well, no, it also makes the elected leader of the state, Chris Christie, look like an idiot.

Hespe: Hey, Cami, won't go to your board meetings? No prob. Let's go have a drink--we're still on the clock.
Hespe: Hey, Cami, won’t go to your board meetings? No prob. Let’s go have a drink–we’re still on the clock.

And, then, get this—after refusing more than a year to do her job, she gets another year’s contract from David Hespe,  the clown who is state education commissioner!

Just letting the world know all that—thanks to the students—made their sacrifice worthwhile.

But there is another side to this as well. The students also demonstrated just how weak and ineffective the opposition is to Cami. In four days, a few students managed to show the entire world just how lame Cami is. They engaged legislators and state officials and clergy and municipal officials—including the mayor—and reminded them that the scourge of the state regime still endures and still hurts children and parents.

So what have you done lately? That’s the question their sit-in posed to those who have sworn to get rid of Cami. The answer, sadly: Not a hell of a lot.

The students proved Cami is vulnerable. They proved she is inept. They proved she lies. They exposed her for all the world to see how tone deaf she is.   And they did it with nothing much more than their own courage and the electronic equipment they brought in their backpacks.

Good for them. Let’s see what the adults do to match it

  1. If Cami Anderson had attended Tues night district Advisory Board meeting, she could have addressed constituency concerns. But she hasn’t done that for a year.

    Bob Braun: Cami Anderson has only one constituent and he is Chris Christie.

  2. There are at least three lines of attack on Cami Anderson: she is lousy with the public; she is a lousy administrator; she has lousy policies. Unfortunately, I see the weakest line–the first–way too often.

    She is lousy with the public. That’s true! But think: most elected politicians are good with the public. We hate them for it–“good with the public” usually means slick and slimy. Chris Christie was good with the NJ public as long as he cared: November 2013. Most voters view PR as just a bit below used car sales-trons on the evolutionary ladder. Being good with the public is part of her job, but it is the least substantive aspect of it. And I don’t see how a reporter should be harping on a subject’s lousy PR skills–way too much inside baseball.

    I think it is hard to argue that she’s a good administrator. Whatever your views on her policy choices (mine are mixed), she can’t implement them worth a damn. This is a perfectly valid criticism, fully worthy of reporting.

    And then there’s policy. I won’t go there. I’m not trying to defend her policies–I’m writing this comment because I’m getting tired of the repeated attacks on her PR skills I see here. They’re true, but not very substantive.

    1. Hey Joe, you can add failure to her policies also. Stay tuned to a breaking story about her policies. Monday it will be released.

  3. Joe,
    The problem is Anderson is implementing her policies. As the student protestors claimed, One Newark has racist implications. The so called white schools coincidentally had no open seats for the black and brown children of the other wards. Instead, the black and brown children are transported all over Newark to schools, which feature test scores equal or lower to the schools they left. The plan and its results are a travesty of justice. By the way, has anyone uncoverd the magic algorithm?

    In the mean time, veteran teachers who are predominantly back and brown are being vilified. They are force placed in a multitude of positions outside of their certifications and experience. Their replacements are largely
    TFA and long and short term subs; the vast majority of whom are not highly qualified under NCLB.

    By the way, Joe, which of Anderson’s policies do you support?

  4. While I see Joe’s point that WHAT Cami Anderson is doing is more important than HOW she’s doing it, it is also true that they brought Al Capone down for tax evasion. Since all attempts to get rid of her have failed till now, I believe that any and every criticism of her, whether it be about public relations, administration or policy, is justified. In addition, since her poor public relations skills also involve her lack of interaction, engagement and dialogue with the community, who she works for (Christie appointed her, but the job description of Superintendent means working for parents and students in the community, not working for the governor), and therefore it is relevant and important to point out how poorly she deals with the public. There can be no letdown in the campaign to return local control to the NPS district and any “attack” on Cami is therefore necessary and welcome.

  5. Bob, this is one of the best pieces of reporting that I have ever read from you on this blog. I know from a reliable source that you were down there at 2 Ceder St. all day the first day. I also know there will be a lot more information about this event coming from you in the coming weeks. It was an extremly historic event that occurred.

    It’s like I posted previously, corruption cannot hide from justice.

    I would like to take the opportunity to add a few thoughts to this event.

    The problem with this education situation in Newark is that there are no Judges to judge in New Jersey because the govenor has delayed appointing Judges throughout the state. This is why the citizens of New Jersey cannot get any justice. There is an enormous amount of court cases that are waiting to be heard in New Jersey because of this decision by the govenor. Ask any lawyer if this is true.

    Also, many posters in New Jersey, reply about the request to let the citizens of Newark, or the elected Advisory Board run the district. They say to let them do it and see if there is an improvement in the children’s education in Newark.

    They TOTALLY miss the point. What these students in Newark did, indirectly, was done for all tax payers in New Jersey. This is why: Property taxes throughout the state go to Trenton to the State Treasury Department. The govenor doles this collected Property Tax money out to all school districts in New Jersey not just Newark, Paterson and Camden.

