Furious parents, teachers and students flooded Tuesday night's advisory board meeting to protest the closure of Camden Street School – only to learn that the school isn't shuttering.
"The students and school are not going anywhere," said Superintendent Cami Anderson in response to nearly an hour-long public comment session by speakers with ties to the school. "I think it's really important, as adults, for us to ensure that children are getting clear and fair and real information."
Crammed into the 540-seat auditorium at Oliver Street School, irate Newarkers slammed Anderson's "expanded options" plan to restructure the Newark Public School district through closures and consolidations of several schools into eight "renew schools." (.) Others were shut out and left outside for a portion of the four-hour meeting because the auditorium was at-capacity.
The comprehensive "expanded options" plan, drafted on the heels of the "Great Expectations" blueprint, has been touted by officials as a cost-effective measure aimed at boosting low-performing schools with declining student enrollment. The plan also includes the and .
Camden, which houses elementary and middle school students after will become a "renew school" in September because of persistently low test scores and declining growth, Anderson said. The school is slated to receive more resources next year to bolster the existing student population through initiatives like extended day and adult education.
"This is a strategy to give Camden more of the ingredients to be great. No families will be displaced, no students will be displaced," said Anderson after the meeting. "I do kind of wonder why there's so much misinformation and have questions as to who's fueling that."
Kiesha Robinson, who was part of a crowd that was bused from Camden to the meeting, said she received a phone call from her son's teacher last week informing her that the school was going to close. Her 11-year-old son, Deandre, was among dozens of Camden students to plead with the nine-member board and Anderson Tuesday to save the school and its staff.
"Now that I'm here, I'm more at ease," said Robinson after hearing Anderson's clarification that the school would remain open.
Still, arguments against the "extended options" plan ran the gamut during a tempestuous public comment session Tuesday night. Parents speculated a change in school location could have a negative effect on children, students questioned potential staff changes at "renew schools" and teachers worried about the future of their jobs.
"Most recently, we've been made aware that the instructional staff at our school must reapply for our jobs ..." said Jennifer Smith, a teacher at Chancellor Avenue School. "This is extremely worrisome because we are nearing the last three months of the school year, a time when we should be focusing our attention on preparing for the next year, but instead are overwhelmed by the uncertainty ahead of us."
Principals at schools affected by the closures and consolidations will have to reapply for the same position at the "renew school." Once hired, the principal will have full authority to hire staff, including teachers.
An emphasis will be placed on rehiring NPS teachers who have had proven effectiveness in the classroom, Anderson has maintained, though she has of an excess of staff given declining student enrollment.
Possible staff changes at Chancellor Avenue School, another "renew school" that will become a consolidation of grades 3-8 and and school annex grades 1-2, brought one student to tears as she spoke before the advisory board. Audience members waved signs that read, "No Renew, We Have Fitzhugh" in support of Principal Gerald Fitzhugh II.
Meanwhile, Yazmin Hernandez, who waited outside for 30 minutes before being admitted into the packed meeting, said she's most concerned about crowding at Sussex Avenue School, which will acquire students from 18th Avenue and Burnet Street come September. Hernandez's three children attend Sussex, where she also works as a clerk.
"I've heard enough and I don't think the changes are for the regular folk," said Hernandez. "It's for financial gain for certain people and it's not conducive for the people in the community that Sussex Avenue (School) belongs to."