Our leaders, the kids

Students rally around the statue of Lincoln outside the Essex County Courthouse
Students rally around the statue of Lincoln outside the Essex County Courthouse

Newark’s political and organizational leaders will, I know, scoff at this but, right now, the leaders of the struggle against “One Newark” and the privatization of public education are the hundreds of high school students who early this morning marched from three high schools to Military Park and who, tomorrow, are expected to take even bolder action against the policies of Cami Anderson, her puppet master Chris Christie and Christie’s privatization guru, Cory Booker.

The stduents were peaceful and the police made good on the mayor's promise to protect dissent
The stduents were peaceful and the police made good on the mayor’s promise to protect dissent

That doesn’t mean a few hundred high school students from Science Park, Arts, and Central will bring down Anderson but what it does mean is this: For now, they are keeping the fight alive, they are serving as the conscience of the Newark community, and they are reminding everyone that real people–mothers and fathers and children–are hurt every day by the disruption caused by this mindless reorganization plan.

No one listens to poor parents when they can suck up to Anderson, Hespe, and Christie. Poor parents can do nothing for anyone’s career.

The students–and the students alone– are making personal sacrifices for a righteous cause –and that cannot be said of any other group. Not the ministers. Not the unions. Not the politicians.

NU President Kristn Towkaniuk speaks  while Chris Christie scowls
NU President Kristn Towkaniuk speaks while Chris Christie scowls

This morning I spoke with a courageous 15-year-old young woman, a sophomore at Arts High School, who knew precisely why she was supporting the action organized by the Newark Students Union.

“My little brother is in the first grade and he hasn’t been to school yet,” she said.

Other students said much the same–they were members of families whose lives had been unfairly and capriciously torn asunder because an unaccountable, unsupervised megalomaniac named Cami Anderson has an idea for reform. An idea that was untested, unapproved, untried.

The students took risks to attend the rally. At Science Park High School, the principal, Lamont Thomas–whose own career was saved by anti-Anderson sentiment in the city after he received an unfair evaluation from Cami–warned boycotting students about the consequences of not attending class and, possibly, missing tests.

“We were told teachers decided to give tests that day, just a week after school began,” said Hector Maldonado, a NSU leader. “They were playing games with us.”

If these students fail, if “One Newark” succeeds and, as Booker has hoped, Newark becomes the charter capital of the state, teachers–far more than students–will be the victims. Kiss tenure, bargaining, grievance procedures–kiss it all good-bye.

True, those who oppose “One Newark” have to be realistic. Once the ministers failed to live up both to their own principles and the sentiments they expressed in last spring’s letter–once the unions failed to back the boycott–once parents, frightened and overburdened simply by the struggle to survive in one of  New Jersey’s ignored cities, chose to send their children to schools–once the media turned the other way–once all of that happened, Anderson could laugh at her opponents, accept her new three-year contract, and move ahead with her plan. Even Mayor Ras Baraka could fume and rage but it hasn’t made a difference at all.

“I don’t know what’s happened,” Deborah Smith-Gregpry said to me this morning at the student rally at Military Park.  She heads the Newark NAACP.“This is so important and yet the parents, I don’t know, they’re frightened.”

Except for the students, Newark has more or less quietly accepted its role as the uncomplaining stepchild of New Jersey, willing to allow Christie to be the “decider,” as he has called himself. The decider. The master. The overseer who provides no oversight.

Wilhelmina Holder, head of the Secondary School Coalition, came to the rally after speaking with parents at the so-called “enrollment center.” She was outraged by what she heard there–many parents still without placements for their children. Gregory-Smith was incensed about the transportation plan that wasted money and failed to bring children to school on time.

“It’s not working,” she said.

But, and this is important–IT DOESN’T MATTER.  Failure doesn’t matter because there is simply no way to prove , to show, to demonstrate Anderson’s plan has failed. Media like the Anderson-adoring Star-Ledger and the Christie-controlled NJTV take her word for what is happening and there is no oversight from anyone.

NSU leader Hector Maldonado describes the "games" played by teachers and administrators at Science Park
NSU leader Hector Maldonado describes the “games” played by teachers and administrators at Science Park

What’s going on in Newark is an illusion of perfect calm and organization created by Anderson with no accountabillity, with no outside access to the real statistics, with no one inside 2 Cedar Street willing to provide the information essential for the people of Newark to make a judgment on how “One Newark” is operating. Hespe, the education commissioner, is clearly under orders to make Anderson look good as possible, and he is doing what he is told to make his boss Christie happy.

The adults have all these reasons to look away from the injustice of “One Newark.” They are afraid. They do what they are told.

Yes, John Abeigon, laugh at me, laugh at the students. Call us unrealistic. Make up all the excuses you want.

But, on Wednesday, the students will do what you and your organization should have done months ago. What the ministers–who, I am sure, often base Sunday sermons on Selma–have failed to do.

The young people will stop playing by the rules prescribed for them by gangsters like Christie, Hespe, and Anderson and, for a moment, at least, they will focus the attention of the city, the state and, one hopes, the nation, on the evil that is Christie’s plan to end public education and public employee unions in Newark.

Be safe, young men and women. Be our leaders Wednesday. You will be remembered.




  1. Star-Ledger giving no publicity to Christie’s horrendous new pension scandal (See @davidsirota). Please contact Publisher Richard Vezza at (973) 392-4100, or e-mail him at publisher@starledger.com to give him a piece of your mind. Let him know you realize he is #Covering4Christie & that it is not acceptable! Thank you very much.

