This speech was given by Camden parent Carmen Crespo at a press conference last week announcing a lawsuit against the Camden School District:
It is an honor to be here today speaking on behalf of the thousands of parents of school age children in this city who, until very recently, haven’t had their voices heard. Until just a few months ago, I, like most Camden parents, was unaware of the changes coming into our district or how they would affect my children and my neighbor’s children. I quickly learned that our school district was supposedly in a funding deficit and would be laying off many teachers and support staff to cover this supposed deficit.
I also learned that applications were filed to open new Renaissance schools, using the district funding that Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard claimed that we did not have. The more I learned, the more I felt the need to advocate on behalf of our children and of the teachers and staff who were being taken away from us. Those teachers love our children and have dedicated their lives to educating them so that they can grow up and be successful adults.
Needless to say, when our children found out that some of their favorite teachers were being taken away, they cried and couldn’t understand why this was happening. One child went up to the podium at a rally and cried “they are taking our teachers away. The best ones too”. Parents were nervous about what to expect in the upcoming school year and how long it would take before the Renaissance charter schools took most of the children from the public schools, causing those public schools to close their doors because of the lack of enrollment and funding.
We also could not understand why this was being done to us without our approval? We are perfectly capable of deciding what is best for our children! Why was the state forcing this privatization on our district against our wishes?
Although we had many concerns about what was happening to our public schools, the vast majority of Camden parents kept their children in the public school system. Mr. Rouhanifard made promises of change, increased safety control, and physical improvements to our buildings. He promised he had staffing “perfected.”
Now let’s fast forward to the first day of school, September 2, 2014. What should have been an exciting new adventure for the children, ended up being a nightmare for them and their families. Despite Mr. Rouhanifard’s promises, schools were grossly understaffed and had substitutes in place of many of the permanent teachers.
I contacted the Superintendent and asked for a rapid solution to my son’s 1st grade class not having a permanent licensed teacher. I received a call from a member of the Superintendent’s team who indicated that there were many last minute retirees whom they hadn’t planned on having to replace and that the superintendent was working to resolve the problem, but had no idea how soon that would be.
A good manager would have been prepared for these kinds of situations and would not have created a work environment that drove away his most experienced teachers.
I began to hear from more parents across the city about substitute teachers at their schools. Now I don’t know the exact number of vacancies but what I managed to put together is a disheartening list.
- Sharp Elementary needs a 1st, 4th, 5th, as well as a music teacher
- Brimm Medical Arts needs Mandarin Chinese and Business Education teachers
- Yorkship needs a 6th grade and two 5th grade teachers and a Media teacher
- Whittier Elementary needs 1st and 3rd grade teachers as well as teachers of Art, Spanish, Media and libra. They have 0 inclusion teachers for grades 6-8 (not even a sub). They have one 7th grade class with 31 students
- Cooper’s Point needs a 6th grade math teacher
- Wiggins has vacancies in 3rd grade Spanish, 4th grade inclusion, 7th grade math, and needs a librarian
- Pyne Point is missing a librarian and a music teacher.
- Cramer needs kindergarten, 1st, 3rd and 5th grades teachers
- Vets has a shortage of 2 art, 1 social studies and 1 science teacher
- I’ve also had complaints from many schools about a shortage of speech therapists. Whittier has none and ECDC has only 1 for the entire school
There are many vacancies in inclusion classes also. IEP students need special accomodations as well security and stability. I spoke to one parent of an IEP kindergarten student who has to transfer her child several times was initially transferred to Sumner. At Sumner there was no kindergarten teacher and now her child is being transferred to Yorkship. This mom isn’t alone. There are many parents of special needs children who are getting the run-around. This is a scary situation for these parents as well as their children.
It is inexcusable that Superintendent Rouhanifard allowed a new school year to begin without properly staffing our schools. It seems as though our public schools are being set up for failure.
But the Superintendent should know that Camden parents believe firmly in our public schools and we aren’t going anywhere.
We demand the same resources and opportunities to succeed and flourish for our public school students as what you have given to the Renaissance schools. We want full funding, full staffing, new supplies, better resources, and renovations to the physical facilities in our schools.
A great education isn’t our children’s privilege. It is their right!