Ras Baraka: Strong Schools are the Result of Strong Communities and Strong Neighborhoods.

Or maybe Mr. Baraka said “Strong families and strong communities are the result of strong schools.”  Truthfully, he said both.

All week, the original title of this piece (as I was writing it in my head) was going to be “Why I Care About the Mayoral Election in Newark, and Why You Should too.”  This election in Newark has the potential to set a new standard for our state.  A standard that includes education as one of the most, if not THE most, important issue surrounding the vote.

But isn’t that the way all elections should be?  Isn’t education the main vehicle we have for building upon our current situations so that they can be improved upon?  I say this all the time: education is the biggest and most important investment that we can make for our future.  To support our children and our communities now will help bring about the changes in society that we wish to see. Ras Baraka is a man who has a plan about how to do this.  Not only does he have a plan, but this plan was successfully implemented while he was a principal in Newark School District. Go back and read my opening statement.  Can you see the intertwining of the three variables and how they can support each other?  Can you see how strengthening one of those factors leads to strengthening the other factors?  Ras Baraka does. He recognizes that trying to separate these entities will only cause harm to the other.

Ras Baraka made a very strong political move by holding a private session with different educational bloggers of New Jersey.  He recognized the strength of ‘on the street’ reporting and how we helped bringing national attention to the recent suspension of administrators of the Newark School district as well as the banning and arrest of the PTA president, all for speaking out against the One Newark plan. But what is even more impressive is that he open the line of communications between himself and educators; something that is being neglected as an approach on a nation-wide level. His opinions of Cami Anderson were made quite clear.  “She has got to go!” There was no mincing of words here.  He demands for the removal of a superintendent that only recognizes Governor Christie as her boss.  Ras Baraka calls upon the need for a superintendent to answer to the true ‘customers’ of education, the families and the communities.  The importance of a democratic process being used to influence school board elections was stressed and that change should fall into the laps of this elected body of the district.

Being under state control, this is hard for Newark.  But Ras Baraka plans to fight for local control to be given back to the people.  The state has had plenty of opportunity to ‘make things right’ and has spent almost two decades trying.  It is now time to give Newark back to its citizens.  While he did not outline how he was going to wrestle Newark from the hands of the state, he did say that this is going to be accomplished not just by him alone.  He recognizes the need for the organization of community groups, grassroots organizations, teachers, and the union.  He wants to create a collective groundswell movement, and he is just the person that can do that.

When asked what he wants to do about the charter schools of Newark, and if he would support putting a stop to the influx of these outside interests becoming major players in this battle, Ras clearly stated that he would support a moratorium on any more changes to the Newark School system until everything is truly evaluated and community members are allowed to give input.  He recognizes that there are already charter school institutions that have become an integrated part of  Newark.  But he also recognizes that they have not proven to be any more effective at educating the children of Newark.   Ras does not want to take the decision out of the hands of the communities that he is trying to protect.  Once given the true information, he has faith that they will make the right choices.

After leaving this private session, we then joined the community for a public session to introduce The Ras Baraka Blueprint to Achieve Excellence in Newark’s Schools.  In this session I was blown away by the speakers that joined Ras to speak about this plan.  Antionette Baskerville-Richardson, Dr. Lauren Wells, and Dr. Janice Johnson Dias spoke about the values and ideals behind this blueprint. Their speeches alone are worthy of a separate write-up (soon to follow!).  But let me add here, with these women in his corner, Ras Baraka may just be able to make the kinds of changes that education needs in our state.

That is why I am so interested in this election, and why you should be too.

Quick Note – Ras Baraka’s Blueprint will be discussed in a near-future post as I  compare it to the Mastery and Uncommon Charter schools presentations that I attended today in Camden!

