The 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.
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.
An 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.
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.
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