Officials tour Newark school after student video alleges overcrowding, teacher shortages

By Naomi Nix | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on October 28, 2014

Assistant Newark Public Schools superintendent Brad Haggerty talks about the progress made at the Barringer High School academies

 

NEWARK — Both Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Newark Public School officials agree on one thing: the year at the city's Barringer schools got off to a rocky start.

Students at both Barringer Academy of the Arts & Humanities Scholars and Barringer S.T.E.A.M. school dealt with temporary student schedules, overcrowded classrooms, and vacant teacher positions at the beginning of the school year, officials said.

“I think the size and scale of the issue has been blown terribly out of proportion...I'm not saying there weren’t issues on day one of school,” Assistant Superintendent Brad Haggerty told reporters today just outside of the school.

"Here today at the tail end of October, those issues of overcrowding and needing of desks have been dramatically reduced...and I would expect to be eliminated very, very shortly."

Haggerty's remarks came after he and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka toured the school together this morning. Baraka announced on Monday he would be going to the school to investigate the conditions on Tuesday after his administration received a video made by current students alleging wide-spread dysfunction.

Officials for the district also arrived to the school to talk about its progress.

What Baraka said he found were two new administrators struggling to fill vacant teacher positions, particularly in math and science. Additionally, students were not given their correct schedules on first day of school — a problem that still persists, he said.

“I think that both principals that are here are doing the best that they can under the circumstances that they have,” Baraka said. “I think they need more support from the district.”

The two new principals were not assigned to Barringer until mid-August. They were taking the place of two administrators who left the district, one voluntarily and the other involuntarily, Haggerty said.

Haggerty said currently less than 10 percent of teachers at both schools are long-term substitute educators, mostly in "high need" subjects such as science and math. Those subjects are hard to fill with teachers, even in the spring before the next school year, he said.

“We are working aggressively to (fill) those vacancies,” he said. “There are some in which the long-term sub is doing adequate if not better than adequate job."

Additionally students did not receive their permanent schedules on the first day of school. But general education students have had permanent schedules for weeks, while special education student schedules were finalized last week, Haggerty said.

Baraka said part of the Barringer academies' problems can be attributed to One Newark, a controversial reorganization plan that involves relocating schools and expanding charter schools.

The district also implemented an open enrollment process, in which parents ranked their top choice schools and entered a lottery to receive a placement.

“You have 70, 80, 90, 100 kids coming to the door thinking they already go to school here because they live in the neighborhood,“ he said. “It’s not working that way anymore."

But Haggerty refuted that notion.

"I would not connect it with One Newark. The major issue was the onboarding of two new leaders in August," he said.

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