Newark schools superintendent Cami Anderson and New Jersey state education commissioner David Hespe were questioned aggressively by the joint committee on public schools regarding the issues of policy and personality in Trenton.
After 4 hours of grilling, Anderson about the district’s controversial reform plan, lawmakers stated that a lot of work will be needed to repair the fractured relationship between the legislature and the district.
After the meeting ended, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey explained why the meeting was so intense.
“It was long overdue and that was reflected in the frustration and the emotion and the passion of the legislators. What you heard today was a lot of pent up interest, anger (and) frustration. We need to know what is going on.”
The lawmakers heavily criticized the One Newark plan implemented by Anderson in September. The plan includes relocating school communities, altering school leadership, and also expanding charter schools.
The plan initiated an enrollment system across the city which required parents to enter a lottery. Their kids could be placed in their desired schools if they won the lottery. Donna Jackson, a Newark community activist, accused Anderson of lying and stormed out of the meeting.
Assemblyman Ralph Caputo pushed Anderson to share why so many parents were angry about the school they were assigned. He also asked her to discuss the direction of the district if the district’s school system is improving. Anderson responded that even those who used to be frustrated thank her now.
Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin stated that the reforms were really hurting families who could not afford the transportation cost of sending their kids to a school far from home. She mentioned that there are even parents who stopped sending their children to school.
Anderson reasoned that there are only a few quality schools in Newark and that some families have always been dissatisfied. She said that people often misinterpret that universal enrollment led to this problem.
On a positive note, Senator Samuel Thompson told Anderson that improving Newark’s school district was a tall order. He praised her for taking such bold steps to get the district on the right path. However, he too criticized Anderson for not involving enough with local leaders and community residents.
Assemblyman Sheila Oliver also mentioned that Anderson should have mingled more with others before taking any decisions.
“Never in my entire life experience has a leader of a publicly-funded institution adopted an attitude that they do not have to engage with the people that they serve. You make the assumption that you are the sharpest tool in the shed.”
According to Anderson, the meeting with the state legislators provided her a great opportunity to discuss some serious issues facing Newark.