Tuesday, October 20, 2015



If not trying to stay on top of legislation, budgets, curriculum, changes in administration, standardized testing, Opt-Out/Refusal laws and data up to my ears wasn't enough, tonight I can add ZONING onto that heap as well. You see the City of Newark Zoning Board met yesterday with North Star Academy to hear their proposal to build and expand into five new locations into the city of Newark. One of those locations would be the 166,550 sq ft. Star Ledger Complex on 377 Washington St. in Newark. Once the city's source of news, The Star Ledger turned sour on it's people and sold out to the state and corporate politics. It comes to no surprise that North Star has acquired the complex. 
The plans, to build a K-8 facility for the charter expansion as well as a parking deck for those employed with North Star.  Big deal you may be thinking right? Well major big deal! I will pose it the way it was posed to me by my buddy Cassandra Dock, Newark resident /Activist. " Frankie, the Star Ledger was COMMERCIAL SPACE! When the Star-Ledger operated out of that building and owned that building...THEY PAID TAXES! Our city is in a deficit budget wise and now North Star taking over, THEY PAY NO TAXES AND THE CITY LOSES OUT ON THAT TAX MONEY WE NEED!" 
Oh man! Here I was worrying about schools being closed and charters popping up in our public school buildings! I wasn't thinking how the city and taxpayers where affected when commercial spaces that the city needs for revenue would be manipulated to expand the charter movement! Silly me! Isn't that just how the game of Monopoly is played? My sister was always better at that game than I was growing up. I was more of a LIFE kid! All jokes aside, the level of importance of this issue has just reached DEFCON 4!  

Prior to the council meeting there was a vigil organized by the Newark Teachers Union to stand in unity for issues our Newark Teachers are encountering in the district and the loss of Public Education to "Reform for Profit." When my team and I got the invite to come a few weeks back we instantly said of course and were excited that the teachers were stepping out of the shadows and standing up like so many other great and courageous cities across the nation! In true procrastinator style I feverishly hunted around the house for items to assemble a picket sign to show my support. The other parents on our team are much more creative than I am when it comes to stuff like that. So I found a large piece of cardboard I found on the back of a Dark Crystal movie poster I have. Grabbed a Sharpie, a wooden leg from a small table we had and duct tape! CAN'T FORGET THE DUCT TAPE! I sat for a moment wand wondered "Ok how the hell does this work?"  I picked up the Sharpie and began to write on one side CHOICE not FORCE! The reverse side I wrote NO MORE NORTH STARS! STOP CHARTER EXPANSION!  I grabbed the wooden leg from the table and started duct tapping away to keep the pole in place! BY GEORGE...I MADE MY VERY FIRST PICKET SIGN!!! It wasn't anything fancy but got the point across! NOW THIS WAS TRULY SOME GRASS ROOT EFFORTS MAGIC GOING ON RIGHT HERE!

I grabbed my sign and headed out to the vigil to meet some of my fellow #PARENTPOWER team members Veronica and Tawanda. We also recruited some other parents in the community to come out as well. Since the event time was at 5pm it was a little tough for the working parent to get there. The cause important...YES. Paying bills and rent for the family...EQUALLY AS IMPORTANT!  I met Veronica while parking and as we walked to City Hall , we chatted about finally teachers and parents would be standing together. As we approached City Hall I could see the glow of blue and red police lights. The scene was a mixed bag of teachers, parents, students, residents and officials from the city.
We met up with Tawanda and began to say our hellos to the familiar faces of those fighting in the fight for Public Education. There was a mic and a speaker and some members of the community spoke about their takes on the issue. Some I could have done without as most of us there do not fall under paid organizers, well most of us. Those people, not even sure what role they served. The ones who mattered most to me where Council President Mildred Crump and Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon. Both had a message of empowerment and unity that together all of us can win this fight. Tawanda whispered to Veronica and I "did you guys see the crowd of North Star Parents gathering around the corner?" We didn't and agreed to take our signs to the corner to scope out what was going on, From the corner we could see a sea of blue shirts and banners!  We are talking professionally printed shirts with slogans that said things like " HANDS OFF OUR CHILDREN'S EDUCATION" and professionally made signs announcing they were from North Star. This explains a whole lot why the first hearing was adjourned. They needed more time to gather parents, get shirts printed and gear up the machine!

The Rally came to a conclusion with NTU President John Abeigon, leading parents and teachers respectfully behind the line of charter parents that spilled down Green Street. As we walked past, of course I was holding my sign as well as Veronica & Tawanda and the teachers with their pendants, the hostility that came from parents, children and staff was disgusting! As we go to the back of their line. There was a table posted. At the table were North Star staff signing in parents as they walked by. Those who didn't have t-shirts got one, a bag and wait...hold on to your socks for this one..."IF YOUR ARE HERE TO SUPPORT NORTH STAR SIGN IN AND YOUR CHILD DOESN'T HAVE TO DO HOMEWORK" boosted a female North Star staff person from behind the table. All the public school parents and teachers where dumbfounded at the lengths they would go to in coercing parents to come out and support their expansion.  The woman staffer annoyed that we were standing there witnessing their process continued to yell " YES, BECAUSE WE ACTUALLY DOOOO HOMEWORK!" Insinuating that in the Newark Public School district that our children are not given homework!  This is a great educator?  As we moved up passed the North Star Toll booth guarded by the North Star Troll, a young boy no more than about seven years old wearing a North Star shirt ran up to me and started yelling " YOU SUCK!" The hate and anger this young man had to me was astonishing! What was even sadder was that the parents wearing those blue shirts, actually laughed, clapped and cheered him on. What is even more sadder, so did the staff!

