High school principal starts petition blasting 'One Newark' plan

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on May 29, 2015

NEWARK — A petition by the principal of Central High School has been gaining steam online after claiming the district is deliberately overenrolling special needs students in a "blatant" effort to cause the school to fail.

The petition apparently started by Sharnee Brown, addressed to Superintendent Cami Anderson and Assistant Superintendent Brad Haggerty, has garnered more than 750 signatures since appearing on MoveOn.org on Saturday.

It alleges that Anderson is guilty of "gross mismanagement", particularly in consistently assigning special needs students to Central despite the school's inability to accommodate them. Approximately 29 percent of freshmen sent to enter the school in the fall have special needs — a figure it claims is nearly twice the district-wide percentage.

Brown, who could not be reached for comment on this story, said a similar influx of students in need of specialized care have been sent to Central the last three years, despite the lack of programs for those with behavioral disabilities, severe learning disabilities and other needs. She claims she voiced her concerns to district officials last June, but was "met with resistance" and punished with a poor evaluation for speaking out.

The issues, she contends, have resulted in angry parents, frustrated teachers, disenfranchised students and a general atmosphere in the school that sets it up to perform poorly.

"Ignoring this phenomenon is a blatant attempt to create hardships in comprehensive schools in order for them to fail," the petition reads.

More broadly, she assigns blame to Anderson and the state's "One Newark" plan, which eliminated neighborhood-based schools in favor of a citywide lottery designed to give parents more options.

In an interview earlier this week, Haggerty declined to address Brown's allegations that the school was being deliberately sabotaged, saying the district had yet to receive any direct correspondence from her.

He submitted that the number of special needs students at Central had been increasing in recent years, though he said it was due to the school being held in high regard by students and their parents, who were consistently placing it among their top choices when applying for high school placement.

The district has been attempting to give special needs students more latitude in choosing where they would like to be placed over the last two years, he added.

"Overall it's a reflection of demand in the community for Central. Rather than sometimes being described as a burden, or as an indicator of not succeeding, this is actually the opposite. Students are saying 'I want to go to Central High School'," he said.

Haggerty said that many schools around the district could sympathize with Brown's claims that there is a lack of resources to properly handle the various challenges special needs students present, but that they had a better chance of succeeding at a desirable school such as Central.

"It's a fair statement that we all want to do better in every program that we have," he said.

In addition to Anderson and Haggerty, the petition is also copied to Gov. Chris Christie, state Department of Education Commissioner David Hespe, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, city teachers and school administrators' unions, the Educational Law Review and President Barack Obama.

The petition was posted just a day after thousands of Newark students and others took over a section of Broad Street outside of City Hall to protest Anderson's policies and the ongoing state control of the city's schools.

It was the latest in a series of demonstrations by students and teachers voicing their objections to the district's plans to designate eight schools as "turnaround" schools during the 2015-16 school year to curb struggling performance.

Dissenters say the schools — East Side High School, Weequahic High School, Ivy Hill Elementary School, McKinley Elementary School, Hawthorne Elementary School, George Washington Carver Elementary School, Elliot Elementary School and Miller Elementary School — could lose effective teachers and see increased dropout rates as a result of the designation.

As part of the turnaround program, teachers are asked to sign agreements that may require them to work for a longer school day, go through two additional weeks of professional development in the summer and work on multiple Saturdays, for which they are paid an extra $3,000 per year.

Under the teacher's contract, which expires next month, the district is allowed to name up to ten schools as turnarounds each year.

The petition closes by making a number of demands, including an abandonment of the "One Newark" program and a return to neighborhood schools.

"We are demanding that Central be allowed to grow and flourish as a viable educational environment that meets the needs of all their students," it reads.

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