Monday, July 13, 2015



My location: One Newark Universal Enrollment Center, 7/13/15, 10:35 am, 301 W. Kinney St. 

             I got in my car and took a drive to see what was going on since it was the first day of Open Enrollment at the One Newark Universal Enrollment Center. As I approached, I circled the block a few times to scope out the security at the front entrance of the center. The entrance was moved since the last time I was there. All appeared to be calm. I pulled over a few blocks down, flipped my #PARENTPOWER t-shirt inside out, put on my cap, grabbed my cup of coffee and headed on to the entrance.

As I approached the entrance to the courtyard, a security guard greeted me pleasantly. Mind you, in the past I would get thrown out or not even let in. Luckily a little weight gain, a beard and hat did the trick. Going incognito is now what parents have to do to investigate the district and see what is going on. I felt like a secret agent about to infiltrate enemy territory. At the door, a smiling Newark Public Schools employee named Brittney, who had about three NPS security guards around her, greeted me. She asked me my reason for coming and I told her I was there to find out more about enrolling my 4-year-old in the pre-school across the street from me. She told me to enter the first classroom and gave me small card with a number 1 on it. I WAS IN! Easy Breezy.

The classroom was arranged like a Motor Vehicle Center. You had to put your name on a list at a long desk separating the people from the registration stations. I entered a fictitious name. I was number 42, although there appeared to be more than 42 people seated. I overheard some of the parents saying, “This is ridiculous!” “Why can’t I go right to the school and register?” “Why are they making us go through this whole process?” I gently and quietly leaned over to the mom sitting next to me and said, “It feels like the DMV.” She told me this was her third time to the center and was told that she would need to come down in person to find a match for her child. As with the tension from the patrons who are at the will of the Division of Motor Vehicles clerks, so were these parents! When their number was called, they sat at a station with an NPS employee and were told where their children would be going to school in the fall. The process was definitely more structured and calculated than past enrollment sessions.

I got up and went out to Brittney and told her that I didn’t think I had time to wait, and did she know how many preschool seats were left? She said, “No” with that pretentious NPS smile they are trained to give. I then asked where the rest room was and was told to head down the hall. GREAT! Just what I wanted to see: what was going on in the other rooms! Heading to the restroom, I saw a familiar face that possibly would blow my cover. It was Dr. Lauren Wells, Chief Education Officer for Mayor Ras Baraka. She said, “Hey Frank!” I was hoping she would not say anything to the NPS staff about who I was! I quickly headed to the restroom. On my way, I made sure to look in every room. Each one represented a grade or group of grades with the same scene: parents signing in, waiting for their name to be called and sitting at desks with NPS employees getting their placements. The classrooms were guarded with at least two security guards. If you didn’t have that little card from Brittney with a number on it, you were not allowed in the classroom.

On my return from my restroom trip, I passed what looked to be the school’s main office. All the main NPS players were inside including Ruben RobertsExecutive Director of Community Affairs and Engagement, and Vanessa Rodriguez, Chief Talent Officer. There were also a few other district staff members outside speaking with parents. As I slowed my stroll past the conversations, I could hear parents were very upset. Their children were not being placed where they wanted them to be educated. One staff member told a parent, “If you are going to talk to me in a calm manner, I will speak with you, but if you get loud I will not!” The parent said, “I am pissed off and want my kids to go where I say they should go, not you!” This is typical of the upset and angry conversations that have been going on between Newark parents and the Newark Public Schools central office staff for the last year and a half. Vanessa Rodriguez walked out of the office, passed the upset parents and headed down the hall to the Pre-K enrollment class I originally was in. I followed right behind her. She relieved the staff member and began assisting a bilingual family looking for placement. In the 30 minutes I stood there, I did not hear one single parent called to a station. 

Dr. Lauren Wells entered the room. I knew she was there to get the info and I wanted to know as well. We as parents need to let our fellow parents know! All the district staff immediately perked up and automatically went on alert. I moved closer to get within earshot of what was being said. Dr. Wells was asking all the same questions my parent team was messaging me to find out: How was the process going? How were families being treated? How many available seats were opened in the district? What did the numbers look like?

I followed her out of the room. I have always had respect for Dr. Wells because she has always treated me with respect. I told her I was here to get the 411 and she gave me a smile. I asked if she knew how many seats were available, but she didn’t know. She asked Brittney and got the standard, “I don’t know” reply. They surely get paid a lot for not knowing anything!

Dr. Wells was then met by Ruben Roberts. He was dressed in his best linen suit and he immediately gave the canned district responses. There was a bulletin board by the Pre-K room with postings that showed how many seats were available in each school. It was hard to take a snapshot of it as security and NPS district employees were guarding the info. Dr. Wells asked if the list was accurate with numbers and Roberts said that it changed frequently. She asked if the information was online for the public and he said, “The list is just for us, the numbers are changing all the time.” When Dr. Wells asked if families were being helped, he responded, “They are being placed, but it may not be where they hoped to be placed.”

Dr. Wells and I walked out through the courtyard of the Enrollment Center together. I again told her that I was here to get a report for the team and parents we serve. I said, “Looks kind of organized, better than it did in previous enrollment sessions.” Dr. Wells responded, “Organized…Organized Chaos.” We agreed with a smile. I wished Dr. Wells a good day, got in my car, flipped my #PARENTPOWER t-shirt the right way and headed home.

It is a shame that the city can’t even get the district to give us information that should be available to the public. When the deal was made that Chris Cerf would be the bargaining tool used for start of return to local control, we should have had an immediate moratorium on the One Newark Program. The district should have returned to having parents register their child at their local neighborhood schools. Remember those long registration lines outside the schools? Those lines don’t look too shabby right now. We as parents have to educate ourselves on how we are being treated by the district. A parent should not have to go incognito into an enrollment center just to ask some questions from district employees. That’s what they get those big salaries for, not for standing around saying, “I don’t know” and giving out hall passes. What “talent” does it take to do that? I guess I will have to continue to go incognito to find out the process and get information to my parent team and the parents we serve. The district should know that there are many of us and no matter how hard they try to keep it secure…WE WILL INFILTRATE!


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