NEWARK – Aniyah Clarke woke up on Thursday morning, the first day of school for Newark public school students, thinking that she was going to start the sixth grade at Hawthorne Avenue School, across the street from her South Ward home.
Until she wasn’t.
“I go to work at six o’clock in the morning, only to get a call from the principal telling me my daughter is not on the list,” said fraud investigator Felicia Clarke, 40, Aniyah’s mother. The Clarkes were among hundreds of students and parents inside of Newark Vocational High School on West Kinney Street, among the reportedly 8,000 students who are unsure of where they will attend school this year, all trying to find answers. “They’re sending her to Weequahic High School, where they have an all-girls school inside the high school now, next to a bunch of boys. Not my child. She’s eleven years old. They’re not going to get it until somebody gets hurt. They closed down three schools in the South Ward. If you have a problem school, you fix the problem. Everybody wants to talk about charter schools. How about trying to make the public schools better?”
Clarke’s remarks came on the first day of the implementation of the One Newark plan, announced by Newark School Superintendent Cami Anderson in December. The Anderson-backed 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 flummoxed and frustrated, with some parents calling for a boycott of the city schools.
Darren Martin, 54, is an Ironbound resident who spoke out at a public hearing at Newark’s City Hall on Tuesday attended by nine members of Essex County’s state Legislature delegation, decrying the the problems that have surfaced in the wake of the One Newark enrollment plan rollout.
On Thursday morning, Martin was on his way into Newark Vocational High School to join a growing crowd of parents and students, trying to get his daughter Darria, 13, into the eighth grade at Ann Street School.
“School started, and my daughter’s home in bed,” Martin said. “I’m coming up here to find out what’s going on. Does Cami Anderson have any kids in the Newark school system? I don’t think so. She’s not even here.”
Anderson is reportedly touring schools across Newark on Thursday. Meanwhile, Tiffany Jordan is trying to make sure she doesn’t have to go on tour across Newark to make sure her daughters, ages five and nine, get to school safely.
“Someone is going to be late every single day,” said Jordan, 32, who currently has one daughter assigned to Wilson Avenue School in her Ironbound neighborhood, while the other daughter is assigned to Speedway Avenue School in Newark’s West Ward. “I want my daughters to be together and not be separated by two bus rides, and they can’t accommodate me or them. What was the point of giving us choices if you’re not going to honor them? The [One Newark] plan is not working. It’s just too much.”
Kemani Jordan, 9, was excited to start the fourth grade on Thursday. She was less than excited to accompany her mother as they tried to figure out where she belongs.
“I want to go to school now because I want to make new friends and meet my teachers,” Kemani said. “I’m mad because I don’t get to go to school and learn.”