Newark is shaping up to be the hottest flashpoint in the school reform debate so far in 2014, especially in the wake of community reaction to Superintendent Cami Anderson's plans to shut down or consolidate low-performing schools and expand the presence of charter schools in New Jersey's largest school system.
Controversy over Anderson's "One Newark" proposal has been roiling since she unveiled it late last year, with mounting criticism that the plan is an attack on community schools.
But at a local board meeting earlier this week, the superintendent faced her most pitched opposition yet from parents, students, union leaders, and community activitists, some of it turning quite personal, according to the New Jersey Spotlight and other local media accounts. One speaker referenced Anderson's biracial son and asked why the superintendent wouldn't want the same thing for "our brown babies" that she would want for her "own brown baby," which prompted Anderson to leave the meeting, according to New Jersey Spotlight.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten also made an appearance at the meeting, telling opponents of the One Newark plan that the national union would lend its support to their cause.
Since 1995, Newark has been under state control. Anderson was appointed state superintendent of the 40,000-student district in 2011 and won reappointment last year with the strong backing of Gov. Chris Christie. But nearly 20 years of state control has done little to improve outcomes for student acheivement in the beleaguered city.
Anderson has vowed to be the state superintendent to finally turn around the city's schools and has pledged that the One Newark plan is the vehicle for doing so. Five principals who have spoken publicly in opposition to the superintendent's plans have filed a federal lawsuit against Anderson, claiming that she suspended them as retribution and that their constitutional rights to free speech were violated.
This week's raucous meeting harkens back a decade when there was major community uproar over a move to replace then-superintendent Marion Bolden, a veteran educator and Newark native who was supported broadly in the community and by teachers. She won reappointment.