Newark Mayoral Candidate Shavar Jefferies Hits Superintendent, Opponent in Rollout of Education Plan
David Giambusso | The Star-Ledger
Newark mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries laid out a seven-point plan to fix education in Newark today, amid one of the most heated debates about the future of schools in the city's history.
Flanked by a dozen schoolchildren in his Central Ward headquarters, Jeffries called for local control, longer school days, improved facilities, more teacher support and more choice for Newark's 40,000 schoolchildren.
"We have squandered the boundless possibility of generation after generation after generation of our children," Jeffries said, adding that as mayor, despite state-control of Newark schools, he would "take personal responsibility" for advancing the fortunes of Newark's schoolchildren.
Jeffries railed against the approximate 50 percent graduation rate in Newark's high schools, as well as the fact that 9 out of 10 Newark students who reach college require remedial instruction to catch up with their peers.
"In the modern economy this is catastrophic," Jeffries said, calling for a world-class, free education for all of Newark's children.
"We want all of our kids to be on the college track and career ready," he said to loud cheers from the 100 or so supporters and volunteers at the event.
Jeffries' plan has seven points:
• Regain local control of schools
• Ensure college-readiness
• Provide more professional development/support for teachers
• Guarantee school and bus safety
• Modernize school facilities
• Expand after-school programs
• Ensure parental choice
Jeffries chided Superintendent Cami Anderson, saying she failed to engage city stakeholders with her "One Newark" school reorganization plan, which has become a lightning rod for criticism in the run-up to the May 13 municipal election.
"Our superintendent unfortunately has, in recent times, run roughshod over our community's fundamental interests," Jeffries said, adding Anderson failed to reach out to parents and community leaders. "I say this as a father: no one is ever going to do anything that affects my babies without coming to talk to me."
Matthew Frankel, a spokesman for Anderson disputed Jeffries' accusation.
"Superintendent Anderson has tremendous respect within the community, holding over 100 community meetings with civic leaders, elected leaders, parents, and members of the clergy," Frankel said. "In addition she's had four one-on one meetings with the mayoral candidates, including Mr. Jeffries."
Jeffries chaired Newark's School Advisory board when the district scored well above passing grades on four out of five state benchmarks for local control. The state declined to return control to the district, a decision upheld in a court ruling.
Still, he applauded Anderson's plan for expanding successful charters and extending the school day.
Jeffries accused his opponent, South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka, of demagoguery and playing politics with school children.
"Too many, including my opponent in this race, would rather stick their heads in the sand and pretend that everything is okay — that all of our problems are reducible to the scapegoat of the day," Jeffries said.
Baraka, a principal at Central High School who is on leave while he runs for mayor,released his education plan on Monday. He wants to create community-based afterschool programs, build a network of parents from charter and district schools, integrate Spanish, Portuguese and Creole languages into all school activities, and provide incentives for teachers to work in Newark. Baraka, too, said local control would be his first priority.
Frank Baraff, a spokesman for Baraka, criticized Jeffries for not endorsing legislation proposed by State Sen. Ron Rice (D-Essex) that would require local approval for any school closings.
“Ras Baraka has united parents, students, and community leaders to fight back against the Cami Anderson / Christie plan to arbitrarily close neighborhood schools without community input," Baraff said in a statement. "Jeffries, on the other hand, wants voters to believe that he favors local control of schools, but he still has not endorsedlegislation proposed by Senator Ron Rice that would require a vote by Newark’s elected school board before neighborhood schools can be closed."