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!
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!