Payne, Jr. Requests Answers from Superintendent Cami Anderson on One Newark Plan

Apr 28, 2015 Issues: Education, Local Issues

Newark, N.J. – Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10) sent a letter to the Superintendent of Newark Public Schools, Cami Anderson, expressing his concerns with the One Newark Plan and requesting answers to a number of questions about the plan.

In the letter, Congressman Payne, Jr. notes that significant efforts to strengthen the district’s traditional public schools are noticeably absent from the plan. He also insists that any effort to strengthen outcomes for all students in Newark must include strengthening traditional public schools.

Concerns about One Newark prompted Congressman Payne, Jr. to send Superintendent Anderson a letter over one year ago, on February 27, 2014, requesting answers to a number of questions, so that he might better understand the impact of One Newark on his constituents. The Congressman never received a response to that letter.

The full text of Congressman Payne, Jr.’s most recent letter can be found below. Click here to read Superintendent Anderson’s response.

 

April 24, 2015

Ms. Cami Anderson

State District Superintendent 

Newark Public Schools 

2 Cedar Street, Room 805 

Newark, NJ 07102

 

Dear Superintendent Anderson:

I write today to express my concerns with the One Newark Plan for improving Newark Public Schools, and to request prompt responses to unanswered questions about the plan.

The vision of One Newark to ensure that all students in Newark are in excellent schools and are on the path to success is an admirable one. However, I remain deeply concerned that One Newark lacks the ability to realize this vision for all students in the Newark Public School system.

As I have said before, my greatest concern is that this plan seems only to grow charter schools; significant efforts to strengthen the district’s traditional public schools are noticeably absent. While we should not discount the work that high performing charter schools in Newark do to educate select students, any effort to strengthen outcomes for all students must include bolstering traditional public schools, which a majority of students still attend.

To justify the charter launches, One Newark highlights the decline in enrollment of district schools. Further, it discusses the number of low quality district schools and the percentage of families who apply to charter schools. This reasoning is critically flawed. As One Newark mentions, “it is undeniable that families want excellent schools for all of their kids – regardless of school type.” The situation is not a call to grow charter schools; it is a call to strengthen all of the schools in Newark.

This and other concerns prompted me to send you a letter over one year ago, on February 27, 2014, requesting answers to a number of questions, so that I may better understand the impact One Newark will have on my constituents. I still have not received a response to this letter.

In the time since I sent the letter, we have seen increased community backlash over One Newark. This includes widespread criticism that requests to meet and engage with your administration in productive dialogue have been repeatedly ignored, and that there is a lack of accountability and transparency with regard to the plan.

I heard this firsthand when I facilitated a meeting between senior officials from the U.S. Department of Education and Newark community leaders and students, who have been met with neglect and disrespect from your administration.

I am deeply concerned about the state of education in Newark and its children, who are seeing their educational opportunities eroded under the guise of school reform. This is particularly true of students with disabilities.

In light of these growing concerns, I again pose the following questions:

• As you know, charter schools were created to serve as incubators for traditional public schools, not to outright replace them. The unprecedented relationship you have built with the charter school operators in Newark offers a great opportunity to collaborate and replicate their success in traditional public schools. What efforts are you making to collaborate with high performing charter schools to replicate their success in the district’s traditional public schools? Are any efforts underway to provide the district’s traditional public schools with similar freedoms and the flexibility to innovate as seen in charter schools? 

• The One Newark plan praises the work that charter schools have done, noting that charter students in Newark gain an additional seven-and-a-half months of learning in reading and nine months in math compared to their Newark Public Schools peers. And, in describing the equity component of the One Newark plan, it is written that students with the greatest challenges will be served with excellent schools first, not last. To this end, what efforts will take place to ensure that the high needs students in Newark Public Schools will be served by the highly acclaimed charter schools, first? 

• Again, One Newark identifies equity as a major tenant of its vision. Yet, through this plan, children in some neighborhood schools will be kicked out of their school with only the chance of a lottery win to gain acceptance into the high performing charter school that will take over their current school. If not accepted, the students are at risk of being redirected to a school with outcomes similar to the school they are being removed from, with the added inconvenience of a more distant – in some cases dangerous – commute. Why are students not guaranteed admission to the charter school replacing their local school in cases where the charter school is the student’s top choice? Additionally, what arrangements will be made to ensure the safe and affordable transportation of students who are forced to travel across town to school due to the closing of their local school? 

• The growth of charter schools will only continue the trend of low enrollment in Newark Public Schools. What efforts will take place to strengthen the traditional district public schools so that these schools will be among the choice of excellent schools for families in Newark? A longer school day is one change noted within the plan for “renew” schools to strengthen academic achievement. If the current school day has failed students, what changes will a longer day bring? What innovative, new practices will be implemented?

Your failure to respond and to engage in a meaningful dialogue on behalf of all Newark students is very disappointing to my constituents and me. It is my hope that you will take these concerns seriously and provide a detailed and thorough response to my inquiry. 

There is a crisis situation going on in Newark, and our community deserves clear and timely answers to any and all questions about the One Newark Plan.  I look forward to reviewing your responses and continuing to look for ways in which we can work together on behalf of all students in the Newark Public School system.

Sincerely,

Donald M. Payne, Jr.

Member of Congress

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