Last week, Mastery Charter School was on Rutgers-Camden campus interviewing candidates for teaching positions in Camden. This is mostly of interest because the Camden School District still hasn’t announced which public schools are being taken over by charters, it’s only announced the list of approved charters. Now, I don’t blame Mastery, they need to prepare for their new school, and they list their 52 jobs in Camden as “Potential Openings,” but there is something wrong when administrators can plan for their school and look to hire teachers before residents have had their say in what schools are “turned around” or teachers know whether they’ll have a job next year. How are teachers whose schools will be taken over supposed to apply for new positions at Mastery? For Camden residents, this “new transparency” sure looks a lot like the old transparency.
The focus on transparency and participation in the Camden District’s new plan is off to a rocky start. Residents were, avoidably, locked out of the Board of Education meeting (that ironically was to discuss this new plan to focus on transparency!). Announcements of the school “turn arounds” were promised, along with town halls to discuss the plan. That information hasn’t been released, and with charters already recruiting for new positions, it will be hard to take seriously the claims that the District is eliciting anything more than token participation at the eventual town halls.
My worry is that the lesson Camden’s School District administrators have taken from Newark is not that communities are fiercely protective and proud of their local institutions, but that it is best to put off conflict as long as possible by keeping the local population out of the loop. That is how you end up with a situation where everyone but the residents know what’s going on, and where Mastery Charter School is recruiting new teachers while the teachers in Camden schools don’t know if they will be employed or their school will even exist in its current form.
Every once in a while, we get to hear an unfiltered perspective on participation when it comes to charters and education. New Jersey State Senate President Steve Sweeney let the mask slip this week in an interview with NJ Spotlight:
Q: Do you support a local vote being required for any new charter school to open?
A: I would not support that. You would never get a new charter approved. The way you prevent new charters is you put out a good product in the district schools.
In light of Camden’s poor start to its transparency promise, in light of Sweeney’s recent comments that it would be impossible to open a charter if citizens were consulted, and in light of the news that Camden residents and teachers are left to the wind while new charters are recruiting for positions in the schools they will take over, I think it is time to hold the Camden School District accountable and ask a few questions. I’ve consulted a few folks and have made this list, but please feel free to add more questions in the comments section:
– What role will (and did) parents and students have in determining which schools are “turned around” using the Urban Hope Act?
– How will the School District elicit feedback from community? In what specific ways will that feedback be used? To address what policy areas?
– Is there any scenario in which community feedback could result in the changing of a plan to replace a public school with a Renaissance School? What specifics benchmarks could be met by communities for this to happen?
– What happens to teachers from schools that are being “turned around?” Will their salaries revert to starting-level regardless of years in the district? Will any of their school leadership be retained and how will this be decided?
– How were the Renaissance schools chosen and who was at the table when this happened? What specific rubric was used in such a choice?
The Camden School District is running out of time to make a credible case that it values transparency and participation. Clear answers to these questions would sure be a nice start. Should I hear back from the District, or a public announcement be made, I’ll be sure to share it here with all of you.
Don’t hold your breath.