EDUCATION

Newark Superintendent: Turnaround School Status Offers Opportunity for Betterment

It is a tough time for Newark Public Schools, still in turmoil over state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson’s One Newark reorganization. Her most vocal opponent is the influential Newark Teachers Union, now facing a change in leadership. And tomorrow, students and community members plan to protest “turnaround schools.” They say the designation means they’re failing. Teachers say it means they have to work longer hours. Anderson told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that a turnaround school designation offers educators an opportunity.

“A turnaround school is an opportunity for us to give teachers more time to collaborate, students more time to learn and to give flexibility to the staff and faculty and make adjustments to what they need to be doing on the ground,” Anderson said. “It’s actually a great tool to help accelerate progress.”

She explained that there’s a variety of designations within the turnaround schools. Some schools this year need to go from good to great while others need to go from really struggling to solid, Anderson said. She said the teachers union negotiated terms in the contract.

According to Anderson, the program offers three tools — more time for kids, more collaboration for teachers and more flexibility. “This is research driven and quite popular with families in lots of cities around the country. To get free after-school is gold especially in a community that struggles with poverty like Newark where a lot of young people don’t have a lot of options for their after-school time,” she said.

The teachers union has said teachers have to work longer hours and still have to reapply for their jobs, which is a setup for being fired. Anderson disputes that. “The turnaround designation is in the contract. They negotiated it. Basically what it means is that teachers work an extra hour to teach and many of them have said, guess what? They already do it. This just allows us to give them compensation. And also to bring them back a couple of weeks in the summer to do planning and set up their rooms,” she said. “This has been very popular with a lot of our teachers as well — not with the union, but with a lot of our teachers. They’ve said it gives them a chance to collaborate, to get on the same page with their coworkers.”

Anderson said the teachers also get more support and professional development, which educators often rate very highly in their desire to stay in the profession.

East Side High School Principal Mario Santos has been quoted as saying, “A turnaround school is a failing school that needs to be improved. East Side has been on the road to greatness. Results have shown it.” Anderson said the rest of his statement was left out.

“Mario also said in that same list of comments that he was grateful for the opportunity to extend the day for kids. He doesn’t like the label. I get it. Actually the label’s imperfect and I would agree with him. And like I said, there are some schools on the list, East Side being one of them, that are trying to travel the path to greatness and they’ve gotten some results. But he’d be the first to say they have miles to go,” Anderson said. “And I wish that folks had written the whole quote where he said we don’t like the label but we really do appreciate the tools that it comes with in order for us to get better.”

The teachers union has said members are going to pull a job action and stop volunteering to put in extra time after the school day. “I think our teachers want the best for kids. Honestly, when I’m on the street traveling around, they had Talk Back Tuesdays, Fight Back Fridays, Walk Out Wednesdays, Shout Out Saturdays. The union really has spent a great deal of time and money trying to bring negativity into our town,” Anderson said.

She said there have been several marches orchestrated by the union. “What’s frustrating to me is that this is portrayed as a resident driven rally when in fact this is a union show. That’s what it is,” Anderson said. “And I actually think that most of our teachers are very dedicated to this extended time and I believe that ultimately they’ll prevail.”