Releases: NJIT Graduates Largest Class in Its History at 98th Commencement Ceremony

Photo credit: Romer Jed Medina. Used under Creative Commons.


New Jersey Institute of Technology awarded 2,649 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees yesterday at the 98th Commencement exercises at the Prudential Center in Newark. The ceremony featured speakers who advised the Class of 2014 to give back to the community and to celebrate the impressive diversity that never could have been imagined years ago.

Clement Alexander Price, Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of History, Rutgers University-Newark, recalled his participation in the February 1968 civil rights march in support of students.

“On your watch, Newark continued to come back,” said Price, who was named the official city historian of Newark earlier this year.  “On your watch, Newark continued to become a city of destiny. You are the best; comport yourselves accordingly.”

Price, who also serves as Director of the Rutgers Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience, said that he has remained true to the values of his forebears.

“I hope a quest for social justice consumes your lives as well,” Price said.

Price also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.  In 2012, NJIT awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters to his wife, Mary Sue Sweeney Price, former Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Newark Museum. Honorary degrees were also awarded to John M. Dionisio, Executive Chairman of AECOM, and Robert S. Dow ‘69, who was Managing Partner at Lord Abbett & Co. before retiring in 2012.

NJIT President Joel S. Bloom, who presided over the ceremony, encouraged graduates to continue to give back to the community.

“It is my sincerest hope that as NJIT graduates, who have much to offer, you will give back in the measure demanded by the challenges of making life better in the years ahead,” Bloom said. “Going forward as graduates, give back in the workplace by contributing your professional expertise to positive technological, social and economic change. Give back in your community by volunteering for activities that help people in need.  The paradox of the electronic media always at our fingertips these days is that it both connects us to other people 24/7 while at the same time making our interaction less personal, and in too many instances less civil. Consider giving back through face-to-face connection.”

NJIT has a long tradition of commitment to fostering opportunities for students to share their skills, talents and enthusiasm through community service. For the fifth year, NJIT was named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, one of the highest recognitions a university can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service-learning and civic engagement.  NJIT students helped New Jersey recover from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, provided the people of Haiti with safe drinking water, and helped build housing and improve health in the Dominican Republic.

“NJIT has no one ideal place, no typical student,” said Johnathan A. Weiss ‘14, who addressed the Class of 2014 and received a BS degree in chemical engineering. “The thing that is common to all of us is determination. We had the determination to get through classes much harder than other universities, it was determination that brought us to NJIT, and it will be determination that will help us to make an impact on our society.”

Live feed: Newark Students Union takes over NPS headquarters


The Newark Students Union shut down a school board meeting last night. Here's our live feed of their updates and commentary from the wider community.

Update: 5/21/2014 @ 9:49 AM EST

Newark Students Union responds via their Facebook page: "Official statement from Cami is all lies! They did not respect us when they refused to hear our demands & waited until the media was crazy to give us food… Also, she had her assistant read the statement to us… She didn't have the nerve to talk to us herself. Plus adults didn't force us to do this. It was a STUDENT MOVEMENT!"

Update: 5/21/2014 @ 9:34 AM EST

Cami Anderson released a statement per the Newark Students Union Twitter feed:

cami anderson statement

Here's the transcription:

"I am unequivocally supportive of our students expressing their opinions and positions on issues – and at every point last evening and this morning our team treated them with the utmost of respect. I, and many members of the board, are also adamant that the district must conduct business in a professional and respectful manner including when we disagree. The young people who were coached by adults to stage a sit-in last night disrupted the meeting where they would have had the opportunity to speak, shouted at members who tried to bring the meeting to order and refused my offer to meet with them because of other plans on their schedules. As adults, we must set high expectations for our young people and support them in expressing their views in a productive fashion. The politically orchestrated event that happened last night certainly does not model excellence for students."


Releases: Major rally planned at Newark Public Schools today at 5pm

Newark, NJ – Students, parents and teachers will rally during the business meeting of the Newark Public Schools to deliver a new plan for public schools created by the Newark community. The new plan, called the “Newark Promise” was released at a rally in Lincoln Park this weekend. 

