NEWARK – On the sideline of a student protest against the leadership of Newark School Superintendent Cami Anderson on Tuesday, the leader of the Newark chapter of one of America’s most prominent civil rights organizations put race on the front line of the debate over the future of Newark’s schools.
“Right now in the Newark public schools, we are being bombarded with a racist mentality that says we know what’s best for you, and you can’t think about what is best for yourself. The idea of self-determination has been eradicated and cloaked in the word ‘choice,'” Deborah Smith-Gregory, president of the Newark branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), told PolitickerNJ. “This kind of behavior would not happen in a white, Asian [or] Indian community. It would not. First of all, it wouldn’t even be attempted. But if it was attempted, it wouldn’t be tolerated.”
Smith-Gregory’s comments come at a time of continuing controversy over the implementation of the One Newark school reorganization plan, which Anderson announced in December. The initiative includes the expansion of charter schools, which already serve approximately 20 percent of the city’s students, as well as the closure or consolidation of certain public schools.
Newark’s schools were placed under state control in 1995. Anderson was appointed to head the state-run Newark school district, New Jersey’s largest, by Gov. Chris Christie in 2011. A wave of Newark public school student protests called for the removal of Anderson, as well as for the termination of the Anderson-backed One Newark plan, earlier this year. Anderson, however, had her contract renewed for three years by the Christie administration in June.
One facet of the plan is that instead of permitting parents to pick the school closest to their home, the new enrollment model allows them to research schools and rank their preferences for public or charter schools throughout Newark. Yet although this component of the plan was meant to improve the city’s public education system by increasing student options, the initial results have left many parents angry and frustrated, with some parents calling for a boycott of the city schools.
District officials declined to reply.
Smith-Gregory, looking at the turmoil tied to the One Newark plan, regarded the future of Newark’s public schools with a sense of trepidation.
“I hope that we don’t have to have a tragedy occur, but it seems like that’s what it’s going to take [for change to take place],” Smith-Gregory said. “Somebody could get hurt.”