State Superintendent for Newark Schools Indefinitely Suspends Four Principals, Reportedly Over Publicly Opposing Her School Reform Plan; Newark Mayoral Candidate Says Superintendent Not a Military Dictator, Unlike a General or Police Chief
Plan opponents say is pro-charter school not welcomed by every charter either
Newark's school superintendent, Cami Anderson, a Chris Christie appointee because the school district has been run by the state since 1995, reportedly suspended five principals indefinitely. A local opinion journalist says the principals were suspended for comments they made at a community meeting opposing Anderson's reform plans, which include closing or repurposing up to a third of the district's schools.
The local report was picked up by the Education Week's blog, which made sure to frame the story, as opponents of Anderson's reform proposals have, as an extension of Christie's "bullying" tactics. In this narrative, Anderson suspended the principals not because they were subordinates who openly challenged a proposal by their school district's chief, but because Chris Christie is a bully and so is Cami Anderson.
Comments by one of the principals, transcribed by Ed Week, that they are not allowed to speak to the press, however, suggest the suspension could be related to that, given that the principals spoke at a public forum. That forum was organized by Ras Baraka, a city councilman who also happens to be a fellow principal, on leave because he is running for mayor in this year's election. Baraka, who unsuccessfully fought the attempt to be put on leave even though the idea that you can run a school and a mayoral campaign in a major city seems untenable on its face, has been a vocal opponent of the plan. Baraka's comments about the suspension, meanwhile, suggest he believes some government employees can act like "military" dictators, just not Anderson (or, presumably, Christie). His statement, via Bob Broun's Ledger:
Ms. Anderson's action in suspending the four principals is the last straw in a chain of inept, and horribly out-of-touch decisions. The people of Newark need to hear the views of those within the school system who disagree with Ms. Anderson. The four principals have a constitutional right to speak out. The Newark school district is not a military dictatorship, and Ms. Anderson is neither an army general nor a police chief. Her behavior must be governed by the principles of our democracy.
Whether Baraka believes a police chief can act like a military dictator isn't hard to divine; two years ago the councilman proposed requiring food service establishments open late to hire armed security guards, while almost every candidate for mayor has come out in favor of more police and more aggressive policing in Newark.
As to Anderson's reforms, they revolve around closing some public schools, and replacing others with charter schools, which have exploded in popularity in Newark over the last decade or so. While opponents of Anderson's plans claim they don't represent the community, the high level of enrollment and demand for charter schools by Newark parents belies that claim. The plan, too, is not immune from criticism by supporters of charter schools. One component, which would subsume local public and charter schools' application processes under one unified district-wide application process, has been rejected by a a number of local charter schools who wish to preserve their ability to select their populations, as the city's magnet schools (of which, disclosure, I'm a graduate) also do.
Opponents to Anderson's plan, however, have not appeared to provide many alternatives of their own. Despite calls for more "resources" at school, the FY2013 budget for the school district (whose enrollment is about 30,000) was north of $1 billion. High school graduation rates are under 70 percent, while the the number of murders in Newark hit a 24 year high last year. Insofar as opposition to Anderson's plan translates to support for the status quo, it's not likely to gain much momentum, the attempt to fit it into the "bullying" narrative emerging around Chris Christie notwithstanding.