The Illusionist

Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, aschool board member, recrods data on empty buses on the first day of school
Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, a school board member, records data on empty buses on the first day of school

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.

Children turned away from the schoolhouse door in Newark
Children turned away from the schoolhouse door in Newark

“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.”

Viva White outside a freedom school in Newark
Viva White outside a freedom school in Newark

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.

The mayor speaks with parents at Hawthorne Avenue School


  1. Thank God for journalists like you Mr. Braun who tell the truth! I applaud you!!!! The children of Newark are being used as the pawns of a bunch of idiots. Where are the test scores Cami??? The public wants to see those scores for the 7 failing schools (as she said on NJ News today) “that made substantial gains”. Really????? Then why didn’t she release those scores sooner??? I keep track of my previous school–Cami “got rid of” our principal after 2 years! And…the entire Afro American staff at a 99% black school/community!! Brought in a
    slew of new Teach for America Teachers (“they came to bridge the gap” REALLY! WOW???) and recent grads from “that special program at Montclair State” run by a previous NPS principal no less. The world has gone NUTS.

  2. Bob,
    Great honest reporting as usual. Thank you again.

    By the way, posted something this morning which included a picture Anderson providing some drivel about her One Newark plan. In the caption below the picture the word impactions is used. Not having seen the word impactions used like this before, I clicked on my iPad for a definition. My iPad gave me one definition:

    Impactions – The condition of being or process of becoming impacted, especially of feces in the intestine.

    Freudian slip….?

    Bob Braun: No, absolute accuracy from this Harvard educated Great Leader

  3. Great job Bob! Two questions, how many NPS schools that were closed are actually housing charter schools now? If they have not been converted for that purpose why were they closed in the first place? I suspect the real estate will be sold off.

  4. Well life in my school was uneventful for the past two days. I have 37 kids on my roster this year for first grade and only 16 showed up so far. No aides will be given since they are not in the budget. I have one parent with 5 kids in 4 different schools. She, of course, was late coming and going home from school with the kids. If your child is going to their neighborhood school, than yes they were at school. It is the ones that are traveling across town to schools that are no where near them, that stayed home. We were supposed to receive three busses. Two never showed up and one full size bus came with two kids on it with a driver and no aide. Marl my words – this is a disaster waiting God Forbid to happen!!!

  5. A 7 year old walking through W. Park is target for a pedaphile. Not good planning.

  6. Dear Mr Braun,
    1. Your posts for the past weeks have been compelling. Some of your most moving have had fewer comments–I think we’re stunned and don’t know what to add.
    2. Last night I read Geoff Mulvihill’s 9-5 article “Schools open but some boycott” in Education Week online. He quoted Superintendent Anderson without consideration of other factors (e.g., CA says the problem is only 1 of 4 schools in Newark is… when the real problem is she closed schools). There are other instances when the article cites her at face value. It’s disturbing that Education Week, a national publication, doesn’t have a more definitive report. Would you write a Letter to the Editor for Education Week that explicates Ms Anderson’s glib statements this week? National readers deserve to know why Newark parents are boycotting.
    3. Does David Hespe get a bonus for attending extra meetings because of Superintendent Anderson? Recently, he’s had meeting w Mayor Baraka & CA, then the 9-4 press conference w CA. I don’t recall a time when NJ Commissioner of Ed had to visit a district on opening day. Guess he’ll have another meeting to greet/thank the community advisory board when they start.

    1. Oh, forgot to list the special meeting w Newark Students Union & CA after the May Board meeting. Do taxpayers pay Hespe’s tolls/mileage/gas for these trips necessitated by state superintendent’s approach? Part of NJ “thorough and efficient system” of education? Not to mention his loss of time for improving education statewide.
      Please, Ms Anderson, just find a position advocating for a crew team that needs “three new boats,” resign, and let NPS try to recover from your maladroit efforts.

  7. On Sunday I was told that supervisors from 2 Cedar St are assigned to work early mornings at the bus stops before going to work at the Board.

  8. The Newark Student’s Union is calling for a student boycott tomorrow. How will Cami spin this one? I wish we would hear more about the Freedom Schools. I’ve seen a number of students on the streets during the day, some with parents, some (older) on their own. Would like to know the numbers. The district will lose money if the student numbers dwindle. I hear now they’re asking the parents if they’re “happy” with their childrens’ placements. Couldn’t they have asked that in May or June and planned accordingly. Back then, it was “You’re not happy, too bad. Then we’ll ship your child somewhere worse.” Hmmmm. It’s a little late to pretend they care what the parents think, isn’t it?

  9. I am a parent who has raised her daughter through the Newark Public Schools at the time the “talk” of charter schools was to emerge and thank God she has graduated. The challenge with this fiasco is that the Newark students are facing the results of parents who have not taken seriously the process of getting their children educated and getting involve 100% with the educational process. “Cami Anderson” appeared with the backup of bloodsuckers (like the Governor and financial private sectors) and local individuals who could care less about educating our children but getting their hands on the financial funds that are available for the children. I say “we” and “our” because I still support the City of Newark, it’s my roots, my spiritual home and home to family members who still live there as youth and seniors. We as a people can no longer wait to get involve with our children and communities only when a disaster occurs; the pot boils a while before it explodes… It is a daily sacrifice that we need to stay on and don’t allow our children to continue to suffer by skipping school to protest; they can rally on Saturdays or after school until they are heard as well and disrupt the norm of the day to get the attention they need and deserve. We must organize in a way that we are taken seriously and can make a structural change. Yes, Cami Anderson was introduced around the City of Newark as if she was going to be the savior of the system and in disguise was sent in to demolish and cripple what was left and rebuild without the community realizing the damage that would and is occurring. I definitely don’t agree that chartered schools are to replace the regular public school curriculum because it bring forth a separation amongst the children; it wasn’t easy in the past and it’s definitely not easy now but we can’t give in to the powers that be that doesn’t have the best interest of the children or the reflection on us as parents and a community that do care. The blame calling and unnecessary distractions are tricks of the “spiritual enemy” to keep the community divided. We must focus people and stop circulating around the wheel. Stay in the fight for our kids against the plan of structure for the public schools and our children and prove to the State of NJ and others watching that public schools can be successful when we think positively, plan, organize and work together to make sure the curriculum and structure needed for our children is comparable and functional as their neighboring schools. Our children can learn and will learn when we put them first!


    Sooooo…if parents are happy with their neighborhood school they can stay(?) That is simply not what happened. Schools coerced parents into signing up for One Newark whether they were happy at their current school or not. Deadlines were extended as registrations lagged and more pressure was put onto school staff to get more parents registered. Parents were told if you don’t sign up your student could be moved somewhere you don’t want them to go. Parents were told they had to fill out eight choices or they might get a choice they didn’t ask for. Many parents who were happy with their childs’ placement signed up and had their child sent elsewhere. This is not school choice. This is not what she is presenting in this video.

  11. […] of students were reported to have found a place in one of their top five schools.  According to Bob Braun, the blogger and retired reporter from the Newark Star-Ledger, students with disabilities were not provided transportation at all on the first day.  There was […]

  12. […] was upbeat on opening day, despite numerous reports of buses wandering the streets trying to find the students they were supposed to pick up.  But […]

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