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4-24-14 Education Issue in the News - One Newark
Star Ledger - Newark school overhaul plan hits a glitch

NJ Spotlight- Op-Ed: Newark Clergy Could Hold Key to Education Reform

Star Ledger - Newark school overhaul plan hits a glitch

By Peggy McGlone/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on April 24, 2014 at 8:40 AM

NEWARK — Enrollment notifications for the more than 12,000 Newark families who submitted applications for their children to attend school in September will be delayed because district officials are trying to provide some transportation to students, school officials said.

The delay comes after mounting criticism of the One Newark reorganization plan. On Friday, 77 religious leaders signed a letter to acting Education Commissioner David Hespe calling for a moratorium on implementing Superintendent Cami Anderson’s One Newark plan.

And yesterday the Newark Teachers Union launched a four-week radio campaign against the plan they claim has “led to mass firings and closings” that is “pushing our kids further behind.”

But in a letter to parents, Anderson said new school enrollment — a universal system that allowed students who wanted or needed to change schools to select up to eight choices — is moving forward. But not as quickly as promised. Enrollment decisions that match students’ choices with the school will be mailed May 5, weeks later than planned.

“As a result of feedback from families and community members, the district is working to identify transportation options before sending match letters,” Anderson wrote in a letter dated Monday. “We sincerely appreciate your patience and consideration as we explore this transportation solution.”

School spokeswoman Chanelle Figueroa said the district “has no details yet to share” about the transportation options referenced in the letter. There is no busing in Newark, and many parents said distance to schools is a major flaw in the reorganization plan.

“We are aware it is a concern for parents,” Figueroa said.

Announced in December, the One Newark reorganization plan included a universal enrollment process that allowed parents to select up to eight options in both traditional and charter schools. More than 12,000 families submitted applications. Most were for kindergarten and ninth grades, but many students needed to apply for grades that their current schools don’t offer.

Anderson also told parents a second round of registration will open May 12 for students and families who did not participate in the first registration window that ended Feb. 28. Decisions about the second round of registrations will be mailed to families in mid-to-late July, according to the letter.

Criticism continues, however, even though enrollment decisions aren’t ready. In a sharply worded letter, the city’s religious leaders expressed concern about “the level of public anger we see growing in the community” about the One Newark plan because Newark citizens’ “input and voice have been repeatedly ignored.”

“We are unanimous in our view that major change is needed,” the leaders wrote. But they called for delay “until a process can be found to obtain meaningful and credible engagement of the Newark community.”

The reorganization plan will bring changes to one-quarter of the city’s schools by shifting grade levels, breaking up comprehensive high schools into smaller academies and allowing three charter schools to open in what are now neighborhood schools.

The ministers were critical of Anderson’s partnership with charter schools.

“This statement neither condemns nor endorses charter schools. However, the primary responsibility of the Newark School Superintendent should be to ensure excellent educational opportunities in the traditional Newark public school system,” they wrote.

Newark Teachers Union president Joseph Del Grosso said its new radio campaign is intended to halt the plan’s implementation.

“It’s an idiotic plan,” Del Grosso said. “The plan isn’t Newark One. It’s Newark done. If it goes into operation, Newark’s education will be set back for decades. It’s our goal to see that it doesn’t happen.”

Del Grosso said the union is working with community leaders to launch a search for a replacement for Anderson, who was hired by Gov. Chris Christie in 2011.

“The community will choose someone who is well-qualified and we will present them to the Governor,” he said. “We are firmly hoping we have a different superintendent in September.”

District officials released a response to the letter from religious leaders that respectfully disagreed with any longterm delay.

“While we respect and appreciate hearing the opinions of our community leaders, we do not believe a moratorium is in the best interest of the kids and families we serve. As many of the clergy know well given their participation in conversations and feedback sessions surrounding the creation of the One Newark plan, much of what they now recommend has in fact already been done,” the statement says.

“We support the clergy’s call for a more civil and constructive dialogue on the future of public education in the city and are eager to partner with them in creating more of such opportunities going forward,” officials said.


NJ Spotlight- Op-Ed: Newark Clergy Could Hold Key to Education Reform

Alfred Koeppe | April 24, 2014

By calling for moratorium, clergy could afford One Newark much-needed time and space

The essence of the unprecedented letter from the clergy is their call for thoughtful engagement on an issue -- educational reform -- that they support. Both their plea for engagement and their support for reform comes from their experiences administering to a restive Newark community.

Few, if any of us, see Newark through as personal a lens. I think this is useful to note because I assume that it was not a simple task to bring these men and women together for this purpose. Each of them, I am sure, brought his or her own anecdotes, perspectives, and biases to the process.

The letter also includes a formal request for a moratorium to allow civic engagement to proceed. I'm not surprised by this, as some are, since the timeline imperatives of One Newark are not widely known, and a request for abeyance would seem both logical and practical to those not fully knowledgeable of its details.

Additionally, while a moratorium may be late in its timing, the thinking is not new. Cautions regarding the pace of the introduction of the more delicate elements of "One Newark," such as the “transportation“ challenge, have been expressed by small groups and responsible individuals over the past year.

It is possible that the die has been cast too far down the table to delay implementation of One Newark in all apects. That's reality, and even this group, close as it may be to divine air support , would likely concede that some actions cannot be undone. The more important point is to begin productive dialogue on what remains to be done, to work together to improve what is underway, and to temper the divisive emotion in the community.

From a higher altitude, it would be difficult for me to reconcile on the one hand, electing not to engage at the advisory board meetings because of the lack of civility and then, on the other hand, when responsible parties with standing come together and ask for an opportunity to discuss the issues in a civil manner, to fail to engage that group as well. Let's face it, the Newark community (including the clergy) has been criticized for its passivity on critical issues. The clergy has taken an important, perhaps transformative, step forward here .

I believe that there may be a role here for a serious council of advisors. To be effective and to provide meaningful advice that alters behavior and perceptions, it will need to have the support of the administration and should include respected “elders" of the Newark community. As we know, there is an abundance of clear thinking, caring, and objective members of the community who would accept that responsibility. A good number of them are signatories to the letter.

History and personal experience have taught me that if it is to endure, fundamental change must come from within, within one's self, one's family, or society at large. Our children teach us this on a regular basis.

Change seldom endures when it is perceived to be imposed from the outside, and my concern is that, regardless of its merits, One Newark has that fatal flaw.

Prompted by what they are witnessing in the community the clergy seeks to reopen the door of civic engagement on educational reform in Newark. I believe that they, and others, can be valuable allies in necessary educational reform in Newark and that their advice and counsel deserves serious consideration.

Alfred Koeppe is the former president and chief operating officer of PSE&G and chief executive officer of NJ Bell. He recently retired as CEO of the Newark Alliance, a group of business, healthcare, higher education, and other institutions supporting public education in Newark since 1998.


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