The “turnaround” snafu–deliberately making neighborhood public schools fail?

Turnaround--their latest screw-up
Turnaround–their latest screw-up

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.

Haggerty: Turnaround schools are whatever we want them to be. Maybe. Except when they're the best schools in the city. Or the worst.
Haggerty: Turnaround schools are whatever we want them to be. Maybe. Except when they’re the best schools in the city. Or the worst.

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.

Turnamian: Turnaound schools have outstandling leaders and terrific teachers so they have to be gutted
Turnamian: Turnaound schools have outstandling leaders and terrific teachers so they have to be gutted

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.




  1. Further evidence, as if it weren’t obvious already, of the incompetent leadership of NPS. With actual problems to address, why do these “experts” focus their energies on turning around (reversing progress of) schools with “outstanding leadership and terrific teachers?” I doubt that this is a clever plot, because that would require planning and organization, skills that these folks lack. This chaos is what happens when the confidently clueless are in charge.

  2. As a teacher (which I’m not) I would absolutely hate to be switched from one school to another at the whim of “management.” Management is comfy cozy in its offices, with its high salaries, and plays checkers (not even chess) with its employees. PEOPLE are not a commodity. PEOPLE have feelings, and desires, and needs. Just as parents and students didn’t appreciate the One Newark app that tore up families sending 4 different kids to 4 different schools, and sending a kid who lives across the street from a school across town, often having to ride public transportation to get there, leaving early in the a.m. and arriving home later in the evening, in the dark, and in the dark respectively in winter, TEACHERS will not appreciate being sent to a different school than where they taught, just because management feels like playing games. EVERYTHING management of the NPS does is meant to divide and conquer and further ruin Newark Public schools in favor of TFA and charters. They would never allow this to happen in their suburbs. It seems, at least to me, that Ras has sold out the people of Newark. Bob, you have been right to say there will either be no return from State control, or when it is returned, there will be nothing left but charters. Either way, the reformers win and the parents and students lose.

  3. Sorry to say Kate that I don’t agree. The only goal of disruption is to create chaos and confusion that leads to failure. By Cerf et al’s standards, they are not being incompetent – they are doing exactly what they want to be doing. Say what you will about Cerf, he is not incompetent – rather he is finishing off the job that Anderson started. If you don’t believe that this kind of thing is part of a plan, go do even some superficial research into ALEC. Setting public schools up for failure IS the plan.

    1. Public Education Supporter, I certainly can’t argue your point that there is malicious intent, and I really don’t have any experience with Cerf, but I do believe that the NPS leadership is largely incompetent. Having worked with many of them, I can tell you for a fact that they are incompetent planners and that they don’t have the capacity to think projects through. They are great at creating chaos because they are undisciplined thinkers. They are motivated by nothing beyond their own individual acquisition and retention of power and if students and communities are chewed up in the process, well that’s acceptable loss.

  4. Maybe NTU members (3,000+) or their relatives/friends need to educate the State Board of Ed members who voted for Cerf re the results of Renew schools & how disruptive the TurnAround scheme is. If they think One Newark has merit, Cerf will continue.

  5. Will Cerf meet with Newark Students Union to thank them for their efforts–after all, he left NJ Dept Ed post at $141K and now has salary $110K higher.

  6. As a two year veteran of renew schools, I would venture a guess that the underlying plan is to undermine public schools in Newark. The more misery the highly paid incompetents can rain upon teachers, the better. Students of teachers in my school who left at 3:05 were well aware that they were not accountable to a homeroom teacher at the end of the day. It also placed undue burdens on the specials designated to supervise these children for dismissal. The consistent message of the administration is that the voices of teachers and parents are subversive and of no particular interest. Subservience is the quality being sought.

  7. SHOCK & AWE! We have seen this tactic before. Parents are scrambling. Teachers are scrambling. The poliics surrounding it is lit up like a firefly. This deal made with Christie…was a bad move. Now we have sister hubs of One Newark. LIKE A ZOMBIE VIRUS ONE NEWARK HAS GROWN! We need to eradicate those who cosigned to this mess. They dont have to deal with it we do!

