The Newark school board Tuesday night ordered an end to the “One Newark” enrollment plan that has resulted in the dispersal of children throughout the city, the closing of public schools and programs, and a brave new future for charter schools. Of course, the Newark school board doesn’t have the power to do that and the entrepreneurial educator who does–Chris Christie’s former boss, Christopher Cerf–said he would continue “One Newark” despite the board’s action.
The school board did what it could to assert its independence and members of the community loudly and repeatedly signaled their distaste for the Montclair resident who once was state education commissioner and an officer of Edison Learning, a company that hired a second-rate lawyer from Morris County named Chris Christie to be a lobbyist.
The board also voted to fire Vanessa Rodriguez, the district’s “chief talent officer,” for allowing a former assistant superintendent to take unwarranted sick leave–something else Cerf doesn’t want to happen. He called the collection of New York refugees hired by former superintendent Cami Anderson to be top staff “spectacular.”
Cerf is much slicker–or, to put it another way, has much better manners–than the woman he both hired and replaced, Anderson, and he displayed them in his “superintendent’s report,” an oily recounting of how committed he was to “public schools” and “the children of Newark.”
Public policy, however, is a matter of definition–and Cerf made it clear he defined “public schools” as including charter schools–he was a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Public Charter Schools and a business partner of the head of the largest charter chain in Newark–and serving children included making sure they had good charter schools to attend. He was forced to admit, however, that he technically should not be a cheerleader for charter schools.
Cerf tried to tell the people of Newark no one was forcing children to attend charter schools, a contention refuted by several speakers who, unlike Cerf, hang around at the district’s enrollment center every day and hear complaints from parents who say they are forced to enroll their children in charter schools.
It was an odd night. John Abeigon, the president of the Newark Teachers Union, eviscerated Cerf and warned the former businessman he had four weeks to prove he was committed to public schools. Abeigon would not say what would happen.
Donna Jackson, whose command of rhetorical flourishes is extraordinary, repeatedly and ironically said, “Thank you, Mr. Cerf” as she recounted all the hurt he–as Cami Anderson’s boss and state education commissioner–inflicted on the children of Newark. She pledged to work to get rid of him with boycotts in September and October.
But, oddly enough, Mayor Ras Baraka criticized those who criticized the new status quo, arguing that privatization and charter schools really weren’t issues and that the school board should pay attention solely to persuading the state to hand over local control.
Baraka did, however, call the state’s “reforms”–reforms backed by Cerf– a “disaster” but then criticized commentators like this site for portraying what’s going on as a fight between state and local control advocates. More about this in later blogs.
In the end, however, Cerf did nothing–and said nothing–to suggest he really would ensure an immediate end to 20 years of state control. He did say he was “unalterably and authentically” committed to local control. But, with a three-year contract worth $257,000 a year and no good job prospects, he is apparently in no rush.
And Christie, who once publicly lectured Baraka about how he–Christie–was the “decider” of all things educational in Newark–remains just that. The decider.