Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Who Really Cares?

A process is underway to select a new Superintendent for Newark Public Schools. In many ways this selection is more important than the election of Newark’s public officials. Somehow we must combine our resources to get this message to the general public and make sure that it sinks in.

Unlike with our Mayor and Council, the public will not have an opportunity to vote for a new Superintendent. However, there will be an opportunity to register your opinion about what ought to be considered in the selection process. Five community forums to hear from the public have been scheduled around the city beginning on Tuesday, January 29th and concluding on Monday, February 11th. The forums will be held from 6:00 pm until 8:00 pm and are open to anyone who wants to attend and comment. Interested parties should call 973-353-3565 to find out where and when they will be held.

It is fascinating that one of the community forums happens to be taking place on the same day that many in Newark will be filing into polling places to vote in primary elections to determine the Democratic and Republican Party candidates for the presidency of the United States of America. February 5th is Presidential Primary Day in New Jersey. It is also the date of the community forum to be held at Maple Avenue School in the South Ward of Newark. The 6:00 to 8:00 pm time slot allotted for the forum coincides exactly with the peak after-work voting period at this polling site. And since some of the city’s heaviest voting districts are located inside Maple Avenue School, it is likely to be abuzz with activity.

The voting booths at Maple Avenue School will probably be but a short distance from the auditorium where the community forums will be held. It will be interesting to see if parents and residents are as eager to register their thoughts and opinions on who should lead the Newark Public Schools as they are on who should lead the nation. It will be a poetic referendum on the oft-stated adage that “All politics is local.”

Everyone who walks into Maple Avenue School on Tuesday, February 5th to stand in line to decide between Barack, Hillary, John and Dennis can walk around the corridor and speak up for Pookie, Shanaynay, Ernesto and Latisha. As well they should, since everyone who comes to vote is connected to our schools in one way or another. First, they are all residents….hopefully. Next, many are parents or relatives of children in our public schools (which include Charter Schools). And as homeowners or renters they pay direct or indirect taxes that fund our public schools. Everyone is connected so everyone is a stakeholder. But judging by past participation, we might fairly conclude that most don’t care.

February 5th at Maple Avenue School will be sort of a test. It won’t be scientific, of course, but interesting to observe nonetheless. After the forum and election are over, it will be easy to compare the list of those who voted to the list of those who spoke or signed up as attendees at the forum. If an overwhelming number of Maple Avenue voters also participate in the forum it could give rise to a number of useful interpretations.

If the community had at its disposal the kind of funding that political campaigns have to get out the votes on February 5th we might be able to guarantee a high turnout for the forums. But there is no such pot of money available. There will be no posters, sound trucks or phone banks. After all, this is just about the lives and futures of kids, the community’s quality of life and maybe our survival. That hardly compares to politics.

All of the community forums are critical and interested parties should call 973-353-3565 to find out where and when they will be held. We encourage all organizations to press their members to attend and participate. It is not enough to talk about what kids deserve but don’t get. We have to find ways to act on their behalf. These forums provide an opportunity for each of us to take a direct action to mold our own future. Will we do it?

Generations of politicians and organization leaders have risen to power espousing their love for our children. Some meant it but too many were just playing the game. Our children have been used and hustled for way too long. And decision makers wielding the power to force change are not hearing from enough folks with genuine concern for their welfare. These upcoming community forums provide an opportunity for everyone to put everything on the table once and for all. Let’s have a real discussion about our schools, our children and the community that they affect. It’s time for an intellectual struggle that wrestles common sense and progress out of confusion.

A community that professes love for its children yt knowingly leads them to anguish is a community that lies to itself and flirts with peril. No community can gain or maintain respect so long as that community’s able and intelligent residents roost along the sidelines witnessing the destruction of its progeny. Neither can we claim credibