The Newark school superintendent tried unsuccessfully Friday night to calm hundreds of angry school patrons, many of whom apparently first learned from a newspaper report of a plan to close several city schools and merge others.
Superintendent Cami Anderson called the meeting the same day The Star-Ledger of Newark reported on some specifics of a plan that has been evolving for some time. She also met with reporters afterward and said the several hundred parents and others who attended the raucous meeting at Rutgers-Newark were not representative of all city residents.
"I understand the emotions over this, I really do," she said. "These are community institutions. But there are scores of families who are very excited about this."
Anderson said several consistently underperforming schools with declining enrollment will be closed in their current form but some buildings will house new, merged schools.
During the public meeting, she gave a Power Point presentation outlining which schools were scheduled to be closed and consolidated with other schools, but left the stage before the allotted hour was finished. She was shouted down repeatedly and left to chants of "Cami must go!"
Wanda Sherrer, who sent three children through Newark's schools and has several grandchildren enrolled, expressed dismay that the decisions on school closures appeared to have been made without public input.
"This was done already. It was a done deal when we got here (tonight)," she said. "We need these schools in our area. We can't afford to let them close."
Anderson said the plans have been in the process for two years and town hall discussions have been held.
Earlier Friday, teachers union President Joseph Del Grosso said teachers, parents and many school officials were not consulted in the decision process and they were furious.
"There were absolutely no community meetings or discussions with the union about this endeavor," Del Grosso told The Associated Press. "It is catastrophic because what it actually does is take a city that's in trouble and exacerbates the problem; as we close these schools, we close what were beacons in the community."
Del Grosso said that test schools at Newark schools are improving and that reducing class sizes, not closing schools, was a better solution.
Newark's public school system is the state's largest, with 75 schools and a student population of about 40,000, according to its website. The schools have been plagued for years by low test scores, poor graduation rates and crumbling buildings. The district, which has been under state control since 1995, spends nearly $24,000 a year — more than twice the national average — per pupil.
Anderson was appointed last year to lead the district. Previously, she worked in New York City's District 79, a network of more than 300 alternative schools, served as executive director of Teach For America, and was the head of programming for New Leaders for New Schools, a nonprofit foundation that recruits principals.
Anderson has close ties to Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and was an adviser to him in his first campaign for mayor in 2002. Booker has said revamping Newark's education system is a main priority of his administration, although the city does not have direct control over the schools.
Booker appeared with Gov. Chris Christie and Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg on Oprah Winfrey's syndicated talk show in 2010 to announce a $100 million pledge to the schools over five years.