The latest round of state-mandated school “reforms” imposed on the children, parents, and employees in the Newark public schools has created a bizarre situation in which virtually the entire staffs of so-called “turnaround” schools will be new and unknown to both neighborhood residents and to each other, many of these new teachers already have signaled their opposition to the changes mandated by the reform, and faculty will be working two different schedules in the same schools.
That could hardly be a recipe for success. So, maybe it is a deliberate plan for failure.
“It’s probably the most destructive action taken yet so far by the state,” said one teacher caught up in the turmoil who, out of fear of retribution, asked to remain anonymous. “It’s massive teacher swapping without any thought given to what the consequences are to children.”
The teacher called it the “One Newark plan for teachers”–after the “One Newark” universal student enrollment plan that has scattered children to schools throughout the city without regard to family needs. The new Newark superintendent, Christopher Cerf, has refused demands to end “One Newark” and also isn’t likely to stop the destructive “turnaround.”
The president of the Newark Teachers Union, John Abeigon, called the obvious screw-up an effort to impose the “shock doctrine” on schools, creating “intentional chaos” and deliberately trying to make neighborhood public schools fail.
However, neither the school board, the mayor’s office, nor Cerf’s office, would comment on the bureaucratic snafu.
The absurd set of circumstances was created when then state-imposed superintendent Cami Anderson announced that nine more schools would be added to the list of so-called “turnaround” schools that would–theoretically–operate on an extended day schedule with a staff of committed volunteers who had bought into the reform.
But it hasn’t turned out that way. Teachers had the right to opt out of the reform although they were warned they would be transferred to other schools, no matter how long they had worked at their home school. Many–if not most–teachers refused and they were transferred.
But here’s the kicker: Many were transferred from their home “turnaround” school to a different “turnaround” school, thereby defeating the whole point of the turnaround.
“Think about it. A teacher gets punished for refusing to sign a waiver agreeing to work extended hours in her current school because it will become a turnaround school. That punishment is transfer to another school that has been designated a turnaround school because there haven’t been enough teachers willing to volunteer.”
Turnaround schools are, in effect, swapping teachers–something that might almost be considered funny except for the devastating impact on the children and parents in neighborhood schools.
“The state doesn’t get the idea of neighborhood schools–they’re places where staffs and parents and principals have developed relationships over the years. A unique culture that the men and women who worked there helped to create. In one stupid administrative decision, that is all wiped away.”
Let’s take one example–say Hawthorne Avenue Elementary, a school that hasn’t had its principal since March because of yet another unexplained administrative decision. When the returning principal, H. Grady James, comes back to the school, he will find virtually all of his faculty gone. It was designated a “turnaround” school in his absence, most teachers refused to sign a waiver agreeing to work extra hours, and, as a consequence, they were transferred out as retribution.
But where were these teachers sent? To other “turnaround” schools–including Ivy Hill Elementary School, McKinley Elementary School, George Washington Carver Elementary School, Elliot Elementary School, and Miller Elementary School.
All these schools, instead of having newly recruited teachers committed to working together on a new schedule of extended hours, will have a divided faculty working different hours–with many, if not most, of the new teachers opposed to the very idea of “turnaround.” Also, some teachers will have received two-weeks of inservice training–it begins this week–while others will not.
“Some teachers will be coming in late and leaving early–how will classes be covered?” the teacher wanted to know.
Not that it is clear what exactly a “turnaround” school really is, anyway. Initially, the designation was meant for failing schools. When it was first rolled out in April, this is how Brad Haggerty, an assistant superintendent, explained the state’s reasoning:
“Our belief in order to turn around schools that are either struggling or even consistently failing we have to go beyond bounds of what the traditional contract provides,” Haggerty said.
Got that?–“struggling or even consistently failing” schools would be the targets. But the problem was many of the actually targeted schools were not struggling or consistently failing. Hawthorne was one. And the list of “turnaround” schools originally included East Side High School. a secondary school considered among the best in the city.
So, then, Anderson–now weeks before she was to be fired by Gov. Chris Christie–had to change her definition of a turnaround school. That task fell to another $175,000 a year deputy, Peter Turnamian, the founder of a failing charter school and the man who told special education workers in Newark to persuade parents to give up the rights in their IEPs. Writing just a month after Haggerty spoke of consistently failing schools, Turnamian offered this very different definition of “turnaround” schools:
“In previous years, many people thought of a ‘Turnaround’ school as one in need of intensive government intervention, or one that would be restructured, re-staffed and designated a Renew School. Neither of these scenarios will occur in Newark this year. In fact, many of the schools that have been designated as a ‘Turnaround’ school have outstanding leadership and terrific teachers, and we know that they will use the extra time and resources to raise the bar even higher for Newark’s students.”
Think about that–the staffs of schools with “outstanding leadership and terrific teachers” have been deliberately gutted. Those “terrific” teachers have been transferred–and that “outstanding leadership” has to scramble to fill empty classrooms and cope with some teachers who will be working fewer hours than other teachers.
Why? Why shouldn’t children, parents, and teachers believe the state either is trying to deliberately make public schools fail–perhaps to make charters look better–or is demonstrating unspeakable stupidity?
Good questions–and questions hardly anyone wishes to answer. This site asked Ariagna Perello, the president of the school board; Lauren Wells, Mayor Ras Baraka’s chief education adviser, and the press spokeswoman for Christopher Cerf, the newly appointed state superintendent of schools, a list of questions about “turnaround.”
None would answer.
To this site, it appears a continuation of the drive to ruin neighborhood public schools in order to enhance the prospects of privately-run charter schools whose leaders have close relationships with Cerf, Anderson, Christie and other pro-“reform” luminaries.
Talking about charters–they have been smart enough not to take on an entire school and run it. They insist on one or two grades at a time. This gives them time to build a community–exactly what has been now stripped from the neighborhood public schools by “turnaround.”
But we also asked John Abeigon, the president of the Newark Teachers Union, and this is what he had to say:
“All this does is create chaos in the school environment, moving out staff that has experience in the school with that specific community.”
Abeigon, and others, believe the state-operated system–now run by Cerf, who originally picked Anderson–is deliberately creating crises in the district, imposing a “shock doctrine” on residents and employees. The idea of “disruption” is taught in the billionaire-backed academies–like that established by Eli Broad–as a way of destroying public education in favor of charters and other privatized options.
“The corporate reformists want to see these schools fail, so they are not too worried about the problems created in both the sending and receiving school.”
Teachers, he said, “are being set up to fail.” Children, he added, are hurt by this “intentional chaos.”
If nothing else, the plan makes no logical sense–and follows on the heels of the state’s disastrous “renew” school reform–similar in operation to “turnaround” but now disgraced because performance indicators all went down. So far, about 30 “rnew” and “turnaround” schools have been established–and none of them has been a success.
The state regime under Anderson seemed ready to topple as thousands of students took to the streets and Anderson hid from the public. But then an agreement between Christie and Baraka permitted the appointment of Cerf, who had just accepted a leadership post with a national charter school lobbying group, in return for a promise that local control would be returned to Newark. No date has been set for a return to local control although current plans call for a “roadmap” to be ready by June.