Will "Breakfast with Cami" Satisfy Newarkers?

Friday, 17 October 2014 16:03 Walter Elliott and Dhiren Shah

Those implementing or opposing Newark Public Schools' One Newark and Universal Enrollment plans presented contrasting views within a 15 hour period here Oct. 13-14.

State District Superintendent Cami Anderson, for example, made a "state of the plans" presentation before 30 invited media representatives and NPS officials over breakfast at The Newark Club Oct 14.

Eighty parents, teachers and concerned citizens meanwhile presented their UE and ONP experiences to a U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights investigator at the Clear View Baptist Church, before dinner, Oct. 13.

The two events - one organized by Newark Public Schools, the other a coalition of groups headed by Parents United for Local School Education-NJ - demonstrated their respective opposing directions.

Anderson, in her 35-minute address, wanted to give an overview of "Where we've been, where we are and where we're going," as well as to "clarify some myths about One Newark."

Anderson considers ONP and UE largely successful. She pointed to 1,300 more Kindergarten-12th Grade students enrolled and 1,000 more Pre-Kindergarten students enrolled than in September. The superintendent said that Renew Schools that are into their second year are seeing rising state test scores.

"Three-and-a-half, almost four years ago, we had a 50 percent high school graduation rate," said Anderson from the club podium on the 22nd floor. "Now we're closer to 70 percent. This year, we retained 95 percent of our highly effective and effective teachers - and nearly 40 percent of our ineffective teachers chose to leave the system."

The governor-appointed superintendent briefly acknowledged enrollment problems and other woes in Barringer High School. Regarding reports of BHS-STEAM Academy students with several temporary class schedules, overcrowded classrooms with substitute or out-of-subject teachers and food supply problems, Anderson said, "Most of those problems, if not already resolved, are being resolved."

Anderson unveiled some coming developments including:

 

-          Launch Universal Enrollment 2.0: UE2 is to include to-be-announced private Pre-K providers, charter schools who adopt common student retention and discipline policies with NPS and "ensure equity for students with disabilities."

-          Two new adult schools to replace the Newark Evening High School. Anderson said that one adult learning center resides in the Newton Street Elementary School building and that adults can join via UE. Calling NEHS's curriculum, "very basic," she foresees a second school in 2015-16 with courses partnered by local colleges and universities.

-          Establish School Working Groups. The SWGs are parents and other community stakeholders who will meet regularly with their assigned schools to find and suggest improvements. Anderson added that she would not say who have been selected or who will complete the SWG panels.

-          Use a US Department of Education $7 million Head Start grant to "increase quality of all Early Childhood Center sites."

-          Accelerated learning academies at West Side and Weequahic high schools to bring students "in striking distance of a diploma."

-          Expand transportation options for more students.

 

"When I came to the district, we had Great Expectations and two other master plans to turn the schools around but they we're lying there - and several school buildings remained vacant," said Anderson. "Without One Newark, parents will vote with their feet, the charter schools would gain 40 percent of the market and there would still be closed schools."

Anderson and her recruiting staff sought out some 500 candidates for school building principals "from Newark and across the country." Her administrators were looking for principals who would be "innovators or supporters of innovation."

"When I came here, the charter schools were building downtown or were leasing space from the district for free," added Anderson. "We negotiated lease agreements where the charters have to pay rent, provide us performance data and share best practices - no one else in the country has done that."

Anderson said that she has been hiring people who "would be excited and have a sense of urgency in their work every day. To many children and parents, they only have one Third Grade."

A different sense of urgency was found in the basement of Clear View Baptist Church Monday night. About 15 parents and students told their UE horror stories and the negative changes found in their schools since One Newark's Sept. 4 implementation.

The 15 speakers did not include the 12 parents who spoke to the Youth Media Symposium while they waited in line or had left the Universal Enrollment Center Aug. 18, 20-22. YMS student volunteers produced the resulting 10-minute DVD and produced a copy for U.S. DoE Office of Civil Rights investigator Eric Bueide.

Bueide, who sat among the audience but never spoke, was given a tour by PULSE-NJ members of 12 ONP-affected schools earlier that day. He was one of several federal investigators who were gathering information here, in Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago and several other major urban public school districts.

The federal investigators were responding to a discrimination suit filed in part by four Newark public school parents in July. The filers assert that the lack of community input into ONP's development and the resulting closing and relocating of schools are predominantly affecting children of color in the South Ward. (Clear View BC is across Chancellor Avenue from Weequahic High, Chancellor Avenue School and Chancellor Annex.)

"My daughter goes to two high schools - West Side and Newark Vocational," said Natasha Allen. "Because the district couldn't fit Newark Vocational culinary arts program into West Side, so her day starts at the old NVHS for culinary arts." (Newark Early College and Newark Vocational highs were added to WSHS Sept. 4.)

Allen said that her daughter and other NVHS Culinary Arts students then take a district provided bus to complete their day at WSHS.

"They go through metal detectors at NVHS, take a secured bus and get checked by security again at WSHS," said Allen. "They feel like they are in a minimum-security prison."

"My son is a freshman at Barringer-STEAM," said Jocelyn Rodriguez. "They have 1,500 Barringer-STEAM and Barringer-Academy of Arts and Humanities students in a building whose capacity is 1,200. If there's a fire, our children could be trampled or lose a life."

Meanwhile, “Local Talk” had the following questions to the Newark Public Schools, which were not answered:

1.) Will Universal Enrollment 2.0's features include a modified the algorithm used in matching schools to students? Will the algorithm be publicized for transparency?

2.) Will it be any transparency in the process for the students and parents for selecting the schools?

3.) How did you spend money for gathering the data? Did it come out of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's fund or part of the school system?

4.) If the parents or the students do not like the school or the system, are they allowed to transfer to a different school this year?

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