Christopher Cerf, the state bureaucrat, private business entrepreneur, and charter school advocate who was supposed to bring local autonomy to the Newark public schools, isn’t acting like someone about to give up state control of New Jersey’s largest school district. In fact, he is about to announce a sweeping reorganization of the system that only entrenches his–and the state’s– power.
Gone are all of the assistant superintendents, including Roger Leon, for a long time the anti-state activist community’s superintendent-in-waiting once state control was eliminated. While Leon will keep an administrative position under Cerf–the still-to-be explained “chief operations officer”–he will no longer be an assistant superintendent, according to sources close to officials at school headquarters.
The top-level purge skipped over Brad Haggerty who will become the second-in-command under Cerf with the titlew of “chief academic officer”. Haggerty was for years the enforcer for Cami Anderson, the former state-appointed superintendent and Cerf protégé.
“He’s the new bright star in the state administration,” said one source at school headquarters.
This is what I wrote about Haggerty in April, 2014–when he got a fat raise from his friend Anderson:
Then there is Brad Haggerty, who was a charter school leader in New York for “New Visions,” one of the endless number of private, non-governmental organizations that Cami surrounds herself with. His raise was $35,000, from $140,000 to $175,000. He has served as Cami’s hatchet man for negotiations.
Newly-named assistant superintendents were drawn from the ranks of principals, mostly from the North Ward–Kathy Duke Jackson, First Avenue School; Robert Gregory, American History; Erskine Glover, Quitman Street; Yolanda Mendez, Roberto Clemente, and Carolyn Granato, McKinley.
Gone–apparently without much remorse from anyone–will be Peter Turnamian, a less than popular assistant superintendent who founded what he called the best charter school in Newark. The best charter school in Newark failed. Turnamian also was the less-than-genius behind efforts of the school district to take away special services from special needs children by developing a new “pathway” that meant intimidating teachers into talking parents out of the services their children needed. He helped to write a literal script for the money-saving assault on special education.
Also out of a job is assistant superintendent Mitchell Center, another long-time Anderson loyalist. I wrote this about Center when he got his big raise from Anderson:
He is an assistant superintendent and, more important, an old Cami friend from the New Teacher Project, New Leaders, the New York City schools and charter schools—so Cami is making sure her old friend and longtime co-privatizer is well paid.
Other high-ranking bureaucrats will get new titles but keep their jobs and their 6-figure salaries.
Many lower level administrators will be fired. School board sources there is a list already drawn up and given to the school board–but it has yet to be released.
Cerf has been selling his reorganization to school board insiders–his relations to the new school board dominated by Mayor Ras Baraka have vastly improved–as a way of both making central headquarters more efficient and eliminating Anderson loyalists.
The only real Anderson loyalist to maintain true power in Newark will be Cerf himself who, as the state’s education commissioner, appointed Anderson, approved all her policies, allowed her to ignore laws and regulations governing charter schools and school reform, and upheld her budgets. Since taking power almost a year ago, however, Cerf has all but said, “Cami who?” and pretended he had nothing to do with his protégé’s policies.
But there is more to Cerf’s palace coup than changes in the ranks of his top lieutenants, the dismissal of long-term employees, and the dismissal of a few Anderson loyalists. And that has to do with the deal cut between Baraka and Gov. Chris Christie that resulted in Anderson’s dismissal and Cerf’s hiring after he helped make a mess out of the private company Amplify headed by his own mentor, former New York City schools chancellor, Joel Klein.
Some may remember the Baraka/Christie deal was supposed to guarantee the return of local control to Newark. Indeed, Baraka boasted the deal would bring local control within a year, probably less.
Didn’t happen. And, apparently, isn’t going to happen.
A key element in the deal was the creation of a committee known as the Newark Educational Success Board (NESB). The NESB–made up of a majority of Christie-lovers and charter school advocates–was a convenient closet in which to hide three of the most vocal anti-Christie activists in Newark. They were Mary Bennett of the Alliance for Newark Public Schools; Grace Sergio, a parent activist, and Jose Leonardo, the head of the increasingly powerful and active Newark Student Union (NSU).
Those three very strong personalities have all but disappeared from public view–and, with them, the hopes of a city to have a school system response to its residents.
The NESB was supposed to provide a “road map” for the return for local control but that was a lie. It was really designed to squelch public opposition to Christie and Anderson just when Christie was announcing his ill-fated presidential campaign.
The NESB was supposed to hold a series of open community hearings, gathering the views of Newark residents for how the city should take back control. That didn’t happen. It was supposed to present its report by the end of the school year. That didn’t happen.
And now persons close to Cerf and his plans are saying local control is not likely to happen before Christie leaves office in January, 2018. Christie has, after all, become the Chief Supporter of the maniac Donald Trump who could be the next president of the United States–and will certainly have a good job for the governor.
So it’s still important to Baraka and his allies in the Newark schools that no one in the city embarrass the embarrassment we have for governor. Until his term ends in 2018–or he becomes Trump’s vice president or US attorney general.