Finally, we made it in side City Hall and up into the Council Chambers. IT WAS PACKED! So packed they made the overflow move upstairs to the balcony. Most of the Newark Public School Parents were already inside. I was not allowed in because of my "sign!" Wow who knew a piece of cardboard and sharpie markings would be so threatening against such a mega development corporation that North Star had presenting. Veronica, Tawanda and I waited outside chamber doors signs in hand. As the all white gentlemen in suits and ties walked by and read our signs their eyes would open largely. They would not make eye contact to us at all.  As the doors opened we could periodically see the room which was packed with North Star Blue shirts. Mostly children with their parents. Some staff! As the presentation went on and the night got longer the poor young kids got tired and restless. As North Star parents came out , again, my cheaply made poster board sign aggravated them so much that thy would come by and make comments and get nasty. I mean really people you are expanding in our community, closing down our schools, taking commercial real estate and city taxes, but me standing here with a friggin cardboard sign bothers you. TOUGH! At one point in the night, three parents and maybe 3-4 kids approached me and the ladies. One of the female parents asked me "Why are you standing there with that sign?" I told her "the same reason why you are wearing a finely printed shirt! To make sure the point gets across that we do not want anymore North Stars expanding in the district!" She asked " what school does your child go to? " I said "Oliver Street." She rolled her eyes and laughed, saying " Oh Oliver, there is nothing wrong with that school." I said " I am not here because it is just my son's school! I am here for all NPS schools! What area are you from Ma'am?"  She said " South Ward." I said " Great you wanna hear from South Ward Parents...here ya go." Veronica , Tawanda and I, proceeded to speak to them calmly about things like cuts in the classroom like aides and teachers. They were clueless. They said " You guys at NPS get everything!" The three of us looked at each other and just started laughing. We all talked about the budgets and how $63 million was taken from our budget for them and other charters in the city. No comment. The only response was one woman said well Oprah came to our school and supported us. I then said, " Oprah supported the $100 million from Mark Zuckerberg that disappeared. She also supported an author by the name of James Frey who wrote A Million Little Pieces about a man's memoir of drug addition and rehabilitation...AND IT WAS A FAKE! Her credibility is not the best ma'am!"  The young kid who was with her flinched as if he was ready to throw a punch. I also said" Ma'am your school doesn't accept all kids. She said how her son was bad and had an IEP. I told her that well your son must be a rare exception. 

The only worth wild conversation I had was with a young man who politely came up to me and said " Excuse me Sir can you kindly explain to me why you don't like North Star?" I explained to him that I didn't hate North Star , but I don't want there to be anymore North Stars until there are schools in the public school system that kids can go to that look just as nice and have clean environments, and computers for every student and all the fun stuff that is at North Star! I said to him it is like playing baseball and only one team has a chance to practice. He understood. I spoke to his mom who told me that she was not sold on the charter idea. She said there are some bad ones out there and that she had a son who went to traditional public and now her young one was going to charter because there were no good public schools left in her area. I said exactly the issue that all the schools closed and there was no choice. I asked her " If you had a choice between a high performing public school and a high performing charter, how would that have made decision different. She said she then would have a choice and my response was "Exactly!" It actually was a pleasure speaking with her. 

The night went on and finally I was able to stand in the back of the council chambers. Person after person lending their testimony why they didn't want charter expansion, budget drains, no tax revenue from their buildings, the impact it would have on infrastructure and safety in an already congested location of the city. The only things that were coming from the North Star side were students speaking about how great charters were! I am so happy that they wanted to testify but it was a Zoning Board meeting? The North Star Development team had poster boards of what the schools looked like, but none from the view that we could see. The only ones who could see where the council members. As people asked specific questions they were walked over and pointed out the answers but no one could see and the overhead TVs were off. My heart went out to the very young children who occupied the chambers in large numbers, some sleeping on chairs or their parents lap, some distracted. one little boy was even reprimanded by a white staff member because Donna Jackson  made a remark and the public school parents and supporters started clapping so he did. " Don't do that!" she said. It was about 9:00pm and my Neuropathy started setting in and it was time for me to leave. I did stay to hear NTU President John Abeigon  say" No matter what the vote is, I am telling you now the NTU will be appealing it!" 

