Hespe Helps Take Hearsay Out of Newark ‘Working Group’

John Mooney | July 8, 2014 | Education
In one of his first public statements, acting commissioner details plans and purpose for working group, comments on Anderson's annual review

David Hespe
The state-appointed “working group” that will serve as a community sounding board for embattled Newark superintendent Cami Anderson will have as many as 18 people and start its work in the next couple of weeks, said acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe yesterday.

In some of his first public comments since the renewal of Anderson’s contract, Hespe said in an interview that the group would be made up of people who both live and work in Newark and would be a critical measure for Anderson going forward.

“In order to maximize the benefit of the group, it will have to rely on those engaged in Newark, active in Newark, and residing in Newark,” he said.

Hespe was out of the country when the controversial announcement was made that Anderson would be renewed to lead the state-controlled district — but with some conditions. These included a yearly review of her performance and the appointment of the working group to serve as community feedback on her policies.

Hespe yesterday said the renewal was a vote of confidence for Anderson, who Christie first appointed in 2011.

“We do have confidence in Cami, and think she’s the best person to open schools in September,” Hespe said.

But he said that the working group was intended to respond to criticism that Anderson has been too removed from — if not dismissive of — community concerns.

For much of her tenure, Anderson has faced loud protests to her plans for the district, especially through her “One Newark,” plan, which creates a single enrollment system for both district and charter schools. In the face of protests, Anderson stopped attending local advisory board meetings.

“The working group will be a crucial way to get the community engagement we are looking for,” Hespe said.

When asked specifically why the contract included provisions for year-to-year review, as opposed to the previous three-year term outright, Hespe said it was similar to Anderson’s own policies through the district’s teacher contract to review performance each year.

“This is a natural outflow of what she herself is doing with the teachers’ union,” Hespe said. “Everyone, including the superintendent, should be on a performance-based contract.”

He said the administration this week was reaching out to potential candidates of the new group, and was seeking recommendations from others. “We have a healthy number of names being recommended to us,” he said.

The group would ultimately be between 10 and 18 members, Hespe said, with all members having a direct connection to Newark schools. The group would be led by Hespe, Anderson, and former education commissioner Rochelle Hendricks.

Hespe said he hoped to have the group announced in the next two weeks, and holding its first meeting soon after. One of its main tasks would be monitoring the One Newark reorganization, which is already well underway with enrollment choices completed.

But Hespe said the One Newark implementation would be a multiyear process, and added that he hoped the community group would provide feedback for years to come.

“Part of this will start in September, but the transformation is a five- or six-year plan from beginning to end,” he said.