Saturday, May 7, 2011

Quick Lessons for Newark Schools Chief Designee

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Cami Anderson got a taste of what it'll be like to be superintendent of Newark Public Schools on Wednesday.

On the day New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie introduced her as his pick to lead the state-controlled system, she visited an honors classroom at a Blue Ribbon high school, took questions from the press—and was then heckled as she left the building.

Associated Press

'We don't need a hero.... I don't believe in lonely heroes winning the day,' Ms. Anderson said.

If confirmed by the state board of education, Ms. Anderson, who runs New York City's alternative-schools program, will be put at the helm of a 38,000-student, state-controlled district. The board isn't expected to be an obstacle.

She also will have influence in spending a $100 million grant from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, which requires a 1-for-1 match that hasn't yet been met.

Ms. Anderson said Wednesday she's seen the statistics. She said when 55% of students graduate in four years, and when 98% of college-bound students need remedial classes, the district has a "lot of room to grow."

"I got one clear message from every single person, and it went something like this," she said. "We don't want more dreams for Newark. We don't need a hero.... I'm less interested in big promises than I am in results, and I don't believe in lonely heroes winning the day."

Mr. Christie said Ms. Anderson will make $240,000. That's less than the $280,000 made by the previous superintendent. Mr. Christie, who implemented a salary cap for superintendents that exempted the 16 largest districts, said it's deserved for the size of Newark.

Though she's just crossing the Hudson River and expects to move to Newark, Ms. Anderson is seen as an outsider by some parents. Worse, to critics, she worked in 2002 on Mayor Cory Booker's campaign.

A small group of parents shouted at Ms. Anderson as she left Science Park High School, a nearly $80 million building opened in 2006 and awarded Blue Ribbon status by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009. They told her to go back to New York.

Ms. Anderson walked straight to her car, though Mr. Booker stopped and told the group to give her a chance.

"The message is for her to go back to New York," said Rachel Foye, a 40-year-old parent of two Newark students who waited for Ms. Anderson. "We don't want her here."

Many parents had wanted the job to go to someone within the Newark school system, rather than an outsider.

Mr. Booker said he had faith Ms. Anderson would distinguish herself.

"Give me a break. If people want to hold things I did 10 years ago as evidence against me, I just think it's just not an issue," he said. "At the end of the day I think she's going to make her own reputation and that's going to be very clear. And last time I checked I am mayor of the city who won with the majority of the votes."

A deep narrative in Newark is that government and decision-making is closed, no matter how hard Mr. Booker tries to change perceptions. During the months-long search, he held several meetings, few open to the press, where he and acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf answered questions—not always to the questioner's satisfaction.

They have tried to explain the need for privacy when candidates were still employed, or in instances when candidates' professional reputations would be hurt if they were identified as a losing candidate.

In an interview, Mr. Cerf said the process was more open than other schools-chief searches going on simultaneously around the country.

For her part, Ms. Anderson said she was a candidate in several searches, but only met extensively with community members in Newark.

In Newark, people on both sides see reasons for distrust. One member of a private group asked to advise on the selection process leaked recordings of candidate interviews, to the joy of those who had pushed for more openness and the disgust of others on the group.

Mr. Cerf implored people to move on.

"Let's leave behind us arguments about process, arguments about whether a $200 million gift is a good thing or a bad thing," he said. "How could it be anything but a wonderful thing for the children of Newark?"

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