With New Jersey in the news this year, the mayoral race in Newark has emerged as a crucial showdown between local citizens and Governor Chris Christie. A few months ago I shared news of four Newark principals, who spoke out about school closures at a rally organized by city councilman Ras Baraka. The four were promptly suspended by Newark’s school superintendent, who was appointed by Chris Christie. With the mayoral election a week away, I asked councilman Baraka to discuss how the outcome relates to education in the community he represents.
What is at stake for public education in Newark in the May 13 election?
The outcome of the May 13 election determines the future of public education in Newark. We will either continue in an era where: Schools are closed. Unproven strategies are used to “turnaround” schools. Principals are stripped of resources, like guidance counselors & social workers, that are essential to the needs of their students. Teachers do not receive the kind or quantity of professional development they need raise the level of instruction and accelerate student learning. The number of schools that don’t serve our special needs students or English Language Learners is increasing. Or, we will stop the ill-conceived and unproven One Newark Plan and get about the business of using best practices to create a school system where resources, professional development, enrichment programs, social emotional supports and community partnerships are organized to support the full development of every child’s potential. We will either continue down the road paved by Governor Christie, Chris Cerf, Cami Anderson and Shavar Jeffries, a road that is taking away our right to democratically govern our public schools by creating a dual school system of traditional public schools and public charter schools. Or, we will come together to demand local control is returned our parents and other tax-payers and use our collective power to ensure a school system that is governed by the principles of transparency, collective accountability, inclusiveness, and equity.
What has state control of public schools meant for the citizens and students of Newark?
The disruptive sweeping school reorganization announced by the State-appointed School Superintendent in December 2013 is a prime example of the consequences of not having local control of our public schools. Without local control, the State Appointed Superintendent is able to make decisions without a process that is inclusive of the residents, taxpayers and voters in our city, and can force irrational, ill-conceived “reforms” on our schools and children with impunity. State control has meant that our students are increasingly subject to educational and management decisions that do not improve the quality of the opportunities available to them. The “renew schools” created by State Superintendent Anderson have not improved learning outcomes for our children.
Newark needs a fully empowered Board of Education directly elected by resident voters to set policy development for quality instruction, effective management and community involvement.
State control is completely eroding democracy in our city, allowing the needs of our children and families to be determined by hedge funds, corporations, political bosses and special interest groups that seek to profit. The less political power we have the more they gain.
How has Chris Christie managed to so thoroughly disenfranchise the people of Newark?
Governor Christie is clear in his disdain and disregard for the citizens of Newark. He did say, “We run the school district in Newark, not them.” He has disenfranchised the people of Newark by installing leadership at every level that believes this as deeply as he does and goes to every end to exclude, marginalize, and eliminate anyone who does not. Chris Cerf refused to return Governance to the elected school board despite the fact that on the state evaluation we met requirements for getting local control of governance returned. State Superintendent Anderson has refused to have any real engagement with the community, creating her One Newark behind closed doors with highly paid consultants and ignoring any opposition to the feasibility or rationality of her plan. She has suspended clerical workers and principals who speak in opposition, banned a parent who opposes her from her child’s school, refused to attend school board meetings and listen to community concerns about One Newark, and vetoed the elected school board. Her plan is called One Newark because One person created it, her, and not because it is a unified vision of a collective and empowered citizenry.
Can you describe the coalition you have built for this election campaign?
The election campaign is built upon the real needs, experiences, diversity and hopes of the people who live in Newark. Our coalition is reflective of this. The campaign includes residents from all five of the city wards, clergy from the many faiths in Newark, unions, business leaders in the Latino community, educators, students, professionals, airport workers, school support staff, bus drivers. That is why my campaign slogan is, “When I become mayor, we become mayor.”
How do you see carrying the struggle forward following the election?
I will lead a full-scale state and federal campaign to return local control. This campaign will include grassroots mobilization, community education, and legal action. We will build neighborhood schools and neighborhood cohesion by unifying existing efforts to stop the dismantling of public education. Support legal action to force a moratorium on school closures, other unproven reforms and sale of public school buildings. Advocate with the elected School Board, community coalitions, and advocacy groups for full-funding of the School Funding Reform Act, implementation of the Amistad Legislation, and funding for repair and renovation of our existing public school buildings and construction of new school buildings. All of this will involve mobilize and coordinate educational resources in Newark to support the improvement of our public schools and connect families and children to cultural, academic and governmental services and institutions that foster family stability and improve educational outcomes.
How can people around the country lend support to your efforts?
Time and money are now of the essence. We need everyone who believes with us to contribute today whatever they can to our campaign. We need you to do this because this election matters not to just Newark, but to students, parents, teachers, and schools in every city and town across this country. When I win, we show the country that we demand our children’s interests come before profit and private interests. When I win, we all win for our children and our schools.
The show of support from across the country has been a reminder that people everywhere want something different. We are grateful to be able to stand in solidarity with everyone who believes that all of our children deserve to have the choice to receive the best education possible in their neighborhood school.
What do you think? Is it time to return local control of schools to communities like Newark?
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