Unfortunately, before I can pull in the driveway I had several messages on my phone saying that the board voted in favor of North Star:
8 Yes
1 NO
1 Present but not voting
That means the fight now must go to the Municipal Council on the matter! They better be ready for some pissed off Newarkers! North Star may see it as a victory, their parents may see it as a victory. I just have one question for them, if charter was so the bombdiggity...why would it not be in every upper class white neighborhood in the US or better yet why not in NJ? You have sold your selves, your morals, your ethics and the fabric of culture in this city for the "NEW PAIR OF JEANS!" What happens when you try on the jeans and they do not fit right, they don't feel right, they shrink after one wash, rip or tear after one wear? Then you come to find out it is no refunds, no exchanges. When you have worked in tandem with hedgerfunding loving educational reformers to turn Newark from a proud historical public school Renaissance city to a  substandard CHARTEROPOLIS...was it worth the free t-shirt?  The numbers of the attendance from last night's North Star staff, parents and mostly young students have grown from 200, to 300 to 500 attendees. The bigger Matthew Frankel's head gets...the bigger the number gets!  It's all white tote bag wishes and teal blue charter school t-shirt dreams! Now charter kids, the fun is over back to homework! 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Newark Charter "EXPANVASION!"

The Newark Charter "EXPANVASION!"

Sound the alarm the invasion oh excuse me "EXPANVASION" has begun! Today, in a press statement, The KIPP charter school network announced that on Thursday it would apply for renewal and expansion here in the city of Newark. They want to open 5 new charters, one being in the old Star Lair I mean Star Ledger building! This would increase their enrollment size from approximately 3,200 seats to about 5,400 seats! ARE YOU SERIOUS!!!  Governor Christie already gave charters about 63 million out of the public schools budget! This is completely insane! 

Now they say to parents like myself." stop being conspiracy theorists." Well, what in tarnations is this! There is an ugly road that is being paved in the city I love so much and that is to build their Charteropolis! Just as they have done in Camden and in New Orleans!  They are completely sabotaging our traditional public schools so they can fail. Close them down! In their place a bright shinny new charter school that does what produces the same or less than standard achievement!
Look at New Orleans. In These Times reported back in August of this year  In These Times " In These Times received an advance copy of research conducted for the Network for Public Education (NPE) by University of Arizona researchers Francesca L√≥pez and Amy Olson. The study compared charters in Louisiana, the majority of which are in New Orleans, to Louisiana public schools, controlling for factors like race, ethnicity, poverty and whether students qualified for special education. On eighth-grade reading and math tests, charter-school students performed worse than their public-school counterparts by enormous margins—2 to 3 standard deviations. The researchers found that the gap between charter and public school performance in Louisiana was the largest of any state in the country. And Louisiana’s overall scores were the fourth-lowest in the nation.“You can say until you’re blue in the face that this should be a national model, but this is one of the worst-performing districts in one of the worst-performing states,” says NPE board member Julian Vasquez Heilig, an education professor at California State Sacramento. They went on to say that the people of New Orleans  " Mourned the loss of their public school district!" WELL NEWARK IS IN THE ICU UNIT and the charter invasion is ready to sign the DNR and pull the plug on traditional public schools!
Superintendent Christopher Cerf stated in his grand standing update at the State of NJ BOE meeting this month that 75% of Newark Parents preferred to take their children out of their own neighborhood and 40% enrolled their child in charter." Yet, he says only about 8,000 parents used the districts Family Enrollment Center? There are approximately, 6k families...yes 6k families with children STILL NOT PLACED INTO A SEAT IN THE DISTRICT! IT's MID OCTOBER! So forgive me if I do not believe the data that is being reported out by these "consultants!" Call me a conspiracy theorist if you want but when I smell a rat usually its in the trap!  How on God's green Earth  can our public schools pull themselves up when the state itself looks at them like the red-headed step child? Like an old pair of shoes at the bottom of the closet? They are allowing this to happen and coming up with ways and false committees to prolong what they have wanted for years, privatization of education in the city of Newark! They have found gold   here in Newark and the only way to sift through it is to break down the public sector of education and build a Charteropolis!

The announcement of this "expanvasion" was announced slickly by KIPP Executive Director Ryan Hill and KIPP spokeswoman Jessica Shearer. It was announced the same day and time that the city's residents were attending The Newark 350th Anniversary press conference at 11:30 am at City Hall and immediately after was the unveiling of the DR. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial statute in front of Newark's Hall of records at 12 noon! They new that the city would be preoccupied and would be a away to keep folks who are opposing the charter "expanvasion"  away from their building! If they say they are for the growth of this city this was a slick but poor move on behalf of their PR team! BAD TASTE TEAM KIPP!

