Newark Super Calls for Pause in School Closures — For Now

Roseville Elementary and other troubled schools to be reevaluated to see which are most vulnerable

School closures in Newark will go on hiatus for at least a year, Superintendent Cami Anderson said yesterday, as she conducts a new analysis of all the district’s schools to determine those most vulnerable.

That means that the one elementary school slated for closure next year will get a last-minute reprieve, with Anderson’s administration notifying the staff of the Roseville Avenue Elementary School that this spring would not be their last after all.

The announced closure of Roseville sparked protests not just within the school’s community, but also from activists citywide who saw it as a continuation of a pattern of closures sweeping urban districts across the country.

Newark closed a half-dozen schools last year — Anderson’s first — and activists filed a federal civil rights complaint that the closures were destabilizing neighborhoods and targeting minority and especially low-income populations.

Anderson said yesterday said this respite is not an indication that she is pulling back her decisions or rethinking the need to shrink the district overall to offset declining enrollment. And Roseville could be considered in the future, she said.

But the 150-year-old school proved a special case, where the options for the students leaving there were no better than if they had stayed at the tiny school, and in some cases may have been worse. The bulk of the Roseville students would have been moved to the nearby Alma Flagg and Horton schools.

“I understand closing schools is extremely painful, and the only way I’ll do it is where I can guarantee if the new school they will go to is as good, if not better opportunity,” Anderson said yesterday.

“I couldn’t look at those parents in the eye and guarantee they would be going to a better school,” she said.

Anderson said the Roseville case helped prompt a decision to reexamine the district’s overall “portfolio” of what schools should stay or go. In a report expected to be complete in January, she said the analysis would look at individual schools’ academic performance, the neighborhoods they serve, and the general cost-effectiveness of keeping them open.

“The question is what do we want to look like in the fall of 2017 that looks at all of those issues of effectiveness, equity, and efficiency,” she said.

The district is still planning on closing the Samuel Berliner School next year, but Anderson said that is a separate case of being a school solely for special-needs children with behavioral disabilities.

“That decision stands on its own merits,” she said. “That kind of segregation is just not best practice.”

When asked why she had not conducted a similar building analysis before announcing the Roseville closure, or even last year’s shutterings, Anderson said more information is being gathered each year to better inform the process.

And she stood by last year’s closings, saying that each of those schools was an easier decision due to their lower academic performance.

Efforts to reach the school’s longtime principal, Rose Serra, were unsuccessful. Anderson had initially said Serra had planned to retire anyway, even before the closure was announced, something the principal publicly denied.

Yesterday, the superintendent would not comment on what, if anything, will happen to Serra or any other faculty members, saying those are internal personnel discussions.

Sharon Smith, the parent advocate who filed the federal complaint, said yesterday she was pleased with the decision, but the fight continues.

“This is only one school, and there are many others in the district that are suffering from [Anderson’s] failed model,” Smith said last night. “Maybe she’s taking the pause, because her model isn’t working.”

The latest move comes as the state’s two-decade operation of the district — the subject of heightened challenges of late, both political and legal — is publicly agreeing to at least some local demands.

Earlier this month, the Christie administration said it was willing to start talks on giving the local advisory board renewed power over fiscal management of the district, one step toward full local control. The state would still retain power over personnel and governance, led by its ongoing appointment of the superintendent.

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