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Dear Cami Anderson

The following is my quickly penned reply to the post that was written by Newark’s Superintendent of Schools on 2/5/14.  (found here)    I only addressed a small part of her post.  I could not even get the words out fast enough for my reply.  As it was, my reply had to be separated into two comments.  When I finished, I got a notice that my comment might not appear right away due to the sensitive nature of the article.  I ask you, should not people that wish to publicly speak their version of the truth be required to open themselves up to comments and dialogue?  This is just another example of the sham personality that is Cami.  

“we have not yet succeeded in embedding a systemic demand for change and creating conditions where the majority of families who want options for their children are heard”…your plan for One Newark is NOT something that is going to do this. 

First, the families in the communities have flat out told you that they do NOT want this plan. So how is it that you are now giving them an opportunity to be heard? 

Second, the Charter School program that you intend to subject the students to is a ‘no excuses’ charter school system that soon identifies classified students and students that may not be up to the expected state levels and systematically weeds them back out, often mid-year. This causes a disruption of a child’s school year and in the long run, costs the district more money because the charter school system keeps the tuition for that student for the entire year.

Third, there is no way that any school system is going to be successful in closing any kind of achievement gaps unless the underlying issue of poverty is dealt with. Yes, a school can offer extra services, more classes, more intense instruction…but until the underlying issues that our society are faced and addressed, there will be no allover success in any any school district, urban, suburban, or rural. 

Fourth, while I understand and am aware of the importance math and reading are to the future success of a child, I am also aware that there is more to a child’s lie than just these subject areas. Placing emphasis on the pure academics when dealing with children will leave other areas at a deficit and merely create a bleak future of adults that do not know how to socially or emotionally handle the many different situations that will be faced. 

Cami Anderson, you are not helping Newark any by bringing this corporate agenda of educational reform to Newark. The parents are speaking out loud and clear against these plans. The Newark public schools have been under state control for 18 years. Instead of placing them in an even more stifling and strangling position, it is TIME TO GIVE THE NEWARK SCHOOLS BACK TO THE COMMUNITIES!!! 

 

Letter to the NJSBOE 2/5/14

Dear Members of the New Jersey State Board of Education,

 

As a special education teacher, I have always had concerns with the amount of testing that our students have been subjected to. Within the past few years, this is growing increasingly worse. The rush that New Jersey has created to implement the Common Core State Standards, the PARCC assessment, and the new evaluation procedures, TEACHNJ, is an example for other states to examine about what can go wrong when such enormous mandates are not fully vetted and carefully planned before implementation.

 

To begin with, the Common Core was not a set of standards that we needed. New Jersey has been ranked high in the list of states with top educational programs and results. When I first learned about the pending release of a set of national standards, I considered this to possibly be a good idea. There are a lot of areas in the country that could benefit from a set of nationwide standards, to help improve their educational systems. I also assumed that the standards that were released would be a product of educational excellence that was fully researched according to what has been researched and proven about teaching and learning. I believed that it would align with human brain development and pedagogy.

 

Instead what we got was a set of standards that were developed by a committee that, at first, did not have a single educator on board. They were developed by a committee that was led by a man that has ties to several entities that wish to destroy our public educational system. Eventually, two teachers were added to the committee to give their input about the standards. Not only were their recommendations rejected, but these two have publicly denounced this set of standards as being inappropriate with regards to several learning theories.

 

Personally, the implementation of the standards in my classroom has come about with such a rush that I find that my students are ill-prepared with the background knowledge that is required to teach them the current set of standards. Enough time was not given to allow the student progression towards these standards to occur in such a way that the students would have a chance at understanding some of the material that they are required to learn. Time must be spent teaching these students the concepts that they need to understand in order to progress towards the level they are expected to be at. In the classroom , frustration levels are mounting in a rate that is proportional to the rate that these mandates have been thrust upon our schools.

