Newark Clergy Members Demand Halt To Potentially 'Catastrophic' Schools Plan

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talks during a town hall meeting at Winston Churchill Elementary School, Wednesday, April 9, 2
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talks during a town hall meeting at Winston Churchill Elementary School, Wednesday, April 9, 2014, in Fairfield, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

The hits just keep on coming for Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson and her plan to reorganize the district's public schools.

On Friday, a coalition of 77 clergy members from Newark issued a statement calling upon Anderson, acting New Jersey Commissioner of Education David Hespe and Governor Chris Christie to place a moratorium on the district’s One Newark plan. The clergy members said the plan is already “producing irreversible changes and fomenting widespread outrage” and has “caused unnecessary instability in the Newark public school system, as well as the lives of thousands of its families.”

"The disruptive and divisive nature of the One Newark Public School Plan could have catastrophic and far reaching consequences for the children of Newark, the reputation of the State of New Jersey, and have implications for urban education nationally," said the letter.

The statement comes after months of controversy surrounding One Newark, which was first proposed by Anderson (who is a Chris Christie appointee) in December. As the implementation process began, community members criticized the plan, saying it was developed in a vacuum and would expand the influence of charter schools. The city's public schools officials have countered by saying that they solicited and continue to solicit input from local families and stakeholders, and that families have been quick to participate in the plan’s expanded school choice options.

The clergy statement does not explicitly take a stance on charter schools, although it says the "primary responsibility of the Newark School Superintendent should be to ensure excellent educational opportunities in the traditional Newark public school system.”

The letter also paints a picture of a school district in which the will of the people has been actively ignored. Indeed, the state has run the Newark School District since 1995, and the democratically elected school board acts only in an advisory capacity.

Since Chris Christie named Anderson to her post in 2011, her reforms have triggered protests and a vote of no confidence from the local school board. However, in 2013, the governor said he was going to renew her contract anyway. "We run the school district in Newark, not them [the community],” Christie reasoned at the time.

In response to the clergy members' statement, Newark Public Schools Executive Director of Community Affairs and Engagement Ruben Roberts issued a response, saying that One Newark would continue moving forward.

From Roberts' response:

While we respect and appreciate hearing the opinions of our community leaders, we do not believe a moratorium is in the best interest of the kids and families we serve. As many of the clergy know well given their participation in conversations and feedback sessions surrounding the creation of the One Newark plan, much of what they now recommend has in fact already been done.

However, various education groups and politicians expressed support for the clergy members' statement over the weekend.

“Throughout Newark's history, Newark's Clergy has always been at the forefront of issues affecting the well being of Newark's families. This is yet another example of the Clergy's commitment to the Newark community,” said a statement provided to The Huffington Post from the City Association of Supervisors and Administrators, a group that opposes the One Newark plan.

Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka, whose education platform has largely been framed in opposition to Anderson, said in a statement provided to Huff Post that “Ms. Anderson continues to run away from input by Newark citizens and continues to carry out her relentless drive to close our neighborhood schools.”

On the other hand, Mashea Ashton, chief executive officer of the Newark Charter School Fund, told The Wall Street Journal that she believes the plan should move forward.

The New Jersey Department of Education could not be reached for comment by press time.



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