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Newark Schools Superintendent Signs New 3-Year Contract

UPDATED

Cami Anderson, the Newark Public Schools superintendent, who has been under siege recently for her school reform plans, signed a new three-year contract to continue running the district, the New Jersey Department of Education said June 27.

But the contract includes an out-clause for both the state and Anderson: The two must agree to an extension each year.  For example, the New Jersey education commissioner must inform Anderson by March 1, 2015 whether she would stay on for the following year; and if she does not accept by March 15, then the contract expires June 30.

Under the renewal— signed on June 25 but released late Friday— Anderson will be paid a base salary of $251,500 for the period beginning July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. That  amount will increase by 1.6 percent for every year covered in the contract to reflect the cost of living. She is also eligible to receive up to 20 percent of her base salary in merit pay for reaching certain benchmarks.

"School reform is a complex, multi-year change process that requires many phases of implementation," Acting Commissioner David Hespe said in a statement announcing the news. "As the district moves through implementation, it is important to frequently assess where the district is and what leadership is necessary to continue moving the district forward. Cami's knowledge, talent, and determination will help move our school reform efforts forward."

The  media release also highlighted areas of progress since Anderson was appointed in 2011 to run the state-controlled school district. 

Among the noted examples:

  • An increase in graduation rates by 10 percent from 2011 to 2014,  and an increase in high school proficiency  assessment rates by 8 percent.
  •  A new teachers' contract that included, among other things, merit pay for teachers.
  • The hiring 50 principals who are given the autonomy to transform their schools.
  • The opening of 10 Renew schools that replaced the 12 lowest-performing schools, and the opening of five new district schools.

In recent interviews Anderson repeatedly stressed her commitment to staying in Newark.

On Friday, she said, through a spokeswoman, that she was honored for the opportunity to continue.

"When I became superintendent three years ago, I made a commitment to the students and families of Newark to create a district with quality educational options for all students and ensure the fiscal stability of Newark Public Schools for years to come," she said. "I am honored to reaffirm my commitment to Newark students and families and to work in collaboration with all stakeholders to make NPS the epitome of excellence, equity, and efficiency."

Anderson's renewal is not likely to please all stakeholders.

Since the One Newark Plan was released last December, it has sparked protests from parents, politicians, and students.  The incoming mayor Ras Baraka, who will be sworn in on Tuesday, has vehemently objected to the plan and Anderson's tenure. The union has also panned the One Newark proposal and district plans to lay off hundreds of teachers.  Members of the Newark Students Union have also protested, camping out overnight in a district building. And in April, 77 clergy members signed a letter, calling for a moratorium on the plan because of the tensions it has caused in the community.

The One Newark plan will relocate, merge, or restructure some schools, and allow charter schools to operate in existing public school buildings. The plan has been criticized for being pro-charter, but Anderson has said that it will strengthen the traditional public schools, putting good schools in every neighborhood.

Anderson has been moving forward with the plan, but has revised it in recent months. Some of the revisions have heartened parents. 

Last week, both Newark Teachers' Union President Joseph Del Grosso and Ronald Rice, Chairman of the New Jersey Joint Committee on the Public Schools, told Education Week they thought Anderson had to leave because she had lost the confidence of all of the major stakeholders in the city.

"There is nothing more she can do," Del Grosso said. "She has lost the confidence of every single person in Newark."

UPDATE (9:23 p.m.): In a statement released on Friday night, Del Grosso said news of the renewal was disappointing, but not surprising.   

"She has been unwilling to listen to Newark's community, yet Governor Christie has had her back, saying that 'we run the school district in Newark, not them,'" he said.  

 "Her contract renewal may signal a doubling down on her efforts to mass close, mass fire and mass privatize. But let me be clear:  It will also signal a doubling down on union and community activism to stop her disastrous One Newark plan. We won't stop until we have reclaimed the promise of public education for every child."]

Perhaps in response to the low public confidence, the Department of Education also announced Friday the formation of a working group to discuss the progress and implementation of reforms in the city, particularly the One Newark plan.

The group— consisting of Hespe, Secretary of Higher Education Rochelle Hendricks, and Anderson—will convene immediately, with the first meeting expected to take place next month. It will engage parents, students, educators, higher education representatives, the clergy and other community stakeholders, Hespe said in the statement. 

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