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Lawnparties charity linked to controversial public education plan

TEAM Charter Schools, the charity chosen by the USG that will receive merchandise proceeds from spring Lawnparties, is linked to the controversial “One Newark” plan, which involves transferring the management of some public schools to charter organizations.

The program was planned by Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson, who announced in March that TEAM would operate grades K-4 at the Bragaw Avenue Elementary School and K-1 at Hawthorne Elementary School.

Hundreds of Newark parents, students and teachers chanting “Public schools are our schools” and “Cami must go” protested “One Newark” outside the State House in Trenton on March 27. Over 500 Newark students staged a walkout and converged on the downtown area on April 3, protesting school closures and lack of adequate funding. Nonetheless, demand for access to charter schools is so high in some areas of the city that students are put on a waitlist.

USG social chair Logan Roth ’15 did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article. However, he defended the committee’s decision to donate profits to TEAM at the senate meeting on Sunday.

“We chose it because it was local, education-based, and we thought they did very good work,” Roth said. “I understand it’s somewhat politically controversial but I’ve said this before, I didn’t think it would be sensational, but this is a pilot year.”

Ryan Hill, founder and chief executive officer of TEAM, said Anderson approached him in December with concerns about buildings with very few students in them and asked TEAM to accept more students than usual for the next school year at their charter schools. Hill noted that TEAM ultimately ended up accepting 110 additional students, adding that a large proportion of these students came off of its waiting list.

Catharine Bellinger ’15, who is co-founder of Students for Education Reform and has worked with TEAM, said TEAM schools can be a good option for Newark students and that the USG was correct in supporting them.

“Supporting an educational institution close to home, in Newark, that is sending kids to college at dramatically higher rates than the district average and is preparing students for college at significantly higher rates is in general a good thing,” Bellinger said, adding that she would be comfortable sending her own kids to TEAM schools in the future.

Bellinger also noted that charter schools operate more freely from the traditional constraints of public education than public schools, adding, however, that she recognized the prospect of change can be frightening to parents and students.

However, there is substance to students’ and parents’ apprehensions about the “One Newark” plan, Director of the Program in Teacher Preparation Christopher Campisano said.

Campisano explained that significant progress was being made in returning individual Newark schools back to local school boards three years ago. Newark Public Schools had been brought under state control in 1995. The tendency to gravitate toward charter schools largely undermined neighborhoods’ public schools, Campisano said, noting that most charter schools perform on par with the public schools against which they compete and about a third perform worse.

“When we bring in these charter management organizations, to what extent is the community involved in the decisions that get made?” Campisano said. “The schools have to be grounded in community, because it’s about democracy.”

He added that Newark community members’ protests stem in part from a sense of disempowerment after a slowdown in the process to transfer control back from the state to local schools on one front and the closure of traditional public schools in favor of charter schools on the other.

Stanley Katz, lecturer with the rank of professor in the Wilson School, said the transition to charter schools can be accompanied by a heavy emphasis on high-stakes testing and screening out of students who might not score highly on standardized tests, like those with special needs.

Nikhil Goyal, education commentator and author of the forthcoming book “Skipping Class,” also said it was dangerous to create a two-tiered system in urban districts in which only “a select few” thrive, as opposed to wealthier districts in which a wider range of students are encouraged to do so alongside more gifted peers.

“There would be a huge, huge backlash if they put a charter school in … the district where I went to school, which is a very wealthy and privileged community and area,” Goyal said.

Hill, however, said much of the “noise” surrounding the TEAM program is often politically motivated and usually created by those who have never visited the schools.

“Anybody who has any question, the invitation is wide open,” Hill said. “Come visit anytime, whether your questions are critical in nature or inquisitive.”

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