“Not only did we elect Ras Baraka to lead our city and our fight against the attack on public schools, but we developed an alternative plan that will better serve the needs of students, parents, teachers and the future of Newark,” said Kristin Towcaniuk, president of the Newark Students Union. “This rally will be an escalation of what we’ve seen in the past.”

Mayor-elect Baraka unveils “The Newark Promise: Excellent Neighborhood Public Schools for All” plan


Today, mayor-elect Ras Baraka unveiled "The Newark Promise", an alternative vision to superintendent Cami Anderson's "One Newark" plan. The Newark chapter of the NAACP, the Newark Teacher's Union, NJ Communities United, and the Abbott Leadership Institute are among the groups listed as "Founding Members" of the plan. According to the document outlining Newark Promise, embedded in full below, its mission is to create "a high-quality system of neighborhood public schools that is able to serve all of Newark's children and youth."

As we reported yesteday, the unveiling of the plan is timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary – to the day – of the Supreme Court's landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision, in which the court ruled that racially separate schools were inherently unequal, and violated the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The decision ended de jure school segregation.

From their view, One Newark reinforces educational inequality and destabilizes communities, because it removes an anchor institution – the community school – from Newark neighborhoods. The Newark Promise plan calls first for a moratiorium on implementation of the One Newark plan (the initial school placement and transportation plan was rolled out earlier this week), then calls for Newark to work towards building a strong network of community schools.

Its creators said they consulted with the community and embedded community input into the plan, in contrast to Anderson, whose plan they say solicited no community input and sought no community buy-in. According to the report, the group enaged the community through town hall meetings and community surveys.

The plan proposes a "comprehensive, multi-year strategy" for improving Newark schools along ten dimensions:

1. "Out of school challenges" that affect the context in which students attend school

2. Improving facilities, and in particular integrating more modernized tech and green space

3. Modernizing in-school resources, starting with replacing out-dated textbooks and other commonly used class materials

4. Creating a more comprehensive and individualized curriculum that emphasizes active learning, the arts, physical outlets, and apprenticeship programs in addition to college readiness

5. Providing teachers with state-of-the-art instruction methods and ongoing training, as well as leadership opportunities within the school system

6. Enabling holistic, meaningful assessment of schools that don't rely soley on testing to guage schools' performance

7. Creating a positive school climate that uses law enforcement as a last resort, prevents bullying, and employs a constructive, ameliorative response when conflicts do occur

8. Ensuring schools are accountable to the commmunity, and not solely to metrics defined from the top down

9. Enabling "democratic governance" through local control (Newark Public Schools have been state-run since 1995)

10. Securing funding to support those goals through more efficient use of resources, and adopting a "more appropriate policy" with regard to charter schools, which they say are siphoning funding from traditional public schools

The plan also envisions community schools that serve as learning and services hubs for the broader community. That would entail offering everything from childcare, early education, and before-and-after school activities to comprehensive health and social services, job placement, and continuing education options.

The plan envisions the mayor and city council taking the lead on strategic planning for the plan's details and implementation. It would also involve hiring more support staff to provide the diversified instruction, smaller class sizes, and services it recommends.

A full-text version of the document is embedded below.

Report: Mayor-elect Ras Baraka and community leaders to release alternative to Cami Anderson’s ‘One Newark’ education plan

Mayor-elect Ras Baraka and a coalition of community members, unions, and religious leaders will present "The Newark Promise" plan tomorrow, according to a press release from Communities United NJ. The plan will be an alternative to the "One Newark" public school overhaul plan released by superintendent Cami Anderson.

The release of the new plan is timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary – to the day – of the landmark "Brown v. Board of Education" Supreme Court decision, which ruled that separate schools for black and white children were inherently unequal, in violation of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution . Although critics' opposition to the "One Newark" plan falls along different dimensions than the race-based segregation controversy of the 1950s, the plan's opponents view it broadly as a violation of students' education rights, and say that it mostly affects educators and students of color.

According to Communities United NJ, the coalition devised the plan using feedback from community engagement mostly town halls and surveys in contrast to the insular process used to develop the One Newark plan. They describe the plan as including "wraparound services and enhanced professional development", and in it, schools be recast as "centers of the community". The plan's release is scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday May 17th, at 11 AM in Lincoln Park.

