Newark teachers union to launch 'informational picket lines' in protest of superintendent

By Naomi Nix | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on April 23, 2015

Deborah Gregory, president of the Newark chapter of the NACCP, speaks at Newark Teachers Union press conference.

 

NEWARK — The Newark Teachers union said Thursday its members will no longer "volunteer" to work extra hours after the school day ends in protest of several of Superintendent Cami Anderson's reforms.

"I know you have been waiting for this," John Abeigon, the union's director of operations, told a crowd of about 50 inside the union's headquarters.

Abeigon said that starting Tuesday the teachers will begin taking efforts to no longer work before or after their work day ends and to clock in and out at the same time.

Instead, the teachers will participate in "informational picket lines" during non-school day hours to explain their concerns to the public, according to Abeigon.

Newark Public Schools declined to comment.

The union issued a host of concerns about Anderson's leadership of the district including her recent announcement that nine schools will become "turnaround schools" during the next school year in an effort to curb struggling performance.

The designation will mean that teachers will be asked to sign election-to-work agreements, which 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, according to assistant superintendent Brad Haggerty.

Under the contract, teachers are paid an additional stipend of $3,000 a year for the extra time.

"In order to turn around schools that are either struggling or even consistently failing we have to go beyond (the) bounds of what the traditional contract provides," Haggerty said earlier this month.

The union was also critical of the employees without placement pool and the sale of 18th Avenue School to a group associated with the KIPP charter school network.

"We will say 'no' and we will escalate the chaos," Abeigon said. "We will force the moment to its crisis."

During Thursday's rally, the union was supported by a group of activists, school board members and other unions. Among the supporters were newly-elected Newark Public Schools Advisory Board members Marques Aquil-Lewis and Dashay Carter, as well as Ariagna Perello and city council president Mildred Crump.

"All I can say is it's about time...you have been watching; you have been quiet," said Deborah Gregory, the president of the Newark chapter of the NAACP. "Guess what? Your silence has been consent."

But one union member, who declined to give her name for fear of retribution at her job, questioned the efficacy of these actions.

"She is constantly moving forward," the district employee said at the rally. "Is this gonna stop her?"

The looming teacher protests arrive during a period of transition for the Newark Teachers Union. The union is holding a general meeting on Monday when candidates for leadership positions have to declare their intent to participate in the June election. The teacher's contract also expires on June 30, 2015.

But Newark Student Union president Kristen Towkaniuk said the teachers' move was a welcome development because teachers have not appeared in mass at their protests and sometimes scheduled tests when students have organized walkouts.

"We need solidarity," she said "We need teachers to step up."

Towkaniuk then the led the group in a chant.

"We have a duty to fight; we have a duty to win," the group said in unison. "We have nothing to lose but our change."

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