A few hours ago I began receiving copies of a letter purportedly sent out by Cami Anderson, the state-appointed schools superintendent in Newark, explaining why she closed down the state’s largest school system for two days with virtually no notice.
The letter was sent to me by Newark teachers and residents who said they had received it. I posted a copy on my Facebook site. This morning, I asked the Newark schools communications director to explain its contents. I received no response. The letter, however, does not match the letter posted on the Newark Public Schools site.
John Abeigon, the organization director for the Newark Teachers Union, says he believes both letters are real but the first was originally sent out only to school adminstrators and was withdrawn because of possibly inflammatory language.
About both letters, this much can be said:
Cami Anderson, the state-operated superintendent of the Newark public schools, demonstrated extraordinary incompetence by shutting down New Jersey’s largest school system for two days last week with virtually no notice to parents. She showed almost incredible arrogance by blaming her mistake on the Newark Teachers Union.
But the letter circulated among some teachers and residents contained language that suggested Newark children would get into “trouble” if they didn’t attend school and that the “crime rate” has gone up when schools were closed in the past. The letter posted on the Newark school site does not contain that language but does keep a line in which she says closing schools makes the city “less safe.”
The opportunity for Anderson to display her administrative skills was provided by a dispute between her and the Newark Teachers Union over whether the city’s teachers– who are not represented by the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA)—could attend the annual NJEA convention in Atlantic City Nov. 7 and 8.
I am not going to get involved in a “she said, he said” over who was right—Anderson blames the union for encouraging teachers to go, the union denies this and says she was on notice months ago there would be a problem.
The real issue is this: Did Anderson exercise appropriate leadership in her handling of the controversy? Clearly, the answer is no.
Because she knew long before the beginning of the week of Nov. 4 that many teachers had indicated their intention to attend the conference. Indeed, she was warned in a letter from NTU counsel Eugene Liss that many would go. Instead, she chose to wait until just hours before the convention started to cancel school.
To the point of making the city less safe: National statistics do not support any contention that juvenile crimes increase when children are home from school. In fact, the opposite is true. Juvenile crime peaks on school days in the hours after children are released from school. It is less on non-school days. There is evidence, of course, that after school programs deter that problem—but Newark is located in Christieland where “you people” don’t deserve money for after-school programs.
I will not post the first letter I received in this blog because I am not confident it is authentic. It could very well be a fraud aimed at damaging Anderson’s reputation. Hardly seems necessary.
That does not, however, change my opinion that her handling of the Newark school closing displayed incompetence and arrogance. The people of Newark–including student representatives–deserve to choose their own school leadership.
My experience over 50 years of watching the Newark schools is that the children are often far more responsible than the adults.
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