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2- 4 and 5 -2012 Newark Superintendent's Recommendation to reorganize schools hits controversy right out the gates
Star Ledger - Conversation with Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson

Star Ledger - Unruly crowd forces Newark superintendent to end presentation on school closings early

Star Ledger - Conversation with Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson

Published: Sunday, February 05, 2012, 8:53 AM

By Star-Ledger StaffThe Star-Ledger

She is burdened by tenure rules that make it nearly impossible to get rid of bad teachers. Her students are overwhelmingly poor, the dropout rate is horrifying and the local politics are toxic.

But Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson is fired up. Last week, she proposed a dramatic reform plan to shake up both district and charter schools. She discussed the plan with Editorial Page Editor Tom Moran. An edited transcript appears here.

Q. One of the concerns reflected in this plan is that charter schools and magnet schools in Newark are not taking their fair share of low-performing students. What problems does that cause?

A. If you have schools that are filled exclusively with students who are struggling, it’s difficult to be successful. A diverse population helps everyone achieve at a higher level.

Q. How will you convince charters to take more low-performing students?

A. Many of the charters want to do that. And because we haven’t collaborated with them in the past, they have had to work with the parents who are most motivated. But many of them are excited now about widening their tents.

Q. Let’s talk about magnet schools: You’ve proposed that three magnet high schools in the city establish new middle schools that would be open to all, not just top performers. What’s the aim?

5 Reforms for Newark: Key proposals by Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson.

Open up the magnets: Three magnet high schools will establish middle schools open to all students, not just top performers. The hope is graduates will move on to magnet high schools.

Open up the charters: Insist that charter schools take in more low-performing students and abide by the same enrollment and expulsion rules as district schools.

Single-sex schools: Establish two single-sex middle schools with vigorous mentoring programs, a model that’s worked well elsewhere.

Consolidate: Close K-8 schools that have multiple empty classrooms and consolidate into new schools. As in other schools, give principals the right to pick their own staffs.

Better measures of success: Instead of measuring just achievement, all schools will measure yearly progress and retention. That applies to conventional schools, charters and magnets.

A. We want more Newark students to learn what they need to learn to handle the content magnets offer in ninth grade. And we want to include students who have previously been unable to get into the magnets, given the rigorous entrance requirements.

Q. Under current law, when you are faced with declining enrollment and want to reduce teaching staff, you must release the least senior teachers first. Why is that a problem?

A. You’re not able to base that decision on performance. You can’t keep the person based on who is the best fit for the school, and the best results for kids. You have to keep the teachers who are not the best fit.

Q. You’ve given principals the power to reject any teachers they don’t want. So what happens when poorly performing teachers can’t find a home?

A. Under current law, we have to keep that person on the payroll forever if they have tenure. Even if no principal wants them, even if enrollment is declining and there is no position for them, we have to keep them on the payroll.

Q. How much does that cost?

A. Right now, about $8.5 million a year for about 100 teachers in an excess teacher pool.

Q. So if the tenure rules were changed, you could lay off those poor performers and save $8.5 million?

A. Correct.

Q. As it stands, when students switch to charter schools, you can’t reduce staff in response — unless you want to get rid of talented young teachers, correct?

A. Correct, but they’re not all young. Some of the untenured teachers are midcareer.

Q. So on the whole, do charter schools create a financial burden for the district?

A. When students leave the Newark Public Schools, whether for charters, private schools or the suburbs, the money affiliated with that student goes with them. The challenge is that we have a certain amount of fixed costs, not just the facilities, but the people, because of the tenure rules we discussed.

Q. How do you know which schools are most effective? Do you have good measures in place?

A. There are good models nationally and we’re in the process of bringing them to Newark. We have looked at overall proficiency for a while, but you also need to measure growth. And you need to look at retention, not just the percent graduating but the percent retained year to year, and the percent graduating with rigorous content.

