Newark School Chief’s Fate Unclear But Her Vision for Future Remains Focused

John Mooney | June 19, 2014 | Education
Amid uncertainty about her job status, Cami Anderson proceeds with next step in reorganization plan

Newark schools Superintendent Cami Anderson
Her job status may be uncertain, but that hasn’t stopped Newark schools Superintendent Cami Anderson from proceeding with reorganization plans for the state’s largest district as it closes out the school year and prepares for the next.

Anderson and her staff yesterday announced the hiring of principals for eight more so-called “renew schools,” which are schools that have been among the lowest performing in the district and targeted for extended hours and other improvement initiatives.

The announcement brings to nearly 20 – roughly a quarter – the number of district schools with the “renew” designation.

Anderson did not announce the hiring of a principal for the Hawthorne Avenue School, a ninth new “renew school” that has been a poster child in the debates over Anderson’s controversial “One Newark” reorganization plans.

The school was slated to be turned over to a charter school operator, but that plan was scaled back in the face of protests by residents.

Anderson last week announced that the South Ward school would remain as a K-8 district school for at least another year, although she hedged on whether staff or leadership would change.

Yesterday, she said that principal job remains unfilled and that the current principal, H. Grady James, had yet to apply for the position.

“You need to ask him,” Anderson said of James’ intentions.

Nonetheless, the latest jockeying was significant as Anderson’s own fate remains a guessing game. Her existing contract – paying her $247,500 a year, plus bonuses — expires at the end of this month. A new agreement for her to stay has yet to be finalized.

Union and parent activists and others have called for Anderson’s ouster amid rising criticism of her leadership and policies — including key opposition by a coalition of more than 70 clergy members in the city.

Mayor-elect Ras Baraka, who is also principal of the district’s Central High School, has been among the most vocal among those calling for her resignation.

Gov. Chris Christie has voiced support for Anderson, who was one of his key appointments in his first term, but he has not publicly committed as yet to keeping her on.

Anderson yesterday didn’t not mention her own job status as she announced the changes for the nine additional “renew schools,” simply saying this would be a critical year for those schools to show improvement.

She said this second group of “renew schools” would benefit from improvements pertaining to new curriculum and training.

The nine new “renew schools” and the principals named for eight of them are:

  • Belmont Runyon Elementary School – Shawn Oxedine-Walter
  • Alma Flagg Elementary School – Ganiat Rufai
  • Hawkins Street Elementary School – Sandra Marques
  • Rafael Hernandez Elementary School – Patricia Gois
  • Dr. William H. Horton Elementary School – Ginamarie Mignone
  • Louise A. Spencer Elementary School – Jenn Pellegrine
  • Luis Munoz-Marin – Maria Ortiz
  • Speedway Elementary School – Atiba Buckman
  • Hawthorne Avenue School – to be determined.
  • Hawthorne Avenue School had become a focal point in the criticism of Anderson’s reorganization plans.

    The school had posted some of the strongest student achievement gains in the state, according to the state Department of Education’s own metrics, yet Anderson had called for turning it over to an outside operator for next year.

    Anderson’s staff said the initial plans were due in part to the age and condition of the building.

    Anderson last week stood by her initial plans to turn Hawthorne Avenue over to a charter operator, but said the reprieve would allow more time to set in place needed changes in the South Ward schools as a whole. She did not rule out the conversion to a charter for Hawthorne Avenue in 2016.

    This week, the Hawthorne parents group claimed victory in keeping the school alive, but also continued to press for James, the principal, to stay at the school. He has been credited with being a key reason for the school’s improvements, but he has also been among those clashing with Anderson over her reorganization plans.