Categories: Newark

VIDEO: Newark Superintendent Wants You To Send Your Kid To the 9th Worst School in New Jersey

In 2013, then-Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson was asked about Malcolm X Shabazz High School after an article in the Star-Ledger described how hallways were “choked by chaos,” while “gangs fought inside and outside the main buildings, students smoked weed in the stairwells and wandered the halls instead of going to class, teachers were punched and beaten.”

In response Anderson noted some positive movement, largely due to the hiring of “turnaround” Principal Gemar Mills, but conceded, “we still have a ways to go before Shabazz is a school that puts kids on the pathway to college.”

Nine years later, Gemar Mills has moved on (he’s Chief Academic Officer of the Paterson charter College Achieve Public Schools) and the only thing that has changed is how poorly the current superintendent’s judgement aligns with those of parents and students.

In this video I talk about that disconnect, especially after news broke about a series of events that were “extremely violent and predatory in nature.” This was immediately followed  by a press release from current Newark superintendent Roger Leon urging parents to “Make Malcolm X Shabazz High School Your #1 Choice.”  He went on to tout the school’s excellence and rigor, boasting, “there is no doubt that Malcolm X Shabazz is on the move and trending upward.”

Actually it’s not.  Shabazz is ranked #2192 out of NJ’s 2221 public schools. Current enrollment in the freshman class is 58 students (down from 250 when Mills was principal) as parents vote with their feet. Nine out of ten students fail reading proficiency tests and everyone fails the math and science proficiency tests, while few students take AP courses among the 5 offered. The latter is important; as Jay Mathews writes today, schools that encourage as many students as possible to take AP courses “reveal the potential of even disadvantaged teenagers to succeed when given a chance to do college work with encouraging teachers.”

Parents and students know this. At a recent Newark School Board meeting, the audience was incensed. A mother shouted out at the board members, “You are doing nothing for my kids!” a moment captured in the video above. Newark parent and activist Oscar James mused, “while Shabazz burns, I do not see anyone asking our students what they think or how they feel about the current state of violence within their school.”

Meanwhile, Superintendent León fights to stymie growth at other Newark public schools like KIPP Collegiate Academy where students not only take the same state tests but pass them, where hallways are safe, and 91% of students are enrolled in AP courses.

Would you send your kid to Malcolm X Shabazz High School? Would León? Maybe someone should ask him.

Laura Waters

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