Image credit:

Newark students walk out Thursday in protest of ‘One Newark’ plan


Updated: 1:05 P.M.

Below is a live feed of social media updates from the Newark Students Union walkout.



Originally posted: 8:34 A.M.

Students from the Newark Students Union are organizing a walkout today. The protest is timed to underscore the state budget hearings on education in Trenton.

According to a press release, the group, whose student leadership hails from Science Park High School, Arts High School, Central High School, and East Side High School, will convene on the steps of City Hall before leading what they're calling a "March of Shame" past institutions they insist are underminig traditional public schools. The students are set to meet at City Hall at 1pm this afternoon.

In a video promoting the protest, the students enumerate their reasons for walking out, and call on their peers to do the same.


The student group has previously collaborated on events with the American Federation of Teachers and NJ Communities United, a politicaly progressive grassroots organization (both organizations endorsed councilman Ras Baraka for mayor). The group convened a mayoral forum at the Newark Public Library back in November, when councilmembers Anibal Ramos and Darrin Sharif were still candidates in the race.


Dear Cami Anderson

I recently read Cami Anderson’s piece in the Huffington Post entitled “Poverty, Politics, Racism, and School Reform". It made me angry.

On the whole, I believe that she believes what she says. I don’t think she is motivated by greed. Some argue that she is a puppet of Booker or Christie or corporate America or Teach for America (TFA). That her goal is to put public dollars into private hands. That she is working towards the downfall of public education. I don’t think so. I think she believes she is doing the right thing.

In her article, she starts out making a relatively sound case. She acknowledges the factors that have led to the condition of Newark Public Schools, citing racism, housing policies, crime, and poverty.

But her article raised red flags for me when she quickly pivoted to lay the blame solely on Newark, as if she thinks discrimination and inequality are contained in Newark, with no outside forces contributing to these conditions. Throughout the article, she continuously attributes the schools' troubles only to Newark, as if the city exists in a vacuum.

Her behavior here in Newark hints at that line of thinking. Her level of community engagement has been minimal. Since her arrival, there have been reports of her not responding to any questions after informational meetings. More recently, there have been reports of parents locked out of advertised public meetings involving their children's schools. Her “One Newark” promotional video features only charter school advocates, and no community members are included. There isn’t one word from a parent, student, teacher — not even a politician. I've attended a few school board meetings, and she has walked out of every one. It seems that she views the Newark community only as part of the problem, and not the solution.

I will admit that Newark hasn’t given her the warmest welcome, but I can’t imagine she didn’t anticipate that she'd have to work to gain Newarkers' trust. The community has every right to be skeptical. As a state-run district, the governor can choose Newark’s superintendent with no community input, and into that agency-denying framework walked a white, former TFA executive from New York appointed by Republican governor Chris Christie. That is about as “outsider” as it gets here. It's not only reasonable that Newarkers would question her motives and qualifications to run Newark's schools — I think it's commendable.

Contrary to popular opinion, Newarkers care very much about their city and their children. Residents want change, but they were hoping to be included in the process. Instead, they have been left out of the conversation yet again.

Considering she has a history with TFA, I suspect Anderson feels she must “save” these “poor” kids from their “failing” schools and communities. The narrative is that they are trapped in schools where uncaring teachers protected by tenure are taking advantage of a hopeless community.

While I don't downplay Newark's struggles, this narrative feeds into what many critics see as TFA's elitist character. It promotes a dichotomy of good TFA teachers versus bad tenured teachers, and of good charter schools versus bad traditional public schools. Nearly ignoring the effects of poverty and discrimination, promotional materials point to a "culture of low expectations" as the primary difference. Cami Anderson doesn't engage the community because she thinks she knows better than us.

The actual difference is in resources. TFA teachers often overwork themselves to a point that would be unsustainable for someone looking to make teaching a career. By the time they are burned out, their two year commitment is over, and they are replaced by a new recruit. On top of devaluing teaching as a profession, it creates instability for kids already growing up in unstable environments.

