New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) speaks at a town hall meeting at the American Legion Dupuis Cross Post 15 on July 1 in Ashland, N.H.  (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

A group of New Jersey public education supporters has released an open letter to the State Board of Education to reject Gov. Chris Christie’s new choice for a superintendent for Newark public schools, saying that he will be no more effective than his last controversial choice.

Last month, superintendent Cami Anderson, who the governor appointed in 2011 and repeatedly defended, year after year, despite a rebellion in the city against her reform policies, finally left her post. This happened shortly before Christie jumped into the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination (but surely the timing was a coincidence).

Because Newark schools have been under state control since 1995, the governor selects the person to run the district schools. His choice to succeed Anderson is Christopher Cerf, who was New Jersey’s controversial education commissioner from 2011-2014.  The New Jersey Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the nomination July 8.

Anderson was strongly disliked in Newark for her management style  as well as her “One Newark” reform plan, which eliminated neighborhood schools in favor of a citywide lottery that ostensibly gave parents more school choices. The result was the closure of numerous schools, mass firings of teachers and principals, a rise in charter schools, and at least seven complaints of civil rights violations that have been investigated by the U.S. Education Department. Last year, dozens of clergy in Newark warned Christie that school reform was causing so much “unnecessary instability” that they were “concerned about the level of public anger” over the issue. A new mayor, Ras Baraka, was elected last year on his anti-Anderson reform platform.

Cerf, as education commissioner, supported Anderson’s “One Newark Plan” and was a big supporter of charter schools. On Feb. 23, 2011, the Star-Ledger reported this about Cerf, who was at the time the acting education commissioner before his full confirmation:

A consulting firm hired by Newark’s mayor to overhaul the city’s failing schools was founded a few months ago by Christopher D. Cerf, the state’s acting education commissioner, and still lists his Montclair home as its New Jersey address.

The firm, Global Education Advisors, is at the heart of a controversial proposal to open nearly a dozen new charter schools — a move that would reshuffle thousands of city kids and one that has already drawn angry response from parents.

Cerf acknowledged Tuesday that he had a hand in the creation of the firm, but said he was no longer connected with it.

Newark residents have repeatedly called for the state to let the city run its own school district again. The state took over Newark schools because of their poor performance, but little progress has been reported under state control. As Sarah Blaine, a New Jersey public school parent, attorney and activist, wrote on her blog:

As a believer in the critical importance of local democratic control over our nation’s public schools, I cannot agree more that after 20 years, it is time for the people of Newark to choose their own leaders for their children’s public schools.  Our public schools are intended to prepare our children for the responsibilities and duties of democratic citizenship. How can Newark’s children internalize democratic principles if their parents and community members are told, decade after decade, that the adults of Newark cannot be trusted to democratically govern their children’s schools?

Here’s the open letter:

Newark Residents Should Select Their Next Superintendent

We believe that the people of Newark should be able to democratically govern their public schools.

Fortunately, Mark Biedron, President of NJ’s State Board of Education, seems to agree. Mr. Biedron recently told the Star Ledger that “the people of Newark having local control over the school district…is a good thing.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Biedron will have an opportunity to act on this belief when the State Board votes on whether Chris Cerf should become Newark’s next Superintendent.

If the State Board approves Mr. Cerf, it will be continuing a 20 year history of disenfranchisement for Newark’s nearly 300,000 residents, who have had no say in this decision.

If the Board rejects Mr. Cerf and instead approves a candidate selected by Newark’s popularly-elected Board of Education, it will be putting Mr. Biedron’s admirable philosophy into practice.

There is plenty of precedent for allowing Newark to select its own superintendent.

Newark, Jersey City, and Paterson are all state–controlled school districts.  Yet Jersey City’s popularly–elected Board of Education selected its Superintendent, Marcia Lyles.  Paterson’s Superintendent, Dr. Donnie Evans, was selected by a committee that included members of Paterson’s popularly-elected Board of Education, along with other community leaders.  In contrast, Newark’s popularly-elected Board of Education has had no voice in selecting Mr. Cerf, who was nominated for this position by Governor Christie.

Approving Mr. Cerf is also difficult to justify because Mr. Cerf lacks the qualifications necessary to run New Jersey’s largest school district.  Unlike Jersey City’s and Paterson’s leaders, Mr. Cerf has no prior experience as a superintendent.

Nor is there a record of success in related public-education positions on which to base Mr. Cerf’s nomination.  In fact, Mr. Cerf’s tenure as New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education was marked by numerous poor decisions regarding Newark, including:

  • Appointing and continuing to support Newark’s prior Superintendent, Cami Anderson, whose policies and behaviors generated broad-based rejection and rebellion from Newark residents;
  • Improperly giving in to a demand from Ms. Anderson “to allow her to retain full control over 28 low-performing schools,” which resulted in New Jersey failing to comply with federal requirements; and
  • Forcibly maintaining State control of Newark’s schools by dramatically lowering the district’s scores on the State’s monitoring system (QSAC) from the scores that Mr. Cerf had given the district less than a year earlier.