Q. You’ve also proposed establishing two single-sex middle schools, one for boys and one for girls. Why?

A. In my past life, I was superintendent of alternative high schools and learned a lot about why kids drop out. Between 14 and 17, we lose upward of 30 or 40 percent, in particular, boys of color but also girls of color who are struggling in schools. When they hit adolescence, that’s when they leave school and don’t come back. So in single-sex schools, with mentoring and social supports, alongside rigorous academics, you can reverse those trends.

Q. And you want to close several half-empty schools and consolidate them. Why is that?

A. It will allow us to put more resources into new schools, the places where we are consolidating. We can give them a new sense of mission, a new principal and the opportunity to pick the best staff.

Q. And in these schools, principals will have the power to pick their own teaching staff, right?

A. Yes. The consolidation is about economic efficiency, but it’s also about achieving excellence. We have to do both.

Q. So again, if a teacher can’t find a home after the consolidations, that teacher will go into the excess pool, increasing the cost of that program?

A. That’s right.

Q. What will it take to get this done?

A. We have to do a good job communicating with families. Even when schools are not producing great results, people have emotional connections to the schools. So we have to honor those concerns and help them feel they are part of the solution.

Q. What reaction do you expect from Newarkers?

A. A lot of people are ready for an opportunity to do things better. Whenever you close a school, there is a sense of loss. But I think there will be a fair amount of excitement, too

 

 

Star Ledger - Unruly crowd forces Newark superintendent to end presentation on school closings early

Published: Friday, February 03, 2012, 8:30 PM Updated: Friday, February 03, 2012, 9:14 PM

By Star-Ledger StaffThe Star-Ledger

NEWARK — Newark school Superintendent Cami Anderson was forced to end her speech about school reform after she was shouted down by a rancorous crowd of 1,000 people early this evening.

Anderson attempted to bring her blueprint for school reform to parents and community leaders at Rutgers-Newark’s Paul Robseson Center, but she left the stage when the crowd noise became too loud to speak over.

“I look forward to smaller meetings. I look forward to your input. I look forward to coming together on behalf of our kids,” Anderson said as she exited he stage before finishing her presentation.

Anderson’s move further enraged some in the volatile crowd and left others in disbelief. Some community members angry over the proposal to close some failing schools began clapping and chanting “Not our schools!”

“It’s so unfortunate that people couldn’t hear her presentation. They didn’t even give her a chance,” said Eliana Pintor Marin, president of the city’s school advisory board. “I didn’t expect it would get this bad so soon. It looks like we will have a tough road ahead.”

RELATED COVERAGE:


Newark superintendent to address public on school closures, accountability for charters

Newark superintendent to announce closing of 7 failing schools, new charter school rules

Pintor Marin said Anderson informed the board Thursday of her plans to close some failing and underenrolled schools, open new middle schools, expand access to magnet schools and encourage greater charter school accountability.

“Schools with winning ingredients are not necessarily available to everyone,” Anderson said. “Magents require high levels of rigor that some students arene’t prepared for. Charters have long waiting lists and require submitting an application that some families can’t navigate … We have some great schools, but not enough.”

The schools set to close at the end of this school year include: Dayton St., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 18th Avenue, Miller Street and Burnett Street elementary schools and the ninth grade academies affiliated with Barringer and West Side high schools.

It’s unclear where students currently enrolled in these schools will enroll next year. Anderson began discussing this detail when she ended her presentation.

Teachers and administrators who work at the affected schools will be considered for positions elsewhere in the district, but could ultimately be laid off or demoted, Anderson said in an interview Thursday.

Parent Lakeisha Jones said she left work early to attend the meeting because her son, a third grader attends Miller Street school, one of the schools scheduled for closure and said she “couldn’t believe” Anderson walked away.

“I’m a parent of a child affected by these decisions and I don’t have a full understanding of what will take place,” Jones said. “I’m not sure what will happen to my son. I’m going to have to move out of Newark.”

By Jessica Calefati and David Giambusso/The Star-Ledger

 


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