Op-Ed: In His Defense of Newark’s Superintendent, Cerf Missed the Mark

Joseph Del Grosso | December 8, 2014 | Opinion
The failures of Cami Anderson’s One Newark plan can be summed up in three words -- blindsided, buses, and books

Joseph Del Grosso, president Newark Teachers Union.
Last week, Chris Cerf penned a piece defending Newark’s schools superintendent, Cami Anderson, and her so-called One Newark plan. But ultimately, and unfortunately, his defense missed the mark. The One Newark plan was created by a district administration under state authority — with minimal inclusion of or approval by the locally elected school board, community members, parents, and most important, students. As a result, educators, families, and the community have no confidence in the state-imposed leadership of Anderson, and they definitely don’t believe in the feasibility of the One Newark plan. Their opposition can be summed up in three words: blindsided, buses, and books.

A Community Blindsided

While we agree that the parents of Newark’s 45,000 students deserve a voice, it is clear that Anderson completely disagrees. Her community-engagement efforts have been a total failure at best, and her plan has blindsided the community. Characterizing these efforts as “imperfect” is generous. She has refused to appear in public, denounced the local elected school advisory board, and failed to lay out the One Newark plan to Newark’s parents. Community engagement means building solid, sustainable relationships to advance a collective vision that benefits everyone. Anderson has done the opposite, silencing the community and upending neighborhood schools.

No Buses

Anderson’s roughshod implementation of the One Newark plan left many of us in disbelief. After reconfiguring, relocating, and closing many neighborhood schools, Anderson left many students without the buses they needed to get to their new schools and more than 600 students without a school at all. And as much as Cerf tries to defend the missteps made by Anderson, the lack of adequate transportation and the fact that students are hanging in limbo speak volumes about the failure of leadership we’ve seen in Newark.

Not Enough Books to Go Around

Now let’s talk about the books, or the lack of sufficient resources for learning. At Barringer High School in the North Ward, Newark’s largest high school, students lost weeks of teaching and learning time because teachers were not hired, class sizes were maxed out, and there were not enough books to go around — leaving students woefully unprepared. Some students even reported not having desks to sit at and not having food during lunch hours. This is a big step backward for Newark’s students.

What’s Next?

Newark’s educators, students, parents and broader community are committed to getting it right. That’s why, last May, we unveiled the Newark Promise — a plan that would provide excellent neighborhood schools for all. Under our plan, schools would be safe, clean, and inviting facilities that are conducive to teaching and learning and that include wraparound services to meet the physical and emotional needs of the community.

These solutions have been proven to work. So, instead of defending failed ideology, as Cerf did last week, let’s shift gears and put evidence-based solutions into practice. All Newark’s children deserve a fair shot. It’s time we reclaim the promise of public education and take back our schools.