Sunday, September 17, 2017

Camden Education Association Official Statement Re: Opening Of Kipp Whittier

At the outset and for the record, the Camden Education Association (CEA) is not interested in attacking anyone personally. Superintendent Rouhanifard, as an individual, is very likeable, intelligent and an engaging person who is very personable, approachable, and has an amazing life story. Similarly, the CEA is not focused on attacking our outgoing Governor, Chris Christie, our outgoing Mayor, Dana Redd; nor any of the elected officials attending today’s ceremony at KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy at John G. Whittier School. What we, the CEA take great opposition to is the manner in which all of the aforementioned individuals have used political connections, driven by financial and ideological interests, to exploit the Camden community; its residents, and its children.

Masked in the language of social justice and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, the Superintendent and utilized the powers given to him through the politically-orchestrated state takeover, to execute the sustained and systemic closure of our cherished public neighborhood schools to facilitate the opening of up to 15 “renaissance school” (takeover) projects. And while to the naked eye it may appear that a “new school” is opening in the Bergen Square section of the city and thus, cause to celebrate, upon further critical examination, we see today’s events as an exemplar of how the influence of distant millionaires and billionaires investing in education reform for financial gain, coupled with political cronyism, converge and preys on this community, and other low-income communities of color. Residents in this community of color did not, and do not, have a say in whether their public schools are closed or not. Residents nor students had a say when Lanning Square Elementary was closed and came back as a CMO operated, “no-excuses” takeover school bearing the name “Norcross”. Residents nor students had a say when Rouhanifard closed Raphael Cordero Molina, Pyne Poynt, McGraw, East Camden Middle, Bonsall, or Whittier and were all reopened as CMO operated, “no-excuses” takeover schools. So, if Camden residents have no say in where their children are educated, who does?

George Norcross III looms large in Camden’s arrival of corporate ran charters through the manipulation of his network of “yes-men” and “yes-women” including his brother, Donald, and the bulk of Camden’s local politicians, as well as elected officials at the state level south of Trenton. Governor Christie bears significant responsibility in silencing residents’ voices in executing the state takeover four years ago with little empirical evidence to prove this racist and ideologically-driven tactic yielded any significant or sustaining benefits for students. Certainly, Superintendent Rouhanifard shoulders blame for being a willing tool of those with more official and unofficial power than he, though it bears noting that Rouhanifard is no stranger to exclusively minority communities through his actions in Williamsburg while at the NYCDOE; his time with Camie Anderson in Newark, and certainly his time here with us. Last, but certainly not least, the influence of financial and investment gains in the spreading of corporate operated charter schools in minority communities, by outside groups like NewSchools Venture Fund, the Walton Foundation, Aspen Institute, Broad Foundation, and Sarah and John Arnold Foundations is present in what we are seeing here in Camden. All the philanthropies and organizations mentioned above have a financial interest in KIPP, UnCommon Schools, and Mastery Charter – and not coincidentally, all of those organizations have takeover schools in Camden that were forced into this community – while Camden public schools were being closed simultaneously.

While it appears that in this new KIPP Norcross school, educational progress is happening in Camden, to those who care to be truly informed, to those who genuinely care about this community’s residents and children, the opening of this school is a painful reminder that our residents’ voices don’t matter. It further reminds us of the many willing participants, who, for out of personal career advancement, financial gain, or racism, were willing to collude in the systemic oppression of Camden residents.

Finally, let it be known we at CEA firmly, and steadfastly love education; and we love when students are educated. Being educated helps enable us to be our better selves. True education adds to our knowledge base not simply for the sake of knowing more, but the added knowledge should inform, and change, the way we see the world around us – and even critique it. A good education is vital to our Camden community and its young people – and we at CEA respect and honor all good education no matter where that process takes place; whether within public, technical, parochial, or charter schools. But what must be critically examined, and mustn’t be ignored, is identifying who is doing the educating, and under what circumstances that party came to be the deliverer of our children’s education. Good education, for the people, for our neighbors, will never and can never come from parties that thrive off our exploitation. In today’s events, we see the reminder of our CEA’s greater cause to openly resist those who desire and profit from exploiting this community and our children.

Thanks for Reading,

Keith E. Benson, Ed. D
Camden Education Association

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