Principals Speak Out: Legal action pending after five Newark principals suspended for voicing concern over Superintendent Cami Anderson’s One Newark plan

Five principals from schools across the city of Newark, N.J., received formal letters
suspending them on Jan. 17 for an “incident” that allegedly took place two days
prior.

The “incident” appeared to be related to four of the principals attending community
meetings held to speak out against upcoming school changes and closures due to
state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson’s proposed One Newark plan. These
principals included H. Grady James of Hawthorne Avenue School, Tony Motley of
Bragaw Avenue School, Dorothy Handfield of Belmont Runyan School and Deneen
Washington of Maple Avenue School.

The fifth principal, Lisa Brown of Ivy Hill School, was suspended for allegedly
allowing a parent leader, Daryn Martin, to enter her school after she was instructed
not to allow him in the building. Martin was banned from the school after an
altercation with the school system’s assistant superintendent, who attempted to
take down Martin’s fliers addressing issues and concerns with the One Newark plan.

All suspended principals are members of the City Association of Supervisors and
Administrators (CASA), AFSA Local 20. When news of the suspensions broke, CASA
received support from community leaders, labor organizations and parents. Because
of this pressure and the advocacy of Local 20, the suspensions were lifted on all five
of the principals. Three of the principals were permitted to return to their schools,
while two were reassigned to the district’s central office.

“CASA will not rest until all principals are returned to their schools and all five
principals are made whole,” said Dr. Len Pugliese, AFSA executive board member
and CASA executive director. “CASA instituted action against the district and is
currently exploring additional charges against the district. Oppression has no place
in a democratic public school system.”

Brown, one of the reassigned principals who has not been allowed to return to her
school, has been fully supported by her community’s parents. Her school’s parent
leader, Martin, told the Newark Star-Ledger, “If this is really about the kids, you’d
keep the best leader you can get at the school, and that would be Lisa Brown.”

Pledging full support for Newark’s recently suspended principals, AFSA President
Diann Woodard was briefed on Jan. 23 along with the CASA leadership team, CASA
legal counsel and four of the five principals.

During the meeting, Woodard praised the CASA leadership for building community
support and coalitions in support of its members.
“These principals did nothing wrong,” said Woodard. “They were suspended for
having a voice, which is a basic right of every American and an essential
responsibility for school leaders committed to doing what is best for our children.”

Both CASA and Woodard have stated unwavering support for the principals.

In December 2013, Superintendent Cami Anderson announced plans to restructure
Newark Public Schools. The restructuring would close many schools, replacing them
with charter schools and opening “renew” schools, with new leadership in place,
forcing educators to reapply for their jobs. Many have questioned the effectiveness
of the One Newark plan and the strategy used to select schools for closure and
redesign.

An independent and unfavorable report titled “An Empirical Critique of ‘One
Newark’” was published Jan. 24 by doctoral student Mark Weber and Prof. Bruce D.
Baker of the Rutgers School of Education. “Schools slated for charter takeover or
closure specifically serve higher shares of black children than do schools facing no
consequential classification,” the report stated. “Schools classified under ‘renew’
status serve higher shares of low‐income children.

“Our analyses suggest the district’s own classifications are arbitrary and capricious,
yielding racially and economically disparate effects,” the report concluded.

New Jersey councilman and Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka told the Newark
Patch, “The plans were developed behind closed doors without meaningful
community input. The state-appointed superintendent claims that her plan will
assure all students access to an excellent school, but the reality is that there are
failing charter schools and failing public schools.” Baraka served as principal at
Central High School in Newark from 2007 until 2013, when he began a leave of
absence to join the 2014 mayoral race.

“Superintendent Anderson has seemingly plowed forward blindly, ignoring school
leaders and disregarding our input as the people most responsible for running the
public schools,” said Woodard. “And now, in this case, our school leaders have been
punished for their input. We cannot afford to sit in our offices with our doors closed
and think everything is going to be all right. We must take action.”