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9-5-14 Education Issue in the News - Newark Opening Day Open Enrollment Approach

Politickernj - With statewide eyes on Newark's schools, Superintendent Anderson says first day of One Newark plan "going great"

By Mark Bonamo | September 4th, 2014 - 4:04pm

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NEWARK - On the day the One Newark school reorganization plan went into effect, the state-appointed leader of New Jersey's largest school district felt confident despite controversy.

"It's going great. We're excited about everything we're seeing," said Newark School Superintendent Cami Anderson, the prime proponent of the One Newark plan, outside East Side High School on Thursday. "I've been to five schools today, and I'm really happy to report that our enrollment across the district is up for the first time in over a decade. That's a sign that we're on the move and people want to be with us."

Anderson toured schools around Newark on the first day of the implementation of the One Newark plan, which she announced in December. The initiative includes the expansion of charter schools, which already serve approximately 20 percent of the city's students, as well as the closure or consolidation of certain public schools.

Newark's schools were placed under state control in 1995. Anderson was appointed to head the state-run Newark school district, New Jersey's largest, by Gov. Chris Christie in 2011. A wave of Newark public school student protests called for the removal of Anderson, as well as for the termination of the Anderson-backed One Newark plan, earlier this year. Anderson, however, had her contract renewed for three years by the Christie administration in June. 

One facet of the plan is that instead of permitting parents to pick the school closest to their home, the new enrollment model allows them to research schools and rank their preferences for public or charter schools throughout Newark. Yet although this component of the plan was meant to improve the city's public education system by increasing student options, the initial results have left many parents angry, confused and frustrated, with some parents calling for a boycott of the city schools.

When asked about a potential boycott, Anderson hoped that parents and school officials can "find ways to work through any challenges or disagreements that are not about hurting kids and putting them behind."

Hundreds of parents and students streamed into Newark Vocational High School on West Kinney Street on Thursday, seeking assistance for the reportedly 8,000 students still unsure as to where they will attend school this year. Other parents and students complained about an untested transportation system set up under the One Newark plan designed to get students to their assigned schools. 

Faced with these questions, Anderson pointed to the scale of the Newark school district.

"Remember, there are 43,000 students in Newark," Anderson said. "Prior to universal enrollment, those families had to go school to school to try to resolve their issues. We served over three thousand families in the last ten days prior to school opening. Of course in a system this big, you're always going to have individual concerns and glitches. We have worked feverishly to give good customer service. Our job is to respond with kindness and empathy, and that's what we're doing."

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, the former principal of Newark's Central High School, has been vociferous in his opposition to the One Newark plan. His opposition to the plan, and to Anderson's leadership of the city's schools, was a major factor in his victory in the city's mayoral election in May. Baraka has continued to voice serious concerns about the plan and has repeatedly called for the return of the Newark school district to local control.

Baraka and Anderson were both at Louise A. Spencer School on Thursday morning to look into any first day concerns. 

"It's our job to work together. Our kids' future are at stake," Anderson said before meeting with a group of about 30 East Side High School students . "I know [Baraka] is passionate about kids. You know I'm passionate about kids. This is not about personalities, and it's not about politics. It's about children."

Despite Anderson's statement about the first day of school in Newark being solely about the city's children, there was a notable statewide political presence alongside Anderson at East Side High School on Thursday. 

"There are always issues that arise, but for the most part, we're seeing a pretty typical back-to-school day," said Acting Education Commissioner David Hespe. "As the change process continues, I think people will get more and more comfortable that not only is this the right thing to do for the children of Newark, but it's being implemented well. The superintendent has her vision...and I think so far she's implementing it very well." 

"The Acting Commissioner is here to show his support and offer the resources of the administration for Newark on day one," said Kevin Roberts, spokesman for Gov. Christie, who is on an official trip to Mexico. "I'm just here to observe."


