Cami Anderson, Chris Christie’s overseer of the Newark schools, spent a good part of the first day of school traveling to schools she knew would be orderly, stopping along the way to give impromptu news conferences in which she praised her “One Newark” plan. She apparently missed the scores of empty buses roaming the streets in search of children, the anxious parents still trying to find placement for their kids, and the complete lack of transportation for special education students. Cami was doing her illusionist’s trick.
“We’re doing great,” she said at East Side High School, blather matched only by state Education Commissioner David Hespe’s obtuse, “She’s doing a good job.” Hespe’s fatuous praise for a woman he has privately let on he detests is right up there with George W. Bush’s “Heck of a job, Brownie,” as black corpses floated in the post-Katrina wash in Louisiana.
Yesterday was an odd day. A day that could be anything anyone wanted to say it was. With more than 40,000 children going back–or not–to more than 40 schools, trying to get a handle on Anderson’s success or the success of the parental boycott was difficult, if not impossible. Indeed, the argument could be even made that the boycott was so successful that it created the illusion of making Cami look more successful. Imagine what would have happened to all those wayward buses if children actually showed up.
Anderson said it was “difficult to get clean attendance numbers” on the first day of school and, lucky for her, she is right. But, let’s face it, Cami Anderson is a chronic liar–remember her denial that she sent out a letter warning about the criminal tendencies of Newark children? So, even if she showed up with an accounting of attendance certified by Pope Francis, I wouldn’t believe it.
Wilhelmina Holder, leader of the Secondary School Council, declared the boycott a “huge success” and said as many as 50 percent of children stayed away. I believe her.
I do because these are some of the things I saw in the early morning hours of Thursday. I saw–scores of empty buses waiting in vain for students and then driving off from one “hub” to another. According to board member Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, Cami is spending an unexpected $4 million on transportation to feed her “One Newark” ambitions and, yesterday at least, most of that money was wasted.
Maybe she’ll have to cut back on lunches.
This is what I saw: Little children in crisp and clean new clothes and matching backpacks blocked at the schoolhouse door–in this case Hawthorne Avenue–but denied entry because some overpaid and undereducated bureaucrat, possibly related to Cami by business or political connections, screwed up her registration. To me, memories of Orville Faubus and George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door.
“What am I supposed to do?” said one mother of three children, Jenufah Fuller. Watching the bright look of anticipation curdle into fear and disappointment in the eyes of Darius, Mahogany, and Janiyah was enough to ruin any optimist’s day.
If these children were white and living in Millburn, the ground under Cami’s feet would shake. Here in Newark, where people don’t count so much to the political leadership of the state, Anderson didn’t have to delay her dog-and-pony show press conferences for a moment. She could play the illusionist without fear of contradiction. She could say what she wanted and who was there to contradict her? That’s the root of the problem right there–she is accountable to no one except a buffoon of a governor who needs her for political reasons.
At one press conference at Quitman Street, she refused to allow representatives of the city’s unions to attend, apparently fearful they might contradict the spin. Never mind these unions are required by contract to have access. After all, she tried to keep out unfriendly board members like Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson. Later, she said she only wants the community to “come together.”
“This isn’t about personalities, this isn’t about politics, this is about children,” she said. What rank hypocrisy.
But it fits with the practice of illusionists. She lined the wall with supporters the way the fat man in Trenton picks the right smiling faces to nod zombie-like at his rantings. Cami has her own zombies, fearful for their jobs, eager to court favor with the Hermit Queen of Glen Ridge.
I heard this–the story of the 12-year-old daughter of Khaliah Brown who, get this, must walk across Weequahic Park in the morning to take a bus that drives past her new school without stopping. Then she has to walk back several blocks toward her home.
And how about all those special education children? Excuse me, Commissioner Hespe, would you mind diverting your admiring gaze from Anderson long enough to answer that–what about the special education children who simply did not get transportation yesterday?
Doubly afflicted, these kids. Afflicted by their disabilities and afflicted by the indifference of people like Hespe.
It just goes on. Cami Anderson and David Hespe, illusionists, ignoring the chaos around them because, well, they can. They have the power. They can do the spin.
Chaos? Confusion? Ineptitude? Waste? Mismanagement? Never happened. Good job, Cami, said Dave. Hell of a job, Cami. Good going, Gov. Christie the decider.
I liked what I heard from Viva White, a Newark parent who brought her son Malcolm, 6, to a “freedom school” set up by boycott organizers.
“It was an act of defiance, really, because we have been disenfranchised. We have lost our rights in a democracy,” said White a clinical social worker. “We have to do something. We have to get back control of our schools.”
I also liked the reaction of Mayor Ras Baraka who spent a good part of the day answering calls from parents who had problems at this school or that. He had prepared well for the day by creating “safety corridors” near schools where police officers and firefighters watched kids go to school. He is not an illusionist.
I liked it that this man–called “hostile” by the governor and “shrieking” by editorial writers raised to fear angry black men–watched with a father’s concern while a little seven-year-old climbed on to an empty bus, empty except for the driver and aide.
“She looks so terrified,” said Ras Baraka.