Time for a cease-fire on Newark schools: Editorial

By Star-Ledger Editorial Board
on July 05, 2014

Joseph Del Grosso, president of the Newark Teachers Union, and Cami Anderson, Superintendent of the Newark Public Schools, after reaching a tentative agreement on a new teachers contract in 2012.


For all Cami Anderson’s political problems, the state was right to renew her contract as superintendent of Newark schools. Letting her go now would be massively disruptive to children starting the next school year.

At this stage, reversing major parts of her plan just isn’t practical. It would sow confusion among tens of thousands of families already enrolled, and leave children who don’t win charter lotteries trapped in crumbling schools that have failed for a decade.

Up to this point, Anderson has made some promising reforms: negotiating an innovative new teachers contract, recruiting top charters to take over grades in failing schools and insisting that charter schools take their fair share of low performers. She has given principals more autonomy and families more choice.

Yet a complete collapse of political support now puts her entire project in danger. This is not solely her fault, given the opposition from the teachers union, the school board’s failure to ensure a civil discourse and the need for mass layoffs as children leave the traditional public school system. But Anderson isn’t blameless, either. Her failure to build a local coalition has left her to rely on Gov. Chris Christie’s authority, which isn’t winning her friends in this city.

So the task now is to bring together Newark leaders and restart the conversation. The state has established a community board intended to help Anderson dig out of this hole, and to engage Newarkers in the project. The new head of the School Advisory Board, Rashon Hasan, has told NJ Spotlight he wants two of his members to join, and encouraged parents, clergy and others in the city to step up as well.

“We will do what is in the best interest of the children of Newark, and work with the commissioner and whoever might be superintendent,” Hasan said, adding of Anderson, “I think it would be irresponsible for me to say I wouldn’t work with her or the board wouldn’t work with her.”

That’s the right attitude. Newark leaders say Anderson needs to better engage the community. Now community members should step up and help her. The bottom line is that she is sticking around for a while and her plan is moving forward; that debate is over. So time for a cease-fire on “One Newark.”

This is no longer about personalities, or feeling slighted. It’s about the more than 46,000 students in Newark district and charter schools. No matter who their superintendent is, these kids need to be educated. Don’t they deserve all hands on deck for a constructive attempt to make this work?

For the sake of Newark students, local leaders should join this board. We are sorry to hear some have rejected the idea out of hand. The Rev. M. William Howard Jr., pastor of the Bethany Baptist Church, has vowed not to participate. “I wouldn’t go near it with a 10-foot pole,” he told NJ Spotlight. “I don’t think they have the depth of understanding to the community’s concerns at this point.”

But that’s exactly why Newark leaders need to join; to ensure their voices are heard. Serving on this board doesn’t imply support for Anderson’s plan. It’s simply supporting the children of Newark. Let’s remember, too, that Anderson didn’t create the failure in Newark public schools. It’s time to take collective ownership of the problem.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka also plays a big role in setting the tone here. As the new head of this city and a former district principal, he can’t just ignore the failures of the public school system. He and Anderson will need to have a meeting of the minds, and channel the power of this community so that Newark’s schools run smoothly for children, no matter who is superintendent.

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