The people of Newark deserve the right to select their next Superintendent.  They also deserve an experienced public education leader with a proven record of success.  Mr. Cerf’s candidacy fails on all these counts.

We encourage Mr. Biedron and the other State Board of Education members to vote no on Mr. Cerf’s nomination and to allow Newark’s popularly-elected Board of Education to nominate the district’s next Superintendent.

Newark’s residents have been deprived of their right to democratically control their public schools for 20 years.  It is long past time to correct this wrong!

 

Rosie Grant, Piscataway, NJ
Parent and nonprofit leader

 

Michelle Fine, Montclair, NJ
Parent and professor

 

Judy DeHaven, Red Bank, NJ
Parent and writer

 

Valerie Trujillo, Jersey City, NJ
Parent and public education advocate

 

Jacklyn Brown, Manalapan, NJ
Parent and educator

 

Julia Sass Rubin, Princeton, NJ
Parent and professor

 

Linda Reid, Paterson, NJ
Parent and nonprofit leader

 

Melissa Katz, South Brunswick, NJ
Future educator

 

Bobbie Theivakumaran, Metuchen, NJ
Parent and investment banker

 

Lisa Winter, Basking Ridge, NJ
Parent, technology manager and former Board of Education member

 

Marcella Simadiris, Montclair, NJ
Parent and educator

 

Michelle McFadden-DiNicola, Highland Park, NJ
Parent and public education advocate

 

Bill Michaelson, Lawrence Township, NJ
Parent and computer scientist

 

Marie Hughes Corfield, Flemington, NJ
Parent and educator

 

Rita McClellan, Cherry Hill, NJ
Parent and administrator

Sarah Blaine, Montclair, NJ
Parent, attorney, and blogger

 

Susan Cauldwell, Spring Lake, NJ
Parent and nonprofit leader

 

Heidi Maria Brown, Pitman, NJ
Parent and educator

 

Julie Borst, Allendale, NJ
Parent and special education advocate

 

Susan Berkey, Howell, NJ
Parent and educator

 

Darcie Cimarusti, Highland Park, NJ
Parent and Board of Education member

 

Amnet Ramos, North Plainfield, NJ
Parent and educator

 

Elana Halberstadt, Montclair, NJ
Parent and writer/artist

 

Ani McHugh, Delran, NJ
Parent and educator

 

Jill DeMaio, Monroe, NJ
Parent

 

Tamar Wyschogrod, Morristown, NJ
Parent and journalist

 

Lauren Freedman, Maplewood, NJ
Parent and public education advocate

 

Lisa Rodgers, South Brunswick, NJ
Parent and business owner

 

Laurie Orosz, Montclair, NJ
Parent and public education advocate

 

Michael Kaminski, Mount Laurel, NJ
Parent and educator

 

Ronen Kauffman, Union City, NJ
Parent and educator

 

Frankie Adao, Newark, NJ
Parent and social media specialist

 

Kathleen Nolan, Princeton, NJ
Parent, researcher and lecturer

 

Sue Altman, Camden, NJ
Educator

 

Jennifer Cohan, Princeton, NJ
Parent and publicist

 

Daniel Anderson, Bloomfield, NJ
Parent and Board of Education member

 

Debbie Baer, Robbinsville, NJ
Parent and educator

 

Dan Masi, Roxbury Township, NJ
Parent and engineer

 

Susan Schutt, Ridgewood, NJ
Assistant principal and public education advocate

 

Karin Szotak, Madison NJ
Parent and business owner

 

Tiombe Gibson, Deptford, NJ
Parent and educator

 

Lisa Marcus Levine, Princeton, NJ
Parent and architect

 

Kristen Carr Jandoli, Haddon, NJ
Parent and public education advocate

 

Jean Schutt McTavish, Ridgewood, NJ
Parent and high school principal

 

Virginia Manzari, West Windsor, NJ.
Parent and businesswoman

 

Stephanie LeGrand, Haddonfield, NJ
Parent and public education advocate

 

Melanie McDermott, Highland Park, NJ
Parent and sustainability researcher

 

Nora Hyland, Asbury Park, NJ
Parent and professor

 

Beth O’Donnell-Fischer, Verona, NJ
Parent

 

Susie Welkovits, Highland Park, NJ
Parent and Borough Council President

 

Gregory M. Stankiewicz, Princeton, NJ
Parent and nonprofit leader

 

Margot Embree Fisher, Teaneck, NJ
Parent and former Board of Education member

 

Stephanie Petriello, Dumont, NJ
Parent, educator and business owner

 

Laura Begg, Bernards Township, NJ
Parent and public education advocate

 

Gary C. Frazier, Camden, NJ
Parent and community activist

 

Debbie Reyes, Florence Township, NJ
Parent

 

Christine McGoey, Montclair, NJ
Parent

 

Regan Kaiden, Collingswood, NJ
Parent and educator

 

Moneke Singleton-Ragsdale, Camden, NJ
Parent and administrator

 

Liz Mulholland, Westfield, NJ
Parent and former educator

 

Toby Sanders, Trenton, NJ
Parent, pastor and educator