  8. I agree with the analysis presented by Braun completely – but I would suggest that we start calling a spade a spade. Turnaround is a euphemism for union busting. It destabilizes the strength of the union within a building, it creates fear among members and it sets teachers up for failure which is then used to fire them and/or justify merit pay and end of seniority. Perhaps when we want to guess which is the next school to be deemed turnaround we ought to look at how strong the union is in the building??

  9. This is what happens when a community of parents will not stick up for itself. Newark is a political pawn, that is being used and abused by outside political groups and forces for their interests and benefit.

    This would never be allowed to happen in Glen Ridge or Livingston.

  10. This is failure by design. This is what right wingers do when they control government. Manufactured failure then becomes the pretext for privatization and further attacks on the public sector.

    1. Right wingers? This is supported and pushed by Corey Booker, Rahm Emanuel and even Obama.

      Bob Braun: Sadly, you are right. It’s not a left/right issue.

  11. What is sad is when teachers speak out about not wanting to work the extra hours, people think they are being selfish and not wanting to work with the students. That isn’t the case at all. What we want, as teachers, is to be valued and treated with respect. We want to work with our students. It is why we became teachers. We want to stay in the community that we first began, where we have siblings and cousins and have developed a sense of belonging to the community. We do not want to keep being moved around to school after school. We are a very important part of the community, just like neighborhood schools are, and yet with renewed/turnaround schools we are treated like carpet baggers.

    What we don’t want is adding an extra hour, for the sake of adding an extra hour, but having no extra curriculum or materials to teach during that extra hour. Why not use that extra hour and put back the arts into the schools where the arts have been removed. Why not increase the after school programs for an extra hour where people are working one-on-one with the students doing homework, working on social skills, having fun?

    What many people also don’t realize is that extra hour is especially long for the little ones. By 3 p.m. they want to go home and be with their families. They don’t want to write another paper or circle another happy or sad face. They want to go home, have something to eat, and play. They have been in school since 8 a.m. with only a small break for lunch. In Newark, the lunchtime is 30 minutes, but by the time they get their food and shove it down, it is time to go back to class and academic time again. For many Newark students they don’t even get a recess period. Most of the playtime has been removed from the early grades. In fact, I think only pre-k has playtime. I know it has been removed from the kindergarten, first and second grades. There is at least one, and usually two days, depending on the school, where the students don’t even have an activity period, but instead it is straight academics.

    I’m not against academic time, but I am also for age appropriate work, age appropriate time and children being able to play.

    In addition, teachers do not want to be told that for the extra hour we aren’t valued pay wise. In what other profession would people be required to work for less than minimum wage? For those making minimum wage, would you want your last hour to be 3/4ths less than your other hours? Is this fair?

    Plus, in addition to the extra hour each school day, renewed and turn-around schools teachers are being forced to work 14 days without students for the same less than minimum hourly wage. (Two weeks in the summer and four Saturday’s through-out the school year.) The public is being told that these 14 days are professional development days, but believe me when I tell you that most of what is being presented is filler material and not relevant to what I do as a teacher. There is little to no professional development going on and yet in a renewed/turnaround school we have no choice, but to work these extra days.

    Teachers, students, families and the communities need to look around and look closely at what is happening in the public schools. Everything that is happening in Newark is designed to fail our students and fail our public schools. We need to stand together, stay strong and fight for what is happening in to our public schools. Please join me in supporting the public schools of Newark by not believing everything that Newark Public Schools states. Resist having your families split and sent to different schools. Resist and work closely with the teachers to make sure that they are being treated fairly and with respect, because remember the work environment for the teachers is also your child’s learning environment. If classes are above the mandated state class limit, classroom assistants are removed, the arts are removed, there are not materials to teach, then what kind of environment is your child being subjected to?

    The renewed/turnaround plans is just another way to destroy Newark’s Public Schools and the sense of community that teachers and families had when neighborhood schools were the norm.

    Bob Braun: I agree with you. I’d also point out neighboring Elizabeth, my hometown, tried it and then abandoned it. Even if it were a good idea, it can’t work in Newark because the administration is brain-dead.

  12. […] who refused to sign the agreements were transferred to other Turnaround schools, where they reportedly operated on different schedules than teachers who had signed […]

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