JAMES: It's a Victory for Newark Taxpayers but Is Roger Leon Taking Cami Anderson Lessons?

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(This first appeared at Newark Neighborhood View.)

Earlier this month, I questioned the lack of actual learning time our students in Newark were receiving during COVID-19. Most of all, I pointed out that Newarkers are paying the same taxes, yet our kids in Newark’s public school are receiving far less learning time.

I pointed out that parents in other cities were suing over this, but wanted to know where Newarkers could get their refund on lost learning time and who I should call. Superintendent Roger Leon? Teacher union president John Abeigon?

Like we saw with my last post about Superintendent Leon, he reacted almost immediately. Except this time he didn’t call and threaten to sue me–he immediately moved to change the standards of virtual learning and increase instructional time for kids in a major way!

Victory, right?

You’d think I’d be jumping for joy at this because it’s a good call.

The problem is how he did it: a back-room decision that didn’t engage parents and students in the process. 

Look at this petition from thousands of Newark high school students and allies.  And for more information, see here.

Once again, Newarkers are pushing back on Leon’s way of doing things.

As the petition states, it “is unfair for not thinking about how this decision made by a person who is not a student and does not understand our struggles will affect us. They took over without asking the students how we feel. They put aside our opinion and our rights to make decisions for the benefit of our well-being. They made a choice on our behalf without our consent and feelings in mind.”

This isn’t the only example. Leon shut down one of the highest performing district elementary schools without telling parents who chose them in the universal enrollment process just months before. Parents spoke out about the lack of transparency and inclusion at board meetings, but ultimately were ignored.

Leon also moved to make FAFSA a mandatory requirement for graduating seniors–a good thing that the charters have been doing for years. But he proposed the policy in a chat box in a zoom board meeting. No process, no document, just change by dictate.

These tactics sound familiar to anyone?

Is Roger Leon, Cami Anderson’s former deputy, coming back with more of the same?

Anderson’s years as Newark Superintendent were some of most volatile for our community. While some of her ideas were actually good ones, she showed insensitivity to our community through her actions. She made big decisions without engaging our community. She showed no interest in working with parents. As a result, many good ideas didn’t go as far as they could to help children.

Unfortunately, rather than learning from Cami’s mistakes, Roger has chosen to run our school district like a bully—just one with Newark roots.

Let’s be real for a second, and maybe I will be a bit too real, but let me share what I hear about Roger. 

Roger, who is an appointed official, does not work well with our elected school board. He often ignores them. He hires too many people outside of Newark. He shows little effort in engaging parents. Sound familiar? 

Ask any principal, elected leader, or parent. Whenever an issue arises, we have all heard Roger blame his staff for something rather than owning the decision he has made. “Call me personally if you ever have an issue,” we hear. Most of us don’t believe it anymore. We have heard it too many times. Roger can look you in the eye, smile and hug you during one moment and then lie and stab you in the back the next. 

Roger’s words are not true. Instead, he likes to act depending on the audience of the moment. Cami liked to be an actor as well. We all remember how she used to brag in public speeches that she was trained as an “improvisation actor.” 

There are many similarities Cami’s former chief deputy has with his former boss.

But the worst is that Roger has decided to continue the Cami Anderson way of doing things in Newark –-by making significant decisions without any consultation with the community.

And please, let’s face it, we are NOT seeing Leon making these drastic decisions because he has “higher expectations” than the rest of us. It’s about him wielding his power and making knee-jerk decisions based on his own whims.

My blog has questioned some of Roger’s actions in the past. I even highlighted Roger’s bullying tactics with me personally, which, once I posted, seemed to remind many of the Cami days.

But here is what is keeping me up at night, Newark: 

Cami’s downfall was simple. Newarkers had it with her. There were just too many times to count where she should have listened and built consensus rather than implemented on her own. 

Now, many years later, Cami’s former chief deputy is following the Cami playbook – and it needs to stop.

Roger has followed Cami Anderson and created his own “One Newark” Plan.”

Just like the days of Cami, no one really understands his long- term vision for our school system. He seems to have very little interest in what his Board, Parents, Teachers, and Students think. And his actions are not bringing people together. Instead, Roger’s “One Newark Plan” seems driven only by his own whims and implemented without consensus or working together.

Just like Cami, Leon’s new version of “One Newark” is only about one person.

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