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9-10-14 Education in the News - Camden Schools; Newark Protest in Afternoon Today

Courier Post -Christie touts revitalization of Camden schools in Renaissance program

Phil Dunn, Courier-Post 12:29 a.m. EDT September 10, 2014

It's not often Camden is described as a model for cities, but Gov. Chris Christie did just that Tuesday.

"Unlike other places in our state, this is one that has truly come together," Christie said after visiting with students from the Octavius V. Catto Community School.

"Because in this city, the interests of the children have been placed first."

Christie spoke with students while they ate lunch and even walked through the line to see what was on the menu himself. He also took time to step into a classroom to answer questions from a few first-graders.

Students quizzed the governor on what his favorite color was and his favorite sport. They asked him about where he went to school as a child, his family and how he became governor.

"I want to acknowledge the hard work that has gone on here over the last year," Christie said of his visit.

"There is a cooperative spirit in this school district."

This fall, the Camden School District enters its second year under state control, and a lot has changed.

Three new Renaissance schools opened this fall, and two of the city's high schools were upgraded with state-of-the-art security equipment.

The district also purchased about 2,000 new laptop computers for students and teachers districtwide. All students in Camden will receive free breakfast and lunch this school year as well.

Star Ledger - 150 activists block city intersection to protest One Newark

Jessica Mazzola | NJ Advance Media for NJ.comBy Jessica Mazzola and Naomi Nix | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com The Star-Ledger
on September 10, 2014 at 10:36 AM, updated September 10, 2014 at 3:55 PM


NEWARK — About 150 activists blocked a busy Newark intersection this morning in the second straight day of protesting against Newark Public Schools' controversial school overhaul plan.

The protesters, including students, parents and community activists, camped out at the intersection of Raymond Boulevard and Broad Street, prompting city police to divert south bound traffic on Broad Street.

Today's protest, which drew activists from as far away as Philadelphia and New York City, followed a demonstration against of Newark Public Schools with about 200 students on Tuesday at Military Park.

The activists re-issued their demands today, including halting One Newark, a district reorganization plan that involves expanding charter schools, relocating students and staff, and changing leadership in existing schools.

"Our voices have been ignored time and time again," said Anthony Carey, 18, who recently graduated from East High School.

A handful of students interlocked their arms in plastic tubes with "we have nothing to lose but our chains" written on them.

Others chanted "no justice no peace" and "the students united will never be divided."

A spokeswoman for the district said school officials have met with the activist group in the past, and would be open to meeting with them again in the future. But, that the district is concerned about the students who are missing school days to take part in the protests.

"Time on task is extremely critical to the success of students," a district representative said.

"The District is supportive of students expressing their views and concerns, however we are encouraging them to return immediately to school and hope that members of the community will join us in this call."

On top of halting the One Newark plan, the activists asked for the the resignation of Superintendent Cami Anderson, a town hall with Gov. Chris Christie in Newark and for a locally elected governing body to run the school system.

Justice Scaglione, 14, said though he got his first choice high school, Science Park High School under One Newark, he thinks the plan unfairly favors charter schools over traditional neighborhood schools.

The school district has operated under state governance since 1993.

"We just think with her leaving it can go back to the way it was," Scaglione said, referring to Anderson.

Tanya Toloza,16, said three of her siblings used to go Ann Street elementary school now have to go to Hawkins Street school under One Newark because of a mix-up with the school district.

"So we have to walk 10 blocks," she said.

The One Newark has faced intense criticism from Newark community groups since it was first announced in December. Yesterday, after a group of students protested at Military Park.

Paul Karr, the communications director for NJ Communities United, which helped organize the protests along with the Newark Students Union, said their efforts have attracted widespread attention.

“We are connected to a broader national movement protecting public education,” he said. “Here in Newark, we feel obligated to make our voices heard.”

The activists said this morning they plan to stay at the until "as long as it takes." But by mid-day the crowd had started to dwindle.

The Newark Police Department has not answered questions on any potential response to the protests, but district officials said they are working with police.

Newark Student Union president Kristin Towkaniuk advised her fellow student activists this morning to not resist arrest if it comes to that.

"Stay confident," she said into a blow horn. "Don't be intimidated."


"I want for the children of Camden to have the same opportunities in life I was afforded," said schools Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard.

"I was an immigrant growing up in the deep South and my parents had a hard time supporting my older brother and I because of the language and cultural divide, but school changed our lives — so that is the perspective I bring to Camden."

Rouhanifard admits the district has had its fair share of challenges, but he believes it has made progress.

"And going forward that commitment remains the same," he said.

However, critics of school reform in Camden have said not all changes are for the better, especially the opening of Renaissance schools. Naysayers contend it spells the end of the traditional public school district.