An emergency Newark Advisory Board  meeting was called later on in the day. Had I not been on the Newark 350th Anniversary Committee and at the press conference at City Hall today, I never would have known! I was pulled over and told to come to the Board of Ed at 5:30 PM as they were going to discuss some issues surrounding the Newark Public School Budget, Normally, meetings are on Tuesdays, and I am unable to attend the budget meetings as I sing in my church choir and Tuesdays are rehearsal days. I was eager to ask how is this charter "expanvasion?" No one showed??? My son and I were the only ones from the general public there.Two security guards were in the room, They looked shocked to see us there. We took seats and patiently waited. A gentleman walked in the room and shouted to the security guard "you are crazy?" He was ear hustling in on the two guards conversation. The guard responded " I must be to be working here!" I laughed maybe a little too loud but seeing I was the only person in the room...did it matter? I thought it was fitting! The room began to fill with some personnel.They would look at us and whisper. Maybe it was just paranoia since I was in the lions den. I as approached separately by three randoms " You know that this will be an executive meeting, they will hear public testimony and go into private so if you want to leave now, you can." I said "no I will stick around see what happens." One lady said "there is a sign up sheet to speak." I am sure it is procedure but I wanted to say" HELLO LADY, I'AM THE ONLY PERSON HERE!"  I hung around for awhile and in walked our Advisory Board President. She gave me a hello from across the room, spoke to a few of her fellow board members and came and sat down next to me. She told me the same how there was not much going on and I told her that I was told to come. I asked her "Are you all going to discuss the charter expansion that is going on with KIPP that was so big they needed a press conference?" She advised me it wasn't on the agenda for the evening. She also said that the article in NJ.com did not mention "when" the "expanvasion" (my word not hers) would take place. I said."the article said they were going to put in the renewal and new applications in this Thursday!" She repeated that the article had no date so she didn't know.  She was called away by a rude blonde who obviously felt her time was more valuable than a parent in the community. I waited until she was done and came back to sit down, We had some more small talk, said our good byes and left the meeting. At least one parent was already buzzing in the ear of the Board President that this deal was not going to be taken lightly by the public! On my way home it upset me tremendously that this "epanvasion" was not their primary topic this evening! I wish there were others but when meetings are called at inconvenient times for parents to speak up, they go be hind close doors and with swipes of pens and over take out do what they do. What that exactly is since we have no local control, still puzzles me a bit.

Great segway into local control and all this charter nonsense. What ultimately is the plan here? I know we had a public meeting with the Newark Educational Success Board on what we wanted the future of Newark Public Schools to look like, I can tell you as I was in the room, more charters was not the condenses in the room people! Is that when we will get local control, when the budgets for our traditional public schools are depleted because of newly expanded charter schools? When our schools shut down and turnover into charters who work loop holes around reporting data to the state and the public on funding and test scores. Who pay to launch charter driven parent organizations?
What is going on in our city? By now you all know how I like to reference things that happen in real life to my love for Pop Culture! I feel like it is the scene in the 1984 classic Red Dawn, when the students are sitting in the classroom and the invasion starts. BOOM, it's around them and only the rebel fighters band together to try and stop the take over! Is that not what you the rebel public school fighter out there feels like?

We are embarking on a year of celebrating 350th Anniversary in Newark. A years's worth of events in our city, about the history of our city. The Executive Board of the 350th Anniversary has gotten Superintendent Cerf and the district staff to have curriculum created about Newark to incorporate into the districts curriculum! Now, how will you incorporate this invasion into that curriculum? How will you celebrate 350 years of Newark when our Public Schools, a crucial fabric of our history is being intentionally dismantled? RIGHT IN FRONT OF OUR EYES? How do you explain that to the generations of Newarkers who walked in those buildings because they wanted a fair and free education? They may not have been the cream of the crop when they walked in the door, but the Newark Educational System made them tremendous successes!  This INVASION is not "choice" for parents! Relinquish monies that deplete our public school budgets. Let us build equally stellar public schools and then say we the families of Newark have choice between equally exceeding public schools and equally exceeding charter schools. Both that meet all state requirements, rules and laws.
I do not want the city I love and care for so much turned into a CHARTEROPOLIS! 

Friday, October 9, 2015

How Did I Get Here?

How Did I Get Here?

I don't know why, but I am feeling a bit nostalgic. Maybe it is texting a good friend I haven't seen awhile today, or maybe looking through some old photographs in albums I had on Facebook. Maybe it is just in the air. I look at myself now and sometimes, I don't even recognize the person I am. Not in a bad way or maybe not even in a good way. This guy is just different. Today, I had to venture into New York City for an opportunity to sit with Fox News for an interview regarding education in the city of Newark and how the ParentPower Movement came about. Me...Fox News? HOLY CRAP! When I initially got the call several weeks ago and heard on our voicemail that they wanted to speak with me I have to admit, I was a little skeptical in returning the call. It's not like Fox News and I really have that much in common. Especially, when it comes to political views. I did and I was even more surprised when they asked me to come in and do an interview in their studios. I wasn't going to do it but I asked my friends Julia and Susan what they thought and my concerns for it being Fox and both said to do it and that would be a great experience for me to have. Both equally said to stick to my guns and don't let them twist my words around or go down avenues I didn't feel comfortable going. After speaking to Julia and Susan, I contacted the producer and agreed to come in. So today, I hoped on the PATH, headed across the river into Manhattan and walked down the streets of Time Square pretty much a new person and a new type of Dad!

