Superintendent Cami Anderson defends Newark schools reform plan, 'One Newark'

Newark schools are undergoing a major overhaul that has pitted parents, teachers and students against the district's state-appointed superintendent, Cami Anderson. (3/5/14)

NEWARK - Newark schools are undergoing a major overhaul that has pitted parents, teachers and students against the district's state-appointed superintendent, Cami Anderson. 

Anderson says the reform allows Newark's poorest students, and those with disabilities and other home-life issues, the first opportunity to change schools. "Our vision for One Newark is that every kid is in a great school," she says. "If you're happy with the current choice, you don't have to do anything. But if you're not, you're able to make selections for your students."

More than 10,000 Newark families have applied for a new school, setting a national precedent, according to Anderson. Those parents support the initiative, but others feel the plan is too radical.

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The reforms will bring 20 charter schools to the city, consolidate others and close failing schools.

"A community school is something you should be able to walk to," says educator Michael Dixon. "Newark public schools defines a community school as something that's occupied."

Newark is expected to lose 20 percent of its students over the next three years, which is why the initiative looks to consolidate. Anderson says as a consequence, some students may be forced to leave schools they don't want to leave.  

"There are some grade levels that may need to move," Anderson says. "For example, some of those schools are opening a K-4 and there are a small number of middle schoolers that need to make a choice."

Critics of the superintendent's plan include teachers who fear losing their jobs. Anderson is asking the state to allow Newark to consider quality as well as seniority when laying off as many as 1,000 teachers. 

Anderson has stopped attending public meetings of the School Board Advisory Committee, saying the they are too political and ineffective. 

Anderson says the plan must be implemented to turn the tide of what she calls systemic failure. "The status quo just isn't an option," she says. "We cannot keep kicking the can down the road because it has a life-altering impact on our kids."

Students will have their school match by April. 

For the complete interview with Anderson, watch the clips to the left or go to News 12 Extra on Optimum TV channel 612. 

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