A top official of the New Jersey Department of Education—writing in a long Facebook exchange with a member of the Newark school board and two city teachers– conceded Newark charter schools might be too selective and made some other controversial statements without revealing who she was. But Paula White, the “chief turnaround officer” for the education department, deleted her comments and her picture from the exchange before anyone recorded them. Still, they might be retrievable through the Open Public Records Act.
White also rewrote her Facebook home page to remove references to her state job.
If you’re involved in urban public education, you don’t want to run afoul of Paula White. She runs the department’s six Regional Achievement Centers (RACS) that determine the fate of many urban public schools. But you don’t want to mess with her for another reason—she has odd judgment.
I know that she has strange judgment because on Christmas Day I unexpectedly found myself the target of an essay by Ms. White, written in response to my own piece on The Star-Ledger’s editorial praising Cami Anderson and her plan to close some Newark schools while expanding charter enrollment. Ms. White—didn’t she have anything better to do on Christmas?– offered me a lesson on how to write a persuasive essay, praised Newark’s charter schools—although she did, amazingly enough, concede some were too selective—and inexplicably talked about hedge funds and the schools. She then ended her screed by writing “C’mon, son” to me. A 67-year-old man.
I made two mistakes in response. The first was to concentrate on her insulting, patronizing reference to me, someone old enough to be her father. The second was failing to record her comments. Because, after several remarkably revealing comments addressed to Alturrick Kenney, an elected member of the Newark School Advisory Board and others, Paula White apparently got cold feet and deleted all her comments and her Facebook references to her state job and past associations with a private New York City non-profit involved in the public schools.
But write she did and the proof is in the responses her comments drew. For example, in response to her glowing description of charter schools in Newark , I asked her for more information with this posting of my own (still available online):
@Ms. White–You work for the state education department. Perhaps you can persuade your employers to be more open about the charter selection process so we all can judge whether the contentions you make here are verifiable. Perhaps you can be more open about Christopher Cerf’s connection to a variety of consulting firms that, in turn, have connections to charters. To say nothing of the political connections between people like Steve Adubato and George Norcross and Cerf’s boss, the governor. And I say nothing in my essay about hedge funds–what are you thinking about? And “C’mon, son”? Please, Ms. White. That’s a little patronizing. Something I would not expect from someone in your position. Today is Christmas and I am not wasting a minute more responding to someone who shows no respect for those she is trying to persuade. I’ll be back to your “persuasive essay” after the holiday.
White then tried to deny she worked for Christopher Cerf by writing “I work for the children.” She also said she could call me “son” because that was an “African-American colloquialism.”
When I first read her comment, I didn’t know who she was. She didn’t say. I clicked on her picture and that took me to her Facebook home page where her job titlewas listed. Or was. She is a perfect Christopher Cerf candidate for running “turnarounds”—the founder herself of a charter school in Newark and executive in a non-profit in New York that got contracts in Mike Bloomberg’s educational netherland. She came out of the “Building Excellent Schools” network that promises “relentless entrepreneurs” the abilty to run a charter school with just one year of training.
“I’d like to address Paula’s point about parents enrolling students into charters on their own free will. What about students who don’t have parents who can enroll them and go through the paper work to do so? Or immigrants who can’t read said paperwork or even understand the difference between both types of schools, since they are new to the country? Charter schools are not equal opportunity enrollment and that is something that we need to stop lying to ourselves about… By growing more charter schools we (are) simultaneously gouging resources from the public schools while also leaving them with the most challenging students who charter schools rejected, removed, or never even had to consider for enrollment. A 30% special needs population at Barringer is double what these charter schools see and with substantially less resources to serve the increased need. How is any of this fair and equitable?”
Alston, the coach of the nationally-known debate team at Science High, wrote a brilliant essay in defense of public education, far too long to reproduce here. But he had powerful words directed at a woman who probably has the power to close his school:
“Currently the educational leadership in Newark is stacking the deck. It is like they are employed by Pepsi but making decisions on behalf of Coke. Understand that when you support Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, you are supporting the destruction of Newark Public Schools, even the many that are extremely successful…Traditionally, if charters admit hard to educate students they counsel them out after the October funding date (the date after which funding is given to the school that the child is enrolled in, regardless of where they go after).
“Paula, I fear that your advocacy about charters ignores the destruction of Newark Public Schools, all of them. Magnets and schools that are improving or schools that work or schools that could be made to work if given the proper funding and leadership. We have in-district examples of success. Your silence on this current deliberate destruction makes you possible unwitting accomplices in the racist, insulting policies of the current school and state administration.”
But here’s the craziest part of it all. Paula White, head of “turnaround” for the state and Alturrick Kenney, an elected public official in Newark, had this long exchange via social media about the future of Newark schools—but Kenney says he didn’t realize he was exchanging comments with a state official.
I have sent her two messages asking her to unhide her comments. She hasn’t answered. But those hidden comments remain on her Facebook entries.
What kind of state official has these running, public commentaries with locally elected officials and others on social media without revealing who she is? The state education department is notorious for refusing to allow its bureaucrats to speak publicly—I know because I’ve tried to interview them.
No wonder she deleted her comments. But I believe what she wrote—because it was intended for Alturrick Kenney, another public official –falls within the Open Public Records Act.
I believe all parents, teachers, and students should know how she feels. Her words are out there, somewhere in cyberspace, and I hope to get them for all of you to read.