Critics Say Cami Anderson’s School Reforms Will Lead to Chaos

By David Cruz

The start of a new school year is always stressful, even under the best of circumstances. In Newark, where a controversial school reform program — One Newark — is being implemented despite substantial community opposition, the start of the school year is threatening to erupt into chaos. At a press conference in front of Bragaw Avenue School today, parents and community leaders said they’re hoping the state will help them stop the One Newark plan. George Tillman has five children in the Newark public schools.

“Under the Newark One Plan, they took all of my kids that have been at Newton Street School for the last three years and they took them and — under that plan — sent them all to five different schools, throughout the city,” he said. “They’re not even close in region. Like Ivy Hill, the East Ward of Newark, the North Ward. It’s crazy. It’s just crazy under that plan.”

Critics say Superintendent Cami Anderson’s plan, which moves some kids to schools out of their neighborhoods and moves some charters into public school buildings, like this one, was implemented without sufficient community input. Today they filed a petition with the state’s education commissioner, whose department has run the schools here for two decades.

“Essentially, what we are alleging is that the Newark School District’s ‘One Newark’ plan has violated the charter school act of 1995 in that it has failed to solicit the approval and authorization of teachers and parents to close neighborhood public schools and then convert them to charter schools,” said Bob Pickett, the attorney representing parents.

Pickett says the city’s schools are also suffering from de facto segregation and that a county-wide school system is the remedy. With just about three weeks to go before the start of the new school year, parents and community leaders here say an unresponsive superintendent has left them with just one option.

“Either the state-appointed schools superintendent will reverse herself on the One Newark plan or we’re going to boycott,” said Councilwoman Mildred Crump.

With thousands of kids still not assigned to schools, critics say the start of a new school year is a disaster waiting to happen. They’re calling for Anderson to be removed and her plan delayed, or scrapped altogether. Their calls echo opinions expressed recently by Mayor Ras Baraka.

“What we have is the will of one person against the will of an entire community,” Baraka said last week on WBGO’s Newark Today.

Cami Anderson did not return our calls for comment, leaving the school district’s attorney to issue a statement denying the charges in the complaint. The mayor says he will meet with the superintendent before the start of the school year, but acknowledges it’s unlikely he will get the remedies he — or many parents here — seek.