November 7th and 8th marked the 159th NJEA Convention, an annual event that offers New Jersey teachers what is arguably the most comprehensive, concentrated series of professional development opportunities in the country. This year, educators from all over the state had the opportunity to choose from over 300 workshops and seminars; attend a State Board of Education meeting, which was moved to Atlantic City to coincide with the Convention; hear Commissioner Chris Cerf speak; attend a workshop given by Charlotte Danielson, whose teacher-evaluation model is being used by a majority of schools in the state as part of the ACHIEVE NJ initiative; and study the various components of the new (unproven, untested) teacher evaluation system and mandates that accompany it.
Because the NJEA Convention is so well-attended (the union is reporting attendance of 30,000 this year) and offers career development opportunities for educators of all levels and disciplines at no cost to school districts or taxpayers, many public school districts across the state close for two days each November so their teachers can participate in the event.
This year, though, Newark State District Superintendent Cami Anderson decided–despite concerns of the Newark Teachers Union leadership and despite the fact that NPS have traditionally been closed for the NJEA Convention–that the city’s schools would remain open on November 7th and 8th. But when she realized that approximately 1,000 NPS teachers planned to attend the events in Atlantic City, Anderson had no choice but to close schools at the “last minute”: on the afternoon of Wednesday, November 6th.
After the Convention, Anderson wrote a purposefully divisive letter (see image below) to the families of NPS students explaining her decision to close schools–and effectively blaming the NTU for the confusion that accompanies such a last-minute announcement. In the letter, which differs from an edited version that appears on the NPS website, Anderson claims that in the past when the district closed schools so teachers could attend the NJEA Convention, “crime went up”–because on days off from school “idle” children engaged in criminal activity–and that the November 7th and 8th closures made the city of Newark “less safe.”
The implications of these statements are supremely insulting to Newark students and parents alike, and it’s equally shameful that Anderson has chosen to suggest a correlation between school closures and crime in Newark to use as leverage in her anti-union message. It apparently wasn’t enough for Chris Christie to blame teachers and their unions for creating “failure factories”; Anderson now sees fit to also blame the unions for crime in Newark.
Further, Anderson suggests to families that because Newark’s teachers aren’t represented by the NJEA, the convention would have no value for them (state law dictates that the convention is open to all New Jersey teachers, and Newark educators have been attending for years)–an assertion that is completely untrue and glaringly manipulative–and insinuates that NTU leaders urged teachers to attend the Convention out of spite.
One would think that if Anderson truly supported Newark’s teachers, she’d be thrilled to learn that over 1,000 of them chose to attend the NJEA convention. If she had any doubt about whether or not the event would be a worthwhile use of teachers’ time, a glance at NJEA’s 88-page Convention program would have made clear why the country’s largest state convention is so valuable to New Jersey’s teachers.
But it seems that Cami Anderson is more concerned with disparaging the Newark community and supporting Chris Christie’s union-busting agenda than she is with ensuring Newark’s teachers have access to career development opportunities that will help them improve their instruction, since she claims in her letter that allowing teachers to attend the Convention “doesn’t make sense” for the students or city of Newark. And instead of celebrating the professionalism of Newark’s teachers, Anderson makes the outrageous claim to the families of Newark that teachers’ attendance at the NJEA Convention has made Newark “less safe.”
This type of rhetoric will most certainly not help promote a culture of academics–or a culture of respect–in Newark.