 

To pile on top of the Common Core State Standards, we also have the new PARCC test. The PARCC is created as an online assessment tool from the same people that had a monopoly on our previous assessment tool, the NJ ASK. One of the first things I was told about the decision to move away from the ASK assessment was to create a separation of the assessment from a company that also mass produces textbooks and curriculum materials. There were concerns being raised about this connection giving an unfair advantage to districts that chose to purchase Pearson material. An additional edge will be given to the districts that can afford to immediately purchase these materials, leaving under-funded districts to fall further behind.

 

There are various issues that can be raised about the use of on-line assessments. The obvious being the cost of such a venture, to purchase the updated technology that will be needed. But there are hidden costs as well. Other things need to be considered, such as the cost of training for the test proctors and the future upkeep and maintenance of this technology. But what about the costs that are not measured by money. To fully implement these tests there are additional supports that need to be put in place. Test proctors need to be trained in how to use the different tools that accompany the tests. Students need to be given time to become familiar with the use of these tools; time that will be taken away from general classroom instruction. Meetings need to be held for any student eligible for testing accommodations need to be held with teachers, parents, and case managers to develop a personal testing plan. School-wide procedures need to be planned, written, and established to facilitate these new tests.

 

In my school district, the MAP testing program was implemented a few years ago. This was done, in part, to get the students acclimated to taking online assessments. As a math teacher, this has turned into a day of horror for me. Students need paper in front of them with the printed text that they can circle and underline important information that they need in order to answer questions and solve problems. They do not have the patience to write everything down on scrap paper. Visual manipulations are need of some drawing that can not be done with a computer, such as turning the paper to help identify geometrical rotations. The students have no concept of how to identify key information from the computer screen and write it down on paper to be able to solve the problem, nor as a participant in a timed assessment, will all of them have the luxury of doing so. An increase in the number of errors can already be predicted as mistakes will be made from the transfer of information from the computer screen to scratch paper.

 

The stress that these students are facing will only increase as these assessments are fully implemented. Added to the pressure that our educational system is putting on the students in the form of new curriculum and new assessments, is the new teacher evaluation system. The implementation of this mandate should not have a direct impact on our students education, except to theoretically improve it. But that is not the case. As the possibility of a teacher’s future career is directly related to how well a student performs, school has become a pressure cooker as the teachers feel that they need to push harder for the students to learn the necessary state mandated curriculum that they will be tested on. Student growth objectives must be ties to these new standard, and mounds of paperwork needs to be compiled to track the progress towards these objectives. Time has been spent in and out of these classrooms to plan for and create this necessary paper trail.

 

In order to track such growth, a creation of a base line data analysis of what levels of understanding the students have when they enter the classroom. To do this, an assessment that includes material that is to be taught that year is given. In the beginning of the school year this is already setting the students up to feel like they are failures. It does not matter that the students are told that they are not expected to understand most of the material on the assessment. It does not matter if you tell then that the grade will not count towards their report card grades. All they understand is that you are asking them to answer questions when they do not have all of the tools and background knowledge to be able to do so. Throughout the year, the students are asked to take additional tests or complete additional tasks that will continue to measure this growth.

 

Overall, these mandates are creating an atmosphere of stress within our school districts that will eventually cause our system to implode. As emphasis is placed upon the understanding of these inappropriate standards, the completion of these online assessments that directly relate to these standards as well as impact the career of a teacher the true purpose of education will be lost. Schools were created to meet the needs of the students and of the communities. Within all of these mandates we do not see one piece of evidence that this is a consideration. Instead, we see our educational system being turned into a data study that does not take into account the one true client of education, our children.

 

I have to ask you, when will we direct our educational system and consolidate our efforts to benefit those that need it the most, our children?

 

Sincerely,

 

Melissa Tomlinson

Special Ed Math Teacher, Buena Regional School District

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A Shot to the Heart

Every time I hear of another school shooting my heart seizes as another child is harmed.  “Was it someone I know?” as I hear the news.  “Was it in my state? “Was it in my town?”  “Was it in my child’s school?”

I sit here in tears at that last thought.  The stark reality these days is that, well, it really could be in my child’s school.  It could be in my school, your school, your own children’s schools.