I got to Fox Studio and was greeted by the producer who arranged the interview. There was a signing in and badge process. Many large bodied guards! All around me were signs of faces from the Fox News teams and People like Hannity and the likes. I WAS TOTALLY A FISH OUT OF WATER! I flet as if I were behind enemy lines!  I was able to peak into some of the studios that were being used as we walked down the halls. " I'll get you into hair and make up!" he said and I instantly got nervous! I was brought to a small make up room with 4 chairs, 3 make up artists and TONS of make up supplies. As I sat in the chair I wondered to myself HOW DID I GET HERE? My nerves rattled a bit. It hit me like a ton of bricks that I just an average everyday dad, was sitting in a hair and make up chair at Fox News. The make up artist introduced herself and to be completely honest I was so focused on remaining calm that I completely forgot her name. she asked me what brought me to the studios today . I am almost positive she had to repeat herself because I was in a different world. part nervous and part thinking who else has sat in this very make up chair? I am a total movie and TV buff and being in front of the camera has always been a dream of mine.  I snapped back in to the tone of her voice and told that I was there to tape an education segment about Education in the city of Newark and about a parent organization I am a co-founder for.  She told me that she was from NJ and again I completely forget where. That loosened me up more. As she dabbed and blotted make up on my face (which is a very strange experience in itself)  and fixed my hair, I told her that I was a pro Traditional public school parent and how my family have all graduated from Oliver Street School. She told me that she as well strongly supported traditional public schools in our state and how it was a shame what was going on. 

She told me about her 2nd grader and the homework that she was coming home with. She said " it is impossible to help her! I feel like an idiot because I can't help my own daughter with her homework! 2nd grade homework!" I told her how she wasn't alone and as they get older it get's wore. The gentleman interviewing me was standing by the door listening to our conversation and he was puzzled as to what we meant. He obviously, had no children and experienced the format The Core has brought to the classroom and how learning practices in the classroom have changed. I responded with " Yes, 2+2=4 is not the way you get to 4 anymore!" He looked totally confused. The make-up artist from NJ just validated the reason why my butt was in that seat. The trip across the river...just got interesting! 

When hair and make up where done. we proceeded threw the corridors of Fox, I saw a couple of familiar faces from the channel. If you ask my wife, I don't get star struck or run up to people and ask for autographs and pictures. Just never was my thing. so this was no different especially when I felt every move I made was under watch. We approached a man and he introduced him self and told me he would be the camera man filming the interview. As we walked to the studio, he told me he was from Summit, NJ and had a 2 year old and a 8 year old. We discussed again how hard helping kids with home work was. How ironic, in the middle of Right Winged Fox News and I found two of my Jersey peoples. Again, validating the very reason for me being there. We entered a dimly lit sound stage filled with various sets and stage equipment. In the middle were two chairs facing each other a few fake book cases and statues. The two chairs where the only thing lit in the room. Here goes the interrogation! That's what it reminded me of. The camera man placed a mic on me, made some adjustments to some equipment. The producer sat in the chair opposite of me and made small talk telling me he actually taught for a year in Portland (I believe). One year being in kindergarten.  He also asked me how much Mayor Baraka was involved and I told him tremendously. The camera man gave the all good to go and we were ready to tape. 

He asked me questions about how Newark Parents Union started and how we evolved into the Parent Power Movement. We then went on to discussing the $100 million dollars donated by Mark Zuckerber then matched by the state. That seemed to be his primary focus. Where did I think the money went. We talked about making the playing field fair for all children. I don't want to give to much of the interview away before it airs. We wrapped the interview and the producer asked me if I would be okay with them filming some walking sequences down the street. I said that would be fine and we left the studio. I walked up and down from the corner of 48th St. to about mid block on 6th Ave and back again a few times (an awkward process) and that was the interview! We all shook hands and they thanked me for coming to do the segment. With that we said our goodbyes and I headed back down 6th Ave.

As I sat on my train ride back to New Jersey, I started thinking how did I get myself into all this? Surely, the reasons I was taking the Path into NYC were definitely not to go speak to Fox News about the state of education in Newark and to be an advocate for empowering parents. Who is this guy? I think about how far I have come from that old person. That old dad. From that day I said "Hey I think we should start a Facebook page!" From meeting my great friend Hassan Manning and both of us saying let's really wake people up and shake the rafters! It seems ages ago that I was standing fore the very first time in my life in the State House with my family, best friend friend Pedro, Hassan and Liz standing with Senator Rice on getting Stop Force Public School Closures Act S966 initiated. I didn't even know really what a bill was really until getting involved with my good friends at Save Our Schools New Jersey. Only bill I knew was that School House Rock Song. 
If you asked me that I would be speaking at rallies and judicial hearings or speaking at a dais in front of my State Senators, I would say " sorry wrong guy!" Even getting involved in politics, if you would have told me that I would be hosting a coffee clutch for the elected mayor of the city, I would have told you NEVER!If you would have asked me on December 18th, 2013 when we launched our parent portal with only 6 of us on it, that it would grow to over 3, 050 and counting and a reach of up to 45k news feeds a week all over the nation, I would say "GET OUTTA TOWN!"  
I have traded in the Playstation controller and have picked up the Smart Phone to read articles and information regarding curriculum, legislation, the charter expansion, educational lawsuits and parent blogs. I mean i had no clue what Common Core was about 5 years ago and know I am deeply vested in educating myself and others about standards that are not our own being forced on our children. Attending book discussions, State Board of Education meetings and municipal level committee meetings on education. Like...who is this guy?
 The only logical way I think I have morphed into this new person, this new dad is I love my son. Education is very important to me especially when it comes to educational matters that will ultimately impact my son's future! In turn, helping those children in my community as well and their families have what is fair and just! I want to sit with my friends from Livingston, Short Hills, Warren, Maplewood and Belmar and them not gasp when I speak about things like my son's school schedule or how my son has been in the same school K-8. 
I want to be able to understand what rights as a parent I have to be at the decision making table when it comes down to legislation, curriculum and whats best for my child. I want to make sure when I say " NO MY SON WILL NOT BE TAKING THAT TEST" that my voice is not only heard but it is RESPECTED!

