SELLING YOUR SOUL OUT FOR NO HOMEWORK?
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 Yes1 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!