When are we going to stop and take a look to see what we are doing to these babies??? These children that should grow up laughing, feeling the joy of learning, wanting to explore the unknown.

Instead, we are forcing them to learn a mandated curriculum with mandated questions, and mandated answers.  there is no room for exploration.  there is no room for creativity.  there is no room for joy.

Is it any wonder that the greatest increase that we see in public shootings is happening within our public schools???

Where else would a troubled youth go to express the emotional turmoil that is being felt, with such a violent response, except to the one place that is causing so much hurt.

I hurt at the thought that our schools are causing this much pain.  This is not what education was ever supposed to be about.

Where is the nurturing, the support, the understanding and the help?  Where is the love?

Teachers don’t have time for that anymore.  Teachers are pushed to rush through an almost impossible curriculum that reaches and stretches a child beyond the the very cognitive limits that the brain can handle.  Adults barely have the emotional tools to handle such stress.  How can we expect our children to handle it?

There will be no surprises when the data is analyzed and the facts are checked.  The ever increasing exposure to inappropriate and incorrectly valued learning will be what destroys our children in the end.

A shot to the heart…and who’s to blame????

Please, I beg of you, stop the tears.  Stop the hurt.  Allow our children to have a chance to learn in an environment with a little less fear.  Allow our children to  the chance to grow up, to raise children of their own, to live without the fear that someday their child may fall victim to these acts of violence.

Please, I beg of you, just let us teach. child

Newark’s War Zone

You would think after reading the title of this post, that I was referring to the crime rate in the City of Newark.  Well, yes I am.  But not in the way that you think.

What I have been told about this week is crime that is worse than the street crime that plague’s all different areas of our country.  I am talking about the crime of a person with authority abusing that authority in such a manner that one cannot help but to wonder how she is being allowed to get away with it.

It all started in the beginning of December, I started hearing rumors about Chris Cerf, New Jersey Commissioner of Education possibly resigning soon.  This week the rumors have increased.

 Fast forward to this week…
 
Cami Anderson was with Christie at the SOTS address.  Is she being considered for the position?  Three theories.  1) Yes, to continue strong-arm educational reform policy   2) Yes, to make the real candidate acceptable to the people because she is a monster     3)  To allow Christie to come in and “save Newark”.
 
 
Some recent history…
 
Right before the holidays Newark announced their One Newark Enrollment Plan.  Paving the way for charter schools to infiltrate the district and create segregation within Newark.
 
Parents started having meetings, petitions were created, neighborhood canvassing has been done to keep the communities informed…
 
Last week, the Superintendent of Newark City Schools, Cami Anderson had a meeting with one of the 9th grade classes.  She did not allow parents, staff or administration to come into the room.  The cops were called on 4 elderly woman by the assistant vice-principal, Tiffany Hardrick.  This person will possibly be facing an investigation stemming from her previous employment from a school district in Louisiana.
 
 
 
 
 
Last night I get a message that a community meeting at Ivy Hill School was cancelled by Cami Anderson.  When she was asked why…her response was. “Because I can”
 
 
Then I get messages that the president of the PTA was banned from the building and there are false accusations of him pushing the assistant Superintendent.
 
 
This morning I find out that four principles are suspended pending an investigation because they spoke out about the school closings at a community meeting at a church the other night.
 
 
Additionally, another principal has been suspended because she voiced her support of the PTA president.
 
 
This woman needs to be exposed as another extension of Christie’s top-down bullying tactics.  If it was not for Christie’s bullying manner the people that work for him would not feel that they would be allowed to get away with these behaviors.  It has even been theorized that #bridgegate may also have ties to Fort Lee’s recent opposition to school reforms.
 
 
 
 
To further show how deep crime runs in the city of Newark,,, Cami Anderson was once an executive director of Teach for America, a tool that is being used to assist the movement to privatize education.
 