I am not quite sure how this all happened or how I even got here, but I am here! I am that dad who is vying for a seat on his son's school PTSO. I make my son brown bag lunches. I attend open houses. I meet with teachers. I volunteer to direct the school talent show. I research my sons text books and what is going on in his classroom. I am that dad who will as a million and one questions and demand truthful answers. I am that dad who hashtags #PARENTPOWER because I believe in it!

I am that dad who will get on a PATH train and speak to media about what really is going on in our school system. Again, not sure how I got here and don't think I can ever go back, but I like this guy and dad I have become!

The one who reaps the benefits of me becoming this new type of modern dad...my son!

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Ants Go Marching In!

The Ants Go Marching In!

One of my favorite bands of all times is a band by the name of The Dave Matthews Band! I bring that random fact up as this week because I can't seem to get their song " Ants Marching" out of my head. Maybe because I finally come to a realization that's what it has felt like living in the city of Newark in the last few years. When a kid drops a piece of candy of the ground on a hot Summer's day what happens? First you see one! Then you see about 20, then 50, then a 100. Soon that piece of candy is engulfed by an army of ants! It almost seems that they come out of thin air. They multiple out of nowhere! This past week has been that for me. It is as if I have dropped a whole bag full of candy at my feet and I am watching the ants come marching one by one! I feel like my city is being swarmed with ants and we are not talking the cute ones like in the picture above

Let me just recap the last two week I had. One day about a week ago, I was reading some senseless article about Kris Kardashian and 10 shameless things we didn't know about her ( probably more than just 10). GUILTY AS CHARGED! I noticed on the bottom of the article as I kept scrolling this annoying ad banner that would follow me as I scrolled throw the article. The text was small and hard to read but as I focused my eyes in I noticed it was a banner ad for something more horrifying than the Kardashians...it was for Teachers Village right here in Newark! For those of you who who are unfamiliar with what Teachers Village is, let me enlighten you. Teacher's Village is a LIVE, PLAY and LEARN mini community embedded in the city with over 214 living units and 65,000 square feet of retail and play space. Oh and do not let me forget to mention the three yes I said it THREE charter schools that are built right in the facility! One of them is Great Oaks Charter.  They are marketing this village towards that out of towner, that Teach For America implant! What I don't get since TFAers make less than like 30k a year and no teachers contracts how to they afford the luxury. Our public school teachers are underpaid, have to worry about their own families and are expected to furnish their classes with supplies in order to have functional classrooms. Let alone a state of the art basketball court for leisure recreation time!  We are talking state of the art living spaces. So naturally when I stumbled on the banner ad, as much as I din't want to give up the click, I did. This is what I came to:
Great amenities, sustainable living spaces, parking ( if you know anything about Halsey Street that's worth it's weight in gold) and even PETS! Its like a utopia...for the charter lover at heart! There are people in the city, hard working dedicated Newarkers, living in very old apartments or facing foreclosures on their homes due to the hard economy and job cuts EVERYWHERE! These guys get their own freakin village! Just like that poof...up comes TEACHERS VILLAGE! My opinion it's for the folk who are being brought in from areas outside of our city to teach our kids. Ya know...the one's who rush in clutching their purses and briefcases as they move swiftly from their cars or from Penn Station. The ones who at quitting time run to their corporate shuttle buses so they can be dropped right off at their public modes of transportation. Now, all the horrid things that they hear on their news apps and what circulates around the water cooler about Newark, well that will all go away! LIVE, LEARN AND PLAY! All in the same space. All under one roof. Their feet don't truly even have to touch the big bad mean streets of Newark, NJ! WHAT A GROSS CONCEPT! So gross, I had to go see this for myself. I mean this is not the first time I heard of it but to see the marketing to lure tenants and buyers was a different story!  Maybe I intentionally kept it that way? I guess I should pause for a moment to make one thing clear. I am all for development in my city, but before I see development that benefits the outside coming into Newark or corporate developers, I would like to see development with in our own community of residents. Better homes for existing residents, more jobs for existing residents, our TRADITIONAL PUBLIC SCHOOLS RENOVATED!  I am a Newarker and will always want to see my fellow Newarkers taken care of first. Call me territorial, I don't mind! I mean it was just literally the day before being prompted to see this ad, my son and I were at the Newark Educational Success Board  with fellow community members giving our testimony on what we wanted schools to look like to us once local control is restored to us. It definitely was not in some mini strip mall!  I jumped in my mini van and headed down to Halsey Street to scope this place out! WELL...THE MOTHERSHIP HAS LANDED!
 It was a small little city within our city! A Chatertropolis! If you were driving down Halsey Street last week and sitting in back up traffic blowing your horn, yep that was me! I literally stopped and was dumbfounded! It was actually several blocks long and on both sides of the street so you have to drive past it and not help but see the change from one side of Halsey to driving past this. Retail space, convenient stores several eateries and not to be missed the future home of Great Oaks Charter School! Boy they really weren't messing around when they said " from little acorns grow." The brainchild of Nicholas Berggruen of Berggruen Holdings, Fredrick Iseman of CI Capitals, TRB Newark Assemblage LLC and Warren Lichtenstein of Steel Partners! They have stuck the lightning rod into the grounds of our city and have all shouted" IT'S ALIVE...ALIVE!" I am not going to even lie, as I drove past I saw a few of the construction crew working on some it and I shouted BOOOOO as I rolled by giving them a not so kind and friendly finger gesture to show them my appreciation for their hard work and accomplishments! That is when the song Ants Marching resonated in my mind! Visions of all these people with their red and black antennas waiving flocking to the nice new sweet piece of candy that stands right here on Halsey Street! I haven't been able to shake the vision or the song since that day! Now talk about inequalities! Are there teacher villages in Shot Hills, Franklin Lakes or Cherry Hill? I think not!

