Anderson to Remain at Helm of Newark Schools, Activists Vow Ouster

By David Cruz

Coming as it did — late on a Friday afternoon, on the final day of classes — the reappointment of Cami Anderson, the dominant education issue of the past three years in Newark, seemed anti-climactic. Reaction was, likewise, muted.

Still, at a demonstration outside City Hall, critics complained that the governor and his education commissioner had done an end run around them and snuck his superintendent in. Former Superintendent Marion Bolden chairs the education committee of Mayor-Elect Ras Baraka’s transition team.

“I don’t think as a superintendent you can be successful unless you respect the community,” said Bolden, who joined the demonstrators. “I think what you saw today [was that] they feel totally disenfranchised.”

As for Ras Baraka — whose campaign was predicated on ousting Cami Anderson — the mayor-elect has not commented and his office did not return our phone calls today. The mayor had met with the governor earlier this month, but this can’t have been what he wanted to see. Author and community activist Junius Williams is also a Baraka advisor.

“The mayor doesn’t have anything to do with that decision,” noted Williams. “The mayor — any mayor — has been taken out of any decision with respect to the tenure of a state superintendent.”

Anderson’s new deal does tighten the reigns a bit. It’s actually three, one-year contracts, which will have to be renewed at Education Commissioner David Hespe’s sole discretion — every year. It calls for the establishment of a committee to oversee, and conceivably alter, Anderson’s controversial One Newark school reform plan.

A statement released by the commissioner was hardly a ringing endorsement, though. “As the district moves through implementation,” it says, “it is important to frequently assess where the district is and what leadership is necessary to continue moving the district forward.”

As for Anderson, the target of angry demonstrations and no-confidence votes, she, too, was not available to talk to us. “I am honored to reaffirm my commitment to Newark students and families,” she said in a statement, “and to work in collaboration with all stakeholders to make NPS the epitome of excellence, equity and efficiency.”

The teacher’s union, which has had an on again, mostly off again relationship with the superintendent, suggested that this new deal represented the beginning of the end for Anderson.

“At the very end of the agreement, it stipulates that the commissioner will be overseeing this district and that nothing in the contract changes that, so, for all intents and purposes, she will be an advisory superintendent on a year-to-year basis,” said Newark Teachers Union Vice President John Abeigon. “Personally, I don’t know how she could stand that humiliation.”

Baraka will be sworn in as mayor tomorrow, the same day Anderson’s new deal begins. Their relationship — which can best be described as “chilly” to this point — will be critical as the city approaches its 20th year under state control.

School’s out for summer but parents and activists say — regardless of her somewhat diminished status — they say the next time they see Anderson, they want to see her walking out the door.