  2. I love it! When young people take a stand for what they believe in, we know we are moving in the right direction with our kids. When kids can organize themselves across 3 schools and come together it speaks volume. Sadly, no one is listening. I applaud them. For the teachers giving tests, I doubt it. If they are -shame on them. First of all, on what. Kids have only been in school 3 days and most don’t even have books yet. Seriously- kids don’t be swayed, you are moving in the right direction. Continue to stand for what you believe in.

  3. Bad move Bob, a very bad move. This piece did not help the movement.
    Your attack on segments of the movement only serves to delight Anderson and her followers.
    We out here can also attack. We can attack those who relentlessly called for state takeover more than 20 years ago, those who wrote story after story about how important it was for the state to takeover Newark. But we choose not to attack.

    We do not attack because it would hurt the movement. It would be a bad move Bob, a very bad move.

    Bob Braun: So, go ahead and attack me for something I did 20 years ago when Steve Adubato, Louis Turco’s people, Charlie Bell, and the NTU divvied up the school board spoils among them. When teachers brought their own toilet paper to school. When schools were crumbling and school board members had their own limos and went to conferences in Hawaii. Did you forget that Joe Del Grosso supported the takeover, too? Attack all you want–I don’t take ads and I am my own boss. You can’t hurt me financially and you can’t get me fired. I’m not working for any movement or any organization. I’m getting the truth out as I see it. You have the right to see it differently.

  4. TO THE STUDENTS OF NEWARK — Keep fighting for what you believe in. You education is far too important to be left in the hands of self-interested bullies. Christie’s dismissal of your cause and his contention that anyone who doesn’t quietly go along with his scheme doesn’t care about kids is galling and deeply insulting. Don’t back down or allow him to intimidate you. You’re fighting a good fight for an extremely worthy cause against a power-hungry thug who couldn’t care less about you. Maintain your resolve. You’ve got lots of people pulling for you.

  5. Bravo to the students that are exercising their civic duty to protest decisions that are made on their behalf in a vacuum. I want to thank you for pointing out those who have not been supportive of these young people like the ministers and the unions. Thank you Bob for keeping this story alive and the coverage of the students to inspire them to continue the path to gain the kind of attention it deserves. It is unfortunate that our leaders in the community are not being supportive of this effort.

  6. Bob, please you need not validate your resume on these matters Continue in being the guiding light to confront these atrocities.We need you!

  7. Bob, please write about the other side of ONE Newark. The side no one is supposed to know about. Write about how the schools get to rank the students they wish to enroll. Write about how the schools choose who they want and who they don’t.

  8. You want to attack the NTU be my guest,the union needs to first secure,we are fighting and will continue to do our upmost to get Anderson out of Newark.Bob is not the enemy.The president of our union is capable of taking the criticism from Bob,the Jersey Jazzman and all who choose to levy the criticism.We fight our fight in the trenches and will not win every battle,but win the war.This is a fight to the finish and you have to be in it to win it.So have you piece of flesh,but not a drop of our blood.

    Bob Braun: I have not attacked the NTU, and I wish nothing but good for the union and for you. I will, however, be neither threatened nor defamed without responding.

  9. The striking students are sure getting a lesson in the use of power. Newark public schools are being destroyed if they have already been destroyed. It is a bad day for public education in Newark.

  10. Bob, Susan Best,

    Now is certainly not the time to set up a circular firing squad. Rather, I suggest it is time to circle the wagons…

  11. We shall see who really was smart,those who crave headline and short lived fame,or those who work in a loud voice for the people.Never give you plan to a reporter or anyone outside who can compromise the true plan.Bring the critics on the greater the glory of victory.

    Bob Braun: I truly hope you have a plan. No need to show it to me or anyone else.

  12. Bob – another superb piece.

    I’ve been following this crisis and tragedy through your coverage.

    I am sickened by the racist arrogance of CHristie, Cami and COmapny.

    I feel horrified and deeply guilty over the fact that there is no way my kids would have been treated this way in wealthy suburban white Hopewell Valley schools, where they were treated like human beings and provided enormous resources and opportunity,

    I’m just sick and can’t imagine what Newark parents and kids are going through.

    What can I do to help?

    Thinking of getting on the train out of Trenton tomorrow morning

    1. BW,
      Call your state senator’s office to urge rep to work w Sen Ron Rice. Call NJ Dept of Ed to ask why One Newark plan has both state lawsuit & federal investigation re discrimination. 877-900-6960 or Hespe’s Chief of Staff 609-292-4040; Public Info Office 609-292-1126. Get other concerned citizens to call/say we care about students in every city in NJ. Write to NJ State Board Ed members.
      I can’t grasp why NTU hasn’t used their thousands of members to get grass-roots calling/writing. What will NPS legacy be alongside Little Rock, AR, Boston school bussing, New Orleans post-Katrina?

  13. Bob,

    Parents in Newark support you! Thank you for being the voice for OUR CHILDREN! If the unions, teachers, and community stood with our brave children maybe then a town hall meeting with OUR Governor will occur! We must be Strategic, Systemic, Safe, and Smart!!! Let Unity lead not ego or personal agendas!

    Thanks again BOB!

  14. […] Newark, people love their schools and will use whatever voice they can to make themselves heard.  On September 9th and 10th, 100s of students took part in direct action to protest what has been imposed upon them from outside political and economic alliances that see […]

  15. This truly is a David vs. Goliath fight. One one side you have the Republicans, Democrats, big business and a misinformed public. On the other, the students, parents and teachers of Newark. As I recall, David by virtue of courage, faith and and being on the side of right was the victor.

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