Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ras Baraka: Strong Schools are the Result of

Strong Communities and Strong Neighborhoods

By:  Melissa Tomlinson

Or maybe Mr. Baraka said “Strong families and strong communities are the result of strong schools.” Truthfully, he said both.

All week, the original title of this piece (as I was writing it in my head) was going to be “Why I Care About the Mayoral Election in Newark, and Why You Should too.”  This election in Newark has the potential to set a new standard for our state.  A standard that includes education as one of the most, if not THE most, important issue surrounding the vote.  Just look at New York City.  The election of  Mayor Bill de Blasio has changed the educational conversation from one that vilified the school system to one that recognized the strengths of the different community schools and is creating a way to build upon those strengths.

But isn’t that the way all elections should be?  Isn’t education the main vehicle we have for building upon our current situations so that they can be improved upon?  I say this all the time: education is the biggest and most important investment that we can make for our future. To support our children and our communities now will help bring about the changes in society that we wish to see. Ras Baraka is a man who has a plan about how to do this. Not only does he have a plan, but this plan was successfully implemented while he was a principal in Newark School District.

 Go back and read my opening statement.  Can you see the intertwining of the three variables and how they can support each other?  Can you see how strengthening one of those factors leads to strengthening the other factors?  Ras Baraka does. He recognizes that trying to separate these entities will only cause harm to the other.

 Ras Baraka made a very strong political move by holding a private session with different educational bloggers of New Jersey.  He recognized the strength of ‘on the street’ reporting and how we helped bringing national attention to the recent suspension of administrators of the Newark School district as well as the banning and arrest of the PTA president, all for speaking out against the ‘One Newark’ plan. But what is even more impressive is that he open the line of communications between himself and educators; something that is being neglected as an approach on a nation-wide level. His opinions of Cami Anderson were made quite clear.  She has got to go!” There was no mincing of words here.  He demands for the removal of a superintendent that only recognizes Governor Christie as her boss.  Ras Baraka calls upon the need for a superintendent to answer to the true ‘customers’ of education, the families and the communities.  The importance of a democratic process being used to influence school board elections was stressed and that change should fall into the laps of this elected body of the district.

 Being under state control, this is hard for Newark.  But Ras Baraka plans to fight for local control to be given back to the people.  The state has had plenty of opportunity to ‘make things right’ and has spent almost two decades trying. It is now time to give Newark back to its citizens.  While he did not outline how he was going to wrestle Newark from the hands of the state, he did say that this is going to be accomplished not just by him alone.  He recognizes the need for the organization of community groups, grassroots organizations, teachers, and the union.  He wants to create a collective groundswell movement, and he is just the person that can do that.

 When asked what he wants to do about the charter schools of Newark, and if he would support putting a stop to the influx of these outside interests becoming major players in this battle, Ras clearly stated that he would support a moratorium on any more changes to the Newark School system until everything is truly evaluated and community members are allowed to give input.  He recognizes that there are already charter school institutions that have become an integrated part of Newark. But he also recognizes that they have not proven to be any more effective at educating the children of Newark.  Ras does not want to take the decision out of the hands of the communities that he is trying to protect.  Once given the true information, he has faith that they will make the right choices.

After leaving this private session, we then joined the community for a public session to introduce The Ras Baraka Blueprint to Achieve Excellence in Newark’s Schools.  In this session I was blown away by the speakers that joined Ras to speak about this plan. Antionette Baskerville-Richardson, Dr. Lauren Wells, and Dr. Janice Johnson Dias spoke about the values and ideals behind this blueprint. Their speeches alone are worthy of a separate write-up (soon to follow!).  But let me add here, with these women in his corner, Ras Baraka may just be able to make the kinds of changes that education needs in our state, and perhaps, in the nation.

 That is why I am so interested in this election… and why you should be too.

Quick Note – Ras Baraka’s Blueprint will be discussed in a near-future post as I compare it to the Mastery and Uncommon Charter schools presentations that I attended today in Camden!

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