OPINION: JODY PITTMAN |Time to Make a Decision

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In the last 72 hours, I realized that I live a pretty complicated life these days.  I am a pretty smart woman, so I recognize that I have definitely gone out on a limb here and taken on what most say is impossible and at times I too wonder.  Add on, that one would say my attendance at events lately is in the role of a candidate for the Newark Public Schools (NPS) Advisory Board, but I am a Mother of two children, it is my primary job, and so I am on the scene as a Mom.  However, when I speak out as a parent, words like emotional and complainer are thrown, which doesn’t make you very popular in politics. But the primary reason for my being in space here. Tinkle a bit of, I am estranged from the people I respect most; some for their professional and or philosophical beliefs on education; some, their personal commitment to the work of ensuring children receive a quality education; or my favorite group for their parental fight for the community of children we serve.  Trust me; it’s complicated.

So, I attended “Mayor Baraka’s Education Forum” Monday evening and again, the parent of Troy and Elena was horrified, and the candidate just listened.

The discussion topics listed were local control, community schools, building transfers, state funding, charter expansion, and more.  The evening opened to the Mayor outlining his overall vision to rebuild education in Newark, as providing quality education for kids, and local control, which needed to come back healthy economically and academically.  The academic answer being community schools and the economic solution being full funding and the halt to charter expansion because they are sucking the money out.  Sometimes, I feel as if that phrase should have some really, cool elevator music playing softly in the background.

The Mayor discussed how there had been two emotions in this dissention on what is best for our children regarding education.  There are those of us who say how horrible it is and those of us who desire to fix or build something better.  According to the NPS website, there are currently 35,054 scholars and sixty-six (66) school buildings in the district.  There are five (5) schools participating in the community school’s initiative for the 2016-2017 school year in the South Ward - Malcolm X Shabazz High School, Avon, Belmont Runyon, L.A. Spencer, and Peshine Avenue.  Now should that sound healthy to the remaining 35,054 parents, minimal, in the North, East, West and Central wards?

The disparity in numbers of the thousands of children who will not receive any services should be terrifying and emotional to any human being with an ounce of compassion.  Especially, when there are high performing, quality charter schools with documented track records of educating thousands of scholars and thousands of documented families waiting for the opportunity.

And while it was stated last evening that while charters exist, and we need an honest and non-emotional conversation on how they continue to live without destroying public schools, we should first note they are public. Then we would consider, should parents allow the replacement to be something new, and its lack of impact on scholars is the no impact at all rule – they just won’t receive anything?  How does the 12.5 million dollars designated for community schools only make it to five (5) schools and what exactly should the children in the sixty-one (61) remaining schools do?  What should their parents do?

The answer is, they must all just wait!  Because the schools that are here and willing to take your children now - no, we think they should halt because they’re sucking the money out and all the scholars we will not serve next year, stay put regardless of the conditions, academic ills, or any other issue.  Just do not send your child to a charter or I will fight to block it because they are sucking the money out….music playing loudly now in my eardrum.

You see what I learned in this political arena is, most often the audience is comprised of those people who agree with you.  Forget there are very few parents present or who even know what is going on and the decisions you are making for their children. Because we the parents have been hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray, run amok, and trapped on the sideline, until you all get your plans together for our children.  Are you kidding me?

Now please remember, the panel consisted of employees and former candidate for the Mayor.

Moving on to local control and answering the question of how did the stake takeover of 1985 occur, Antoinette Baskerville stated, there were “certain conditions,” leading to the happenstance, I guess.  These conditions were the charter school law and a change in leadership, which was “inviting” to a takeover. 

Wait - The Charter School Program Act of 1995, N.J.S.A.18A:36A, came ten (10) years after and into state control.  I tell you, everything but world hunger.  And are we now telling parents to ignore the investigative report issued by the Department of Education declaring the reason for the need for state control as, “the Newark School District has been at best flagrantly delinquent and at worst deceptive in discharging its obligations to the children enrolled in the public schools.  The numerous deficiencies found throughout the district are a result of the Newark Board of Education’s failure to meet its governance responsibilities.”  There goes the transparent, honest and non-emotional side of the conversation, the Mayor requested.  But then again, Ms. Baskerville mentioned something about not being into or wanting to spread conspiracies.  Huh?

Anyway, the scariest moment in the evening for me was the remarks of we “cannot shoulder the expansion” being wrapped up in the conversation of local control and how it works out "lands on his feet.”  I remember doodling in my notebook, “how does it land on his feet.”  Forgive me, but does the Mayor gain control of the district or does those elected to the board or does it matter at all, if they are candidates of the Mayor. 

Sorry, but I am not confused at all.  The bottom line of my reason for sharing my thoughts is pure – where in the world is the Unity?  Other critical topics were discussed, and I would really like to outline the irony in all issues; however, we are at the end of a historical advisory board election, and if you weren’t engaged, the above should make you, at least, wonder why not. 

The responsibility and priorities mentioned immediately upon receipt of local control, were the people chosen Superintendent, graduation rates, and attendance.  Later stating charters initial role was to be an “incubator for new ideas,” using lots of options, and share with Newark Public Schools, but that “hasn’t taken place.”  Was this referring to the best practices, no one has ever mentioned until recently hearing some of us say we will demand it?  The audience was then, notified we have two (2) separate school systems and one (1) is paying for both and while, “parents have a right to do that,” we cannot allow one group to be successful at the expense of others.  Makes me kinda’ wanna stomp my feet like our children do, and yell well my group holds more than yours, as this has become ridiculous, illogical and frightening.

Finally, and so -  do not be fooled!  In any Unity, you are casting a vote for scholars in five (5) schools over the scholars in sixty-one (61) in community schools; 12.5 million dollars attached to it; and a definite move of a local board to stop, by any means necessary, present public schools, doing great work and can immediately service a greater population of scholars.  Does the Mayor not believe in candidates on the slate he is publicly supporting and promoting, because he did not support them last evening, allegedly, and do they support him?  They say they do…..in Unity?

What you must decide is, to who do the Children Matter and vote for them alone.

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