"At this rate, parents will run to charters," said parent and city activist Mo'neke Ragsdale, who recently filed a lawsuit to block the opening of Renaissance schools.

Christie disagreed.

"I expect we are going to have more kids in Camden as the city revitalizes," the governor said.

"More jobs are brought here, housing is being built here. As we do that, we are going to have more and more people wanting to live in Camden."

He added they want to create a public school system that serves the children.

"Let the parents decide what is best for their children. I trust the parents of Camden to make those judgments for themselves and what we are doing is offering them more options," Christie said.

"We should be doing this across the state."

Reach Phil Dunn at (856) 486-2456 or pdunn@courierpostonline.com. Follow him on Twitter @philmdunn.


NJ Spotlight - On Visit to Camden Schools, Christie Takes Jabs at Protesters in Newark

John Mooney | September 10, 2014

Governor says ‘the interests of the children have really been placed first’ during debate in Newark over reforms

Four years ago this month, Newark was the centerpiece of Gov. Chris Christie’s education agenda, as he stood alongside folks like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and then-Mayor Cory Booker to trumpet his reforms.

Flash forward, and Christie has unofficially moved his reform campaign almost 100 miles south down the New Jersey Turnpike, where the friendlier city of Camden has now become the centerpiece of his education plans, displaying less of the rancor while facing challenges similar those faced by its northern cousin.

The feel-good sentiment was on display yesterday, as Christie made another visit to Camden’s schools, which his administration took over in 2013 as the backdrop for the new school year.

“I'm pleased and proud to welcome our governor back to his second home, which is the city of Camden,” declared Mayor Dana Redd in hosting the governor’s visit yesterday.

Christie returned the favor, calling Camden potentially a national model of education reform -- no small thing for a guy many expect to run for the White House.

“What I tell people all the time when I talk about Camden is that unlike other places in our state, this is a place that has truly come together to welcome partnership, to welcome change that we all knew was necessary because in this city, the interests of the children have really been placed first,” he said.

“And I hope you all appreciate what you have, because it's not present everywhere in New Jersey and it's certainly not present everywhere across the country.”

Call it coincidence or good timing, but the scene for Christie’s visit at Camden’s Octavius Catto Community School stood in stark contrast to that in Newark, where the opening of schools last week drew new rounds of protest yesterday.

This time, the protests were reportedly joined by close to 200 Newark high school students who said they were boycotting the opening to call for the resignation of state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson.

Much of the discord has been over Anderson’s reorganization of the district under the “One Newark” plan that includes a universal enrollment system that moves students across the city to both district and charter schools.

From Camden, Christie mostly discounted the Newark dissension as the product of a few. That comment came with a not-so-subtle swipe at Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, who has been among the most openly critical and who was among the protesters yesterday.

“We're a democratic society, and I don't ever bemoan someone for going out and protesting if that's what they want to do,” Christie said.

“That's fine, but what we've had in some other places, in Newark in particular, are people who are trying to undercut the success of the very schools they're sending their children to, with boycotts and other things and politicians who are just trying to make a name for themselves off of that.”

Christie didn’t stop there, saying it spoke to the challenges of reforms in urban schools in general.

“It's really emblematic of the problem that we have in a lot of our urban areas with public education, which is the interests of adults are being put ahead of the interests of children,” he said.

“We need to grow up and understand that as adults those children are counting on us to put aside our differences and to act like adults and to get the job done. They're doing that here in Camden.”

Still, not all was friendly for the governor in Camden, either, as a fledgling community group has filed a legal challenge against some of the reforms, and various parents are starting to speak out against what they call the mismanagement of the district under the state’s new watch.

The latest complaint has been the teacher vacancies at the start of the school year that some parents have claimed is only worsened by the layoffs of more than 200 teachers and other staff last spring.

State-appointed Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard said yesterday that he met with a group of parents and assured them that vacancies would be filled.

He said that such vacancies are not unusual in any district, especially since teachers file their resignations at the end of summer. His staff said that 95 percent of classes were now filled by permanent and certified teachers, leaving about 50 vacancies at last count.

“It is not uncommon for schools to have vacancies,” Rouhanifard said yesterday. “This is not a new phenomenon. They are alleging it is driven by layoffs, but these are driven by late notifications and retirements over the summer.”

Nonetheless, one parent took to her own media campaign yesterday, standing outside the Catto School and distributing her complaints in leaflets to any press members who would listen.

Carmen Crespo, the mother of three children in the district, said that she was not among those who met with Rouhanifard, and she was still awaiting resolution to the situation in which her kids had already seen three substitutes in the first week of school.

Crespo, also a plaintiff in a case against the Christie administration over its approval of new charter schools in Camden, said she was told new hires are now under way. “But why didn’t we resolve this before schools started?” she said last night. ”We’re now in the second week of the school year.”


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