The very next day, and I kid you not literally the next day, I wake up to about 40 missed notifications on my smart phone. Even before I can rub the sleep out of my eye, grab a cup of coffee or fully comprehend what time it was, I see a Facebook message" WTF IS THIS CRAP?" Crap being a more polite word than what came into me, but you get the point.It was a picture of a new parent organization that is brewing in the city! At first, I was not seeing the big deal. The more parents who advocate the better. As I read on and through the site, I see that they are not a grass roots organization, like most parent groups are. I see that they are also using the hashtag #PARENTPOWER! OK, you may be saying to yourself it's just a hashtag! Yes you are correct, but people in the community that are supporting the public school movement where sending me shots of this organization using the hashtag to promote their own stuff! Another ploy to confuse parents and lure them in if you ask me. The organization is fully focused and driven for the charter parent.   Looking even further into their staff, it is led by some of the biggest names in NJ Charter School expansion. With offices and all! So why use the same hash tag #PARENTPOWER?  Who are these people funded by? Certainly not a grass roots created and driven parents organization! MORE PARENTS SELLING OUT TO THE ALL MIGHTY DOLLAR AND TO THE HEDGE FUNDERS AIDING TO THE DISMANTLING OF OUR PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM.

It upsets me, not because I want paid offices, a hand out from the man! Not even jealousy. You see when the six founding parents of the ParentPower Movement (at that time we were named Parents Against One Newark) stepped in the scene we did it on our own. As we gained traction and movement don't think we were approached from organizations and political groups to hand it over or for hand outs. It was against our morals and beliefs. We do not have fancy offices, we do not have millionaires fitting the bill and pulling our strings! That is not #PARENTPOWER ! It is not in our make up to sell out! To the REAL parents fighting for changes, they are a mockery to what #PARENTPOWER stands for! Empowering parents to create change! Not buying off parents to be pawns to accomplish private agendas!

  We have seen these groups posing as parent organizations and it makes me literally sick to my stomach. This is the same group who bused parents down to Trenton this past Spring to a Standardized Testing Testimony with the Senate Education Committee, handed them scripts and sent parents who could barely get passed the 1st two sentences of the scripts. Same group that rallyed outside with finely made t shirts outside of Assemblywoman Mila Jasey's office to protest A4351, a bill that called for a moratorium on charter school enrollments statewide  Their rally cry"Hands Off Our Future!" I find that hysterical since their puppet strings have their hands all tied up by private investors!  They look like the sell out parents across the river who sold their morals and ethics to the likes of Kipp and Uncommon Schools to accomplish the Charter Expansion Agenda! The same parents who put out the racist add a few days ago in New York. Paid for buy the hedge funders! Racist and unbiased!

Taking a look at this new organization's staff here in Newark, it was a complete nightmare! Their "Communications Director" is a gentleman who has led initiatives in the State of NJ to market and spread Common Core and PARCC and the external managements of key curriculum changes regarding core standards. He also worked hand in hand with ex Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson aka Cami Chaos to drive marketing for her One Newark and Universal Enrollment plans. Plans that have truly reeked havoc in our community and are tearing down our Newark Public Schools.

Their " Executive Director" has a history of racist and homophobic statements released to the press. He was let go of working with a local neighboring town's mayor's office for making statements  which he "repeatedly" used homophobic slurs, called the Pope the "Antichrist" and said that "all white people have a little Hitler in them!"  Is this the executive staff you want to lead a parent organization to be the voice of all parents out there? I guess, this organization does not include Catholics, Gay and Lesbian or White parents! Also, Their " Family Engagement Coordinator" has a pending assault charge against him as he slapped a member of the Newark Advisory Board during his attempt to run for a seat on the board after a community meeting. 
My team jumped right on it looking into this group to see who was funding the group. Was it KIPP or TEAM or The NJ Charter School Association? Maybe even The Walton Foundation.? Our resources on the state level had no active records of the organization. Not on a state business level nor on a non-profit level. No link to any "doing business as" arms. The only lead I could find is an address. 570 Broad Street in Newark. The building has been newly acquired and occupied by the Berger Organization. I found in my research, that in the same building is Turnkey Charter School Construction . A company that builds Charters and has them ready to go. McCharter Schools!  The building is also home to The Newark Prep Charter School.  I tried to access the schools Annual Report Page on their site but it leads you to a page that simply says" Coming Soon!"