    Thus, Cami Anderson has BLINDSIDED the govenor, by miss appropriation of tax payer money as superintendent of Newark Public Schools. Also note that she is an appointed superintendent. She is not certified to be a superintendent by New Jersey’s reqirements.

    Thus, when these naysayers realize that what she has done, and that this is epitome of corruption of tax payer money, they will do more then the students and probably start a petition to impeach the govenor

    Well, I got a lot off my chest, but Bob, the reason why this was one of your best reporting jobs is because you are connecting the dots beautifully. Keep it up.

  6. Joe – if you’ve been a reader of this site, you use know that there have been numerous substantive criticisms, by Bob Braun and commenters, about Cami’s poor management skills and the destructive impacts of her and Gov. Christie’s policies.

    Seems like you yourself engage in exactly what you criticize by offering up an empty criticism, while taking no personal risk whatsoever to lay out your view on her management skills and policies.

    BTW< I agree with your criticisms of "Slick" PR skills.

  7. Urban,
    One Newark, as far as I understand it, was intended to make it more difficult for charter schools to skim cream, as they will do if you give them a chance. That’s a good thing! It also seemed intended to mix the demographics of neighborhood schools. From my own personal experience, it has had some success at this, although my perspective is narrow. You may well be right on this.
    Of course, the rollout was incompetent, irrespective of the abstract merits of the plan. And I’m very skeptical about radical charterization. I don’t know enough about her conflict with union teachers to have an opinion, although I think that all too many charter advocates only care about union-busting, rather than education. But this is not universal among charter advocates, and I don’t know about Anderson.

    1. Joe,

      Name one school that has “mixed demographics” as a result of One Newark.

      Cami Anderson is a union buster. Make no mistake about that.

      Thanks for your response Joe.

  8. Joe Sommer, please check your facts. The One Newark plan was designed to make it EASIER for Charter Schools to come into Newark and if already there to expand in Newark. It was not designed to prevent the “skim cream,” as you wrote. In fact, the Charter Schools are continuing to take only the best and brightest of Newark’s students. Yes, they do take a few students that may not be at the top of their classes, but for the most part they take the best. I know this for a fact, since many of my former students are now in a Charter School because of the One Newark Plan.

    Look at what happened just this past year. A number of Newark Public Schools were given to Charter Schools. Where do you think many of the students from the public school went?

    Getting rid of neighborhood public schools is not the way to improve schools and the education of the students. Nor, is it the best way to change the racial make-up of the school.

    The existing superintendent does not want to improve the public schools. Her goal is to close them and have them open as charter schools. She states she wants 100 good schools in Newark, with 50 of them being charter schools and 50 being public schools. Personally, I believe she would rather have all of them charter schools, with the exception of public schools that only educate students with special needs.

    The superintendent did the same thing when she was in New York. Just read their posts and you know that the “game” she is playing with our students is the same “game” she played in New York.

    She is also a Teach for America person. Not that this in itself is a bad thing, but most of the TfA people follow a different policy than people that were raised and educated in the education field. She is following the Broad Institute and TfA policies, which are in favor of Charter Schools over Public Schools. Again, check out these places and then tell me that you think The One Newark Plan is in the best interest of the students.

    As for the way the superintendent deals with the union, just ask any union member and you will see that she doesn’t respect our positions and does everything she can to destroy the union. Look at the tenure cases. Even when the union has won these cases, she is appealing them. Wasting taxpayers money to fight a case that shouldn’t have been brought about in the first place.

    The TeachNJ Law gave the superintendent power that I don’t think they meant to give her, that is being used to get rid of experienced teachers and replacing them with TfA people.

    I appreciate your in-put to this discussion, but come and stand in our shoes and then let me know what you think.

    1. Ruiz worked hand in hand with Christie on the tenure amendment law. Make no excuses for her lack of foresight. I am in complete agreement on your other points Check.

    2. Keep exposing the wasting of taxpayer’s monies like you have done in your post and encourage others in education to do the same.

  9. Bob

    Here Ras Baraka twitter on the police used by Cami.

    @rasjbaraka: @iqway she did not use Newark police. She used special police that works for the District.
    We as parents or educators can not leave this fight to kids alone! Now the push must get harder from every1 teachers, administrators, parents, and community. No more time to waste Cami already has negotiated plan b c and D etc.; who allows a leader of a school district to drink during school hours and write her side gig work about Newark while she is on the blog is that not double dipping? Conflict of interest? Working another job; on Newark money?

    Food for thought!

  10. Excellent reporting Mr. Braun.
    I applaud these students for showing everyone that they were well educated and stood up for what they believe in!!!!
    I am sick of seeing what has become of the “educational” system in a district where I stayed for 34 years because WE cared about our kids.
    Test scores Ms. Cami??? Oh they only count when she wants them to!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

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