Gasp–“The Best School in Newark” is closing!

Welcome to Newark, the land where educational instability is the norm and a charter school founded by an Assistant Superintendent in the district gets shut down because of abysmal performance.

That’s right, folks: visitors to the official Greater Newark Charter School website are greeted with a banner advertising the institution as “The Best School in Newark,” a proclamation that’s followed immediately by an announcement from the director that NJ Commissioner of Education David Hespe will not to renew the school’s charter so Greater Newark will be forced to close its doors at the end of June.

The school, founded by current NPS Assistant Superintendent Peter Turnamian, has been on probation in recent months, yet director Christopher T. Pringle urges families to ignore the fact that the school is slated to close–and instead re-enroll their kids for next year:

In the meantime, it is very important that the school maintains its base of students. As we progress through the appeals process, one of the arguments that could be made is GNCS does not need to remain open, because all of the students have transferred out. To avoid this, all returning students should complete the re-enrollment packets that were sent home two weeks ago. We fully intend to be in operation next year, and it is important for you to maintain your child’s seat by completing this packet. In the event that you have not received the packet, please contact the school and we will be sure to get you one.

That’s right, parents: plan on sending your kid to Greater Newark school, which the Commissioner of Education is about to shut down. Because otherwise, the Commissioner of Education will shut down Greater Newark. 

Hespe maintains the school’s test scores warrant the closure–and I can’t help but wonder whether the Commissioner is using his own data or the “data” that’s posted on Greater Newark’s own website.  (I’m no statistician, so if someone could tell me how the hell people are supposed to interpret this graph without more information, I’d appreciate it. And NO, the inspirational quotes from mystery students and parents at the bottom of the page don’t offer any insight.) 

Anyway, Newark’s state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson has been noticeably silent amid news of Greater Newark’s slated closure–and noticeably absent from the city’s landscape in recent weeks.  (And I wonder how Assistant Superintendent Turnamian feels about his charter-baby being shut down on his watch.) Anderson’s absence, says Bob Braun, suggests she might be on her way out in advance of her Two Newarks One Newark plan’s inevitable demise and the city’s mayoral election. And really, is anyone surprised?

In Anderson’s climate of educational turmoil, school closures are the norm–and Greater Newark’s closure is evidence of a dysfunctional system that leaves children’s lives hanging in limbo. The institution’s claim that it’s the “Best School in Newark” is blatantly and categorically inaccurate, much like the supposed “success” of many other “miracle” charters–and of the “reform” movement in general. The Newark children who are being used as pawns by people who clearly can’t manage a school?  Who cares. The lack of oversight that allows charters to run amok in the city?  Who cares.  The funds that get diverted from starved district schools and funneled to unchecked charters?  Who cares. Reform!

And while Cami Anderson travels around the country and infects other states with her reformy plague, wealthy proponents of education reform continue to pump inordinate amounts of cash into Shavar Jeffries’ campaign–undoubtedly to do everything they can to keep pro-education candidate Ras Baraka out of  the mayor’s office.  Baraka, whose Education Blueprint is a comprehensive plan that will seek to undo the damage Anderson has inflicted and implement meaningful reforms to the city’s troubled school system, has been under attack–both literally and figuratively–by Jeffries supporters for months.  He is undoubtedly the biggest threat to Anderson’s Two Newarks One Newark plan–and his election would be a major victory for public education both in Newark and across the country.

Anyone with an interest in public education should watch the Baraka/Jeffries race in Newark, as it will be a clear indicator of one of two things: that people realize that Anderson’s education “reform” is damaging and does the opposite of what it purports to do–or that big money from outsiders can purchase political seats in urban areas and override the will of the people who live there.



Also slated for closure is Camden’s City Invincible Charter School, a two-year-old school whose scores are lower than those in the Camden School District.  And in a particularly interesting instance of big charter vs. little charter, City Invincible’s principal, John Frangipani, complained that large charter chains like KIPP, Uncommon, and Mastery, which further remove local control/interests and have favor with so-called education “reformers,” are eager to take over his school:

In an interview last night, Frangipani said he knew the odds were long in the city, where larger charter organizations are moving in.

The KIPP, Uncommon Schools and Mastery networks each have at least preliminary approval to open up to five schools in Camden over the coming years under the Urban Hope Act.

Frangipani said Uncommon had even called looking for possible recruits before the school was even told it was closed.

“We’re on the outside looking in, I get that,” he said. “We’re a small operation, and the state wants to bring in the larger ones with the track records. But at least give us a fair shot to prove ourselves.”

The school hasn’t had a chance to prove itself, Frangipani says–as if logic and reason are driving the decisions to close schools in urban areas like Camden and Newark.  No: this is about the bigger picture.  The corporate picture.  The reform picture: the one that supports no-excuses charter chains.

Though Camden and Newark are separated by about 80 miles, their problems are similar: they’re state-controlled, they’re led by inexperienced Teach for America superintendents who are on a quest to close neighborhood schools, and they’re experiencing segregation and instability that’s purposefully inflicted by the proliferation of unproven corporate charters.


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