So, it seems that 570 Broadway in Newark is the new hedgefunder's turf for the Charter Movement! My team and I will definitely be keeping an eye on this " new parent organization" that is spawning and who they are laying in bed with! More ants marching on in! This must be the ANT FARM! 

On 9/28/15, I attended the panel discussion on the much talked about " The Prize" written by Dale Russakoff. I signed up previously for tickets for the event being held at the Victoria Theater at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. The panelist advertised were Dale Russakoff, Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf and Mayor Ras Baraka! The tickets were free and with this line up how could I not attend! In a previous life, I actually worked at NJPAC as the School Time  Arts & Education Division's Education Coordinator. It would be nice to see the old stomping grounds. I was in my early 20's when I was there and while I really loved the job, I had no idea who the Victoria Foundation really was and who they where philanthropically supporting. Today, I am a bit more in touch with things. I am well aware who they are now and who they are aiding. 

Anyway, I had downloaded Dale's book to my iPod for a fee of $19.99 from the Apple Store a few weeks before the event. It, sat there unread for weeks. Honestly, with all the articles and reading materials that come my way I just couldn't get to it. Finally, the day of the event came and I locked myself in my Franktuary and read dale's book, As a writer, I would not knock her style. However, as a Newarker I took some offense to some of her book. Maybe, Dales's book was not intended for the Newarker? It did not contain any information I did not already know or experience first hand. Honestly, it was very hard for me to get threw  the first couple of pages in the book. Her depiction of my city was harsh and very hard to take in. When I hear the words " Slum" repeated over and over by someone who is not from my city, well it was off putting. If this book was written by someone like who actually lives in the city maybe would be less offensive, I have to admit, I was not expecting that from the book. Maybe it's because I,  like many of my fellow Newarkers, do not see our city that way. We understand she can be a little rough around the edges at times, but we never think of her as slummy or ghetto or undesirable. Our eyes or our love for her simply just won't see her that way! From an outsider. Maybe it's love of her to a fault! I continued on anyway and made it to the end of the book feeling like, maybe asking for a refund was in order!  I get upset when I see people from other towns, feel they can come in and use us for their own agendas, book deals, class projects and feel like they are helping out the people in Newark and then they run back to their little white suburban towns.
It just erks me!

I felt the book gloried Cami Anderson as Superintendent and the chaos that she caused during her time in the NPS administration! It didn't have any mention to One Newark, really or the Universal Enrollment plan and how that dismantled the concept of neighborhood schools. Instead, she made Anderson out to be a heroin of sorts. She made it seem and mentions how Cami had a disadvantage coming into the city because she was white, As the reader, I felt it implied that Newark is a racist town. She makes the remark a few times in the book. The book, gave no light to the question on where did the 200 million dollars given. She drew comparisons between one charter and one traditional Newark Public School.  In my opinion the story was swayed heavily in the Charter direction. It made our traditional Newark Public Schools seem like they are a complete failure. NO mention of schools like Oliver who won a 150k Samsung Technology grant for a 1st place project done by the students. No mention of our success in turning around schools like East Side High and many others. No mention of the great successes that are coming out of Blue Ribbon schools like Newark Tech.! 

So I attend the panel that night. My buddies Julie & Darcie got there before me and saved me a seat 2nd row from the stage. I took my seat and the panel took the stage. I won't go into the full details of what was said and the nights activities. Why because honestly, not much was said. The only funny thing that caught me was none of the advertisement mentioned that Joanna Belcher from SPARK Academy would be there! She was there and barely gave any input to the panel except to keep saying how she came from the Compton School district. Repeatedly. I can tell you the crowd was not impressed. Dale Russakoff barely said a word. I would have thought, panel discussion on your book you would have tons to say? Especially, in the city the book is centered on. Most of the conversation took place between took place between Mayor Baraka and Chris Cerf. More was said in the facial expressions of our Mayor than put into words.  For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you all saw my comical commentary on how the panel went down. Here are just a couple for those who didn't see it.

At the end of it all, I still have the thought of all these outsider ants marching in one by one! Like that piece of candy on the ground, Newark is sweet for the infestation! From all different angels they smell the opportunities that lie in the city. How they can come in build villages around us for implants, how they can come in one by one and buy buildings in our neighborhood to use for their headquarters of gentrification. To march in one by one and use our struggles to sell books, to use for PR smoke in mirrors when they give us handouts that never make their way to the people in which need it the most! "All the little ants go marching. Red and black antennas waiving! They all do it the same! They all do it the same way!" - The Dave Matthews Band! NEWARK, WE  NEED A BIG CAN OF RAID!