Read more at With statewide eyes on Newark's schools, Superintendent Anderson says first day of One Newark plan "going great" | Politicker NJ
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NJ Spotlight - Back to School Means First-Day Jitters for Anderson, ‘One Newark’ Plan

John Mooney | September 5, 2014

As school buses start rolling in Newark, critics of state-appointed superintendent are quick to point out that some are nearly empty

For a first day of school that saw thousands of Newark children return to classes yesterday, there was certainly a lot of attention on the adults.

State-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson launched her “One Newark” universal enrollment plan in earnest, rolling out of scores of buses across the city to provide the first district-wide choice in the state’s largest school system.

Anderson held three press events, including a press conference at the end of the day that touted the opening and, separately, played up the student achievement gains in some of the lowest-performing schools in the city.

“We are on the move, Newark schools are on the move,” Anderson declared. “And we are dedicated to make sure that movement continues, and to accelerate that movement.”

It was a day of celebration -- or at least relief -- for the embattled superintendent, as she was joined by the state’s acting education commissioner, David Hespe, and her local advisory board chairman, Rashon Hasan.

With Gov. Chris Christie out of the state in Mexico, she got the next best thing in terms of his chief spokesman, Kevin Roberts.

“The work she is doing here is showing remarkable progress in a place we know desperately needs it,” Roberts said yesterday during a break in the schedule. “She has the total support of the governor for One Newark and what she is doing in the district.”

But that’s not to say the day went smoothly, nor without dissent.

The buses rolled from heavily staffed transportation hubs throughout the city, but by and large they were far from full, if not near-empty in some cases.

Attendance overall was down, although it was unclear if it was any lower than the usual first-day numbers. Details were unavailable, the district said.

Anderson already faces a chorus of protest from community activists and union leaders. That didn’t change yesterday, as critics held their own events to play up the problems.

“It was not a good opening of school,” said Joseph Del Grosso, president of the Newark Teachers Union. “There were a lot of bumps in the road, but nothing unexpected for a plan that was never expected to work.”

He pointed out the near-empty school buses, reminding those who would listen that Anderson had laid off technology coordinators and attendance officers. “Yet we can afford to hire buses with nobody on them?,” he said.

Anderson said the full cost of the new transportation service was unavailable.

In a city of nearly 40,000 students and 100 schools, including the independent charters, it was hard to gauge any consensus about the school opening. It often rested with the speaker, and Anderson clearly took the offensive in planning a full day of public events and what she touted as good news for the district.

No secret was the competition of a high-profile boycott waged by her staunchest critics, one that saw a handful of “freedom schools” launched across the district for boycotting families -- even if they, too, saw only scattered attendance yesterday.

Organizers put out a press release contending “hundreds of families” had committed to the boycott, and they held their own press conference decrying the "One Newark" plans and calling for Anderson’s removal, a common refrain of late.

“We are escalating to a boycott because we have used every organizing tool available to us,” said Johnnie Lattner, one of the organizers. “Today we make a stand against Cami Anderson dividing, destroying, dismissing, dismantling, and disrespecting parents, students, teachers, and community.”

Anderson yesterday played down the unrest, saying it stemmed from parent dissatisfaction over the dearth of quality schools in the city that she was seeking to redress.

“I understand their frustration,” she said. “There is just one in four schools in Newark that would be considered good, and that is far too few.”

At lunchtime, she met with students of East Side High School and talked about college readiness. An hour later, it was the Quitman Street School, one of seven so-called renew schools that she touted as showing consistent achievement gains after being among the district’s lowest performing.

The presentation itself came with some drama; it was invitation only and several people – among them some of Anderson’s most vocal critics -- were left outside unable to get in. Nevertheless, Anderson was able to turn the conversation from the criticisms of her One Newark plan to more upbeat news.

In maybe the most heartening news, she said the district had seen its first uptick in enrollment, with 1,700 more families enrolled than last year. The details were unclear, and even the achievement gains came without much context as to how the rest of the district was doing. Anderson said that data would be made available in the future.

But there was clearly an optimistic mood among the administration that for the past several months, if not longer, had only been hearing criticism of Anderson and her plans.

The criticism had been enough that Hespe recently created a separate community advisory board to monitor Anderson and the implementation of One Newark, although its members have yet to be announced.