 
I have this information direct from teachers in the district as well as one of the union leaders.  These teachers are terrified to speak out now for fear of losing their jobs.

As a society, we must ask ourselves one important question.  What type of society have we become where such behavior is condoned?  Or yet, even applauded???  How can a person be allowed to wreak so much havoc on other people’s lives?  Who is she to say that it is in the city’s best interest?  Where are the people that should really be standing and protesting this direct attack upon these communities??? Why is there little media coverage of this?

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The Destruction of a City

The recent announcement by Cami Anderson of her intention to ‘restructure’ the Newark Public School System by closing many neighborhood schools is a direct attack on public education in our state. She follows the lead of Governor Chris Christie who has made it his personal agenda to undermine teachers unions, even if it undermines the stability of schools and communities in the state’s largest city. Cami Anderson’s plan is a case in point –even blue ribbon schools and well-performing magnet schools are potentially on the chopping block. The dismantling of the Newark Public School System paves the way for private educational entities that run more like businesses than schools with responsibilities to the districts students and families. Kipp Charter Schools is one of the management companies set to purchase buildings and run schools within Newark. Kipp Schools have been plagued by lack of oversight, exploitation of teachers, non-compliance with Federal law as it pertains to students with disabilities, fiscal irresponsibility, and questionable hiring practices.

 

We were appalled to get a first-hand account from a teacher of Newark about how Superintendent Anderson proposed to implement her new policies. The superintendent’s team informed the staff that the entire faculty is essentially fired. They will all have to re-apply for their jobs for the upcoming school year with no regards to previous job performance. This is an appalling method of treating employees that have spent years of their lives working to educate a community of children. In no other profession, would such management techniques be allowed. People should be valued and treasured for their experience as well as utilized as mentors to support new teachers. Teachers that are not immediately re-hired by the administration staff will be given the choice to be placed in an “Employee Without Placement” pool to await a possible position.

 

Not only are teachers facing elimination of their positions, various programs within the school curriculum are also under scrutiny. With the current emphasis on high-stakes test results, it is quite possible that many programs that make for a well-rounded education will be placed upon the chopping block. Any school that is designated as a “redesign” school will face an overhaul of course offerings and selections. It is a very natural conclusion that any arts and music educational selections will be destroyed as emphasis will be placed strictly upon subjects that can be easily tested. To do this will destroy a part of a child’s education that can never be regained. Exposure to these outlets are what allows a child to explore any natural talents that may lie within. Such an agenda will be devastating to the children of Newark

 

New Jersey started the ‘school choice’ voucher program under the guise of allowing all students to have equal opportunities to attend schools that would best meet their learning and social needs. The program that is being set up under the reorganization of Newark Public Schools is going against this very principle. The very choice that these students are supposed to have is being taken away from them as they are being placed by the district itself into different schools. Parents are being told to complete an application to enroll their students in a new school. There has been little transparency about what is really going on within this district and parents have been given little say in the decision making process. Our public schools system was built upon the foundation of the creation of a structure that was charged with the purpose of meeting the needs of the community it served. Why is this role of our educational systems being ignored?

The REAL Agenda of Cami Anderson

My thoughts on Pisa

 

As I think about the recent release of the PISA scores, three different issues come to mind.

1) I cannot help but think about math. After all these scores are a set of data. When teaching fractions to my students one of the concepts that we discuss is that you cannot compare fractions that do not have common denominators. That is what this set of data represents, a comparison of things without common denominators.

2) To me, the latest results verify my need to eradicate high stakes testing. If our results are not favorable with our current educational policies, why are we allowing for a stronger emphasis to be placed upon these tests?

3) As a teacher ‘in the trenches’ I actually have little concern about these these results. These scores do not really effect my daily teaching concerns. I must first worry about whether my students we able to eat dinner the night before, about whether my students have coats for the increasingly cold whether, about whether my students have a home to go to. Only after those needs are met will I and my students be able to focus and concentrate on their education.

 

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