Embattled Newark Superintendent to Step Down

By Denisa R. Superville — June 22, 2015 4 min read
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Newark, N.J., Superintendent of Schools Cami Anderson will leave her post by July 8, the New Jersey Department of Education announced Monday.

The announcement does not give a reason for the departure, but said that Anderson was “stepping down” from her post.

Anderson, who has had a rocky tenure since her appointment to the state-run district in May 2011, came under fire again just this month from the local advisory school board, which sent a petition to the state Board of Education asking for her immediate removal, and from the American Federation of Teachers, which sent a letter supporting the board. Various constituencies, including the local teachers’ union, Mayor Ras Baraka, Essex County politicians, parents and an activist student group, have called for her ouster over the years. Their most recent cause is the rollout of the One Newark plan, though their reasons for wanting her to go have included poor communication with the community and financial management.

“Superintendent Anderson has worked tirelessly over the last four years to implement a bold educational vision for the students and parents of Newark,” Education Commissioner David Hespe said in the statement. “Under Cami’s leadership, the Newark school district signed a landmark teacher’s contract, implemented One Newark, and increased flexibility and support in virtually every school in Newark. We know that these positive educational reforms will continue to benefit the students and parents of Newark for years to come.”

In the statement, the DOE said that both Gov. Chris Christie and Mayor Baraka will issue a more detailed plan on the school district’s future in the coming days.

A member of the Newark Teachers Union, which has been among Anderson’s critics in the last few years after collaborating on what was considered a ground-breaking labor contract, did not mince words.

“Good riddance,” said a statement from John M. Abeigon, the union’s director of organization. “The damage she has done to children, parents and dedicated employees in this city is quantifiable and must now be reversed. We will work with whoever is in charge towards that end. She must not be allowed to get away with it. We hope that federal and state Departments of Education and law enforcement agencies will proceed with their due diligence and if wrong doing is proved that she be held accountable.”

Anderson will be replaced by Chris Cerf, a former deputy chancellor in New York City in Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s Education Department. Cerf also served as New Jersey’s state education commissioner from 2011 to 2014.

It’s unclear how the news of the replacement will be greeted by those who have long called for Anderson’s ouster and who opposed many of her reform efforts in Newark.

Cerf was a member of Chiefs for Change, an education reform group founded by current Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Cerf left the state job last year to take a position with Amplify, which creates digital products for public schools.

(Anderson was appointed to her current position in Newark during Cerf’s tenure as New Jersey’s education commissioner, and she worked in the New York City school system while Cerf served as deputy chancellor in that school system.)

The news on Anderson comes after the state in February renewed her contract for one year. The DOE accompanied news of the contract extension with a glowing review of Anderson’s tenure.

“Cami has worked tirelessly to implement positive education reforms that have benefited Newark students and parents,” Hespe said at the time. “We look forward to continuing to support the progress that has taken place in the district.”

Anderson has always maintained that she was committed to the children of Newark and to improving the city’s schools. She had acknowledged some of the criticisms of the One Newark plan, but in an interview with Education Week last year said that some of it was rooted in politics.

In a statement announcing her departure, Anderson said she was “extremely proud” of the work she and her team had accomplished during her four years at the helm of the district and thanked them for their efforts. She also listed some of her accomplishments: an increase in graduation rates from 56% percent to 70% percent; a merit-based teacher compensation program; the implementation of a restorative justice program that cut suspensions by 37% percent; and an increase in school choice.

“Now, after twenty-one years in state control, Newark Public Schools are finally in a stable condition and can begin the return to local leadership,” Anderson’s statement said. “This is in large part due to aggressive initiatives and infrastructure improvements that have been implemented during the last four years. With so much of the necessary—but sometimes controversial and difficult—change behind it, the Newark Public Schools will be well served by new leadership that can build on this foundation. Having taken on the challenge of forging a new path, I am confident that others will be able to move the Newark Public Schools forward and reach new heights.

I am a lifelong educator and will always stand up for justice for young people. I look forward to continuing to serve students and communities. I hope my work in Newark will serve as an important roadmap for school districts across the country that are working to provide excellent schools for all students.”

Image 1: Cami Anderson addresses the media in a 2011 news conference in Newark, N.J. /Julio Cortez/AP-File

Image 2: Then New Jersey’s acting Education Commissioner, Christopher Cerf addresses the media in a 2011 news conference in Cherry Hill, N.J. /Mel Evans/AP-File

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.