Yesterday, Hespe said the local commission was coming soon, but he was all praise for the superintendent.

“I think today was a great day in setting a tone around student success and positive things being done for children, and that will set a tone for the rest of the year,” Hespe said.

Overall, he expressed full confidence in the decision to reappoint Anderson -- even if under some conditions, including a year-to-year renewals.

“She has managed this transition process over the summertime, and engaged the community, and the fruits of that we are seeing today,” Hespe said.

How much any of this back and forth among adults affects what happens in the schools is arguable, to be sure. One place expected to be in the spotlight was the Hawthorne Avenue School in the city’s South Ward, one of the schools initially set to be closed under the One Newark plan but then revived by Anderson under community pressures.

Yesterday, it drew the attention of press and politicians alike as the first buses pulled up, albeit with only a few students on board. On hand were Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, an outspoken critic of Anderson, and state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, the influential Senate education committee chairman and recent critic of the One Newark plan.

Still, it was the first day of school, one ostensibly more about the children than the adults. Principal Grady James, who had faced the axe with Hawthorne’s closing but was back on the job yesterday, said it wasn’t the time to discuss One Newark.

Greeted by families and students alike, James said his central job remained the same: "I do this every day -- greet children with a warm smile and a welcome and get their minds focused on education.”

Dale Russakoff, a freelance journalist, contributed to this article

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Star Ledger -Newark's public schools open with promise, confusion and complaints

By Naomi Nix | The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger
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on September 05, 2014 at 7:02 AM

NEWARK — Thousands of Newark students headed back to school yesterday in a district that has undergone sweeping and controversial changes.

As the district's reorganization plan made its debut, some Newark parents tested new routes to schools in new locations.

Some families grumbled as they had to endure late bus arrivals and a confusing school registration process, while other families eagerly went to school to meet their children's new teachers and principals.

"I'm gonna see how it goes," Stacie Thomas said about her third-grade daughter's new school.

During a press conference, city schools Superintendent Cami Anderson acknowledged there were some kinks but said the school year began on a promising note.

"We saw a good school start," Anderson said. "We will continue to grow and improve."

For months, activists have been criticizing One Newark, a reorganization plan that involves relocating some students and staff to new locations, expanding charter schools and changing leadership at existing schools.

More than 15,000 students applied for a new school under One Newark, including about 8,000 students who had to apply for a new school because they were in transitioning grades, such as a rising 9th grade student.

This year, the district launched a bus service for the estimated 3,800 students who had to be assigned to a new school under the One Newark plan. Families went to eight transportation hubs, where about 30 buses picked up students and took them to schools across the city.

Some parents, however, complained about late buses or a lack of information about their shuttle routes.

Jennine Gaddy took time off from her job in Linden this morning to take her son and daughter to the Maple Avenue Elementary School Annex, so they could catch a school bus to Ridge Street School, about 8.6 miles away.

"My stomach is churning right now," she said around 7:15 a.m., as she waited for the shuttle with a handful of other students and parents.

By 8:20 a.m., the bus had not come. "We're about to take them home," she said.

Rhonda Hannah's fourth-grade son was transferred from the Maple Avenue Elementary School Annex to B.R.I.C.K Peshine Academy. Hannah said she was disappointed her son could no longer walk to school and worried the bus driver didn't know where he was going.

"Right now I'm not feeling reassured," she said.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said the transportation issues were just one example of how the One Newark plan was burdening families.

"It's so overwhelming," he said yesterday during an interview outside the Maple Avenue Elementary School Annex. "I just think this is too much. I think it's absolutely too much."

Meanwhile, activists staged a press conference to reiterate their call for a boycott of Newark public schools in protest of the One Newark plan.

But Anderson brushed off the criticism, saying the district was working to improve education for all students. She pointed to improving test scores in the first batch of "renew schools," which are schools where the district has replaced its leadership.

Reform efforts such as those will only continue, she said.

"We are focused on the day when every single student is in an excellent school," Anderson said. "We know that too many of our schools are not yet schools of excellence."