I also see a marked difference between charter and public schools, and nowhere is it more evident than in co-located schools. These charter schools have longer school days, better facilities, and additional support teachers in their classrooms. Public school students in the same building are painfully aware of this, because it is rubbed in their faces.

What is often missing in the discussion is why these changes can’t be implemented in public schools. Some say it is due to a lack of money, yet charter schools make these changes in their schools with supposedly less money per pupil. Some say it is due to an uncompromising union, but unionized teachers seem to do just fine in more affluent areas.

Still others say it can’t be done because charter schools cherry-pick their students. I think there's something to that argument. Current research indicates that Newark charter schools educate a significantly lower number of poor students, English language learners, and students with special needs. Similar outcomes are found in charter schools throughout the country. How charter schools would educate these students is an unanswered question, yet charter growth continues as traditional public schools are closed.

Some critics argue that school choice is the new segregation. I think there is some truth to that. The existence of privilege for a chosen few is persistent, and history shows segregation has been one of the most popular ways to distribute it.

But privilege for a few at the expense of many, especially in what is supposed to be a public system, is detrimental. Anderson acknowledges in her article that “society should be judged by how it treats its citizens in greatest need.” By those standards, the “One Newark” plan deserves all the criticism it is receiving. Newark kids deserve more resources, not less. The concerns of their parents should receive more consideration, yet they are ignored.

It is clear that the people of Newark want change. Anderson is wrong if she thinks Newarkers as a whole want to defend the status quo. I would argue that much of the charter school demand is due to the fact that it is the only change being offered. What if all Newark schools were given longer school days, better facilities, and additional support teachers? Are parents really demanding charter schools, or change?

There is growing dissent among TFA alumni as well. More of them recognize that students in communities like Newark need allies, not saviors. More of them understand that being a “top-performing teacher” is not enough; successful schools require resources and community support. They know that parents in every community want what is best for their children. They have partnered with experienced teachers and learned from them, instead of demonizing them. They realize that test scores cannot be the only measure of performance for a school, teacher or student.

Dear Cami Anderson, the community needs to be involved in this process. You have received a 100% vote of no confidence from the school advisory board and the city council. These are elected officials chosen by the citizens of Newark, and they certainly amount to much more than a few hecklers in the crowd. Look at the elections of Bill DeBlasio in New York City and Vincent Gray in Washington, D.C. Look at the strikes in Chicago, Seattle, and Portland. This resistance cannot be attributed to a loud minority.

In your article, you make the case for why your plan can’t wait. I’d like to believe your urgency is sincere. Unfortunately, you are racing to implement a plan that has mixed reviews and results, with little support and no solid evidence of potential for success.

Schools are more than test scores. They are institutions with connections and histories that are vital and dear to the community. To close them against the will of the people without even hearing them out is not only blatantly disrespectful, it is also dishonest, disruptive, and even dangerous. Newark Public School students deserve better.

When the schools are “turned around,” it is with different students and teachers. Improvements are made for the buildings, but what happens to their former inhabitants?

The existing teachers, who are often experienced and have built a rapport with the students and the community, have to look for jobs. The existing students have to look for new schools, while the neediest students are left in the cash-strapped, deteriorating facilities of the traditional public schools.

These displaced students are often forced to travel across town to schools in unfamiliar neighborhoods with different gangs and affiliations. It is already stressful for students to leave the neighborhood they grew up in, their school, their teachers, their friends, and their support system. Imagine them having to do so against their own will, at the behest of forces that don't answer to their parents or their community. Are residents going to celebrate a new school in their neighborhood that their children don’t even attend?

You say you want to bring good schools to needy neighborhoods. How about bringing good education to needy students?

To be sure, I see some good in the “One Newark” plan. Applying to multiple schools with different applications is cumbersome. Having one application could simplify the process and provide parents with all their choices in one place. Furthermore, charter school waiting list numbers are highly inflated, because families who apply to one typically apply to them all. A unified application should lead to more accurate numbers.

But there is so much that is harmful about the plan. You claim you want to give parents a choice, so let them choose the kind of education they want for their children. Let them be represented by a school board with authority to make decisions. If they choose a neighborhood school over a charter school, keep the neighborhood school open instead opening another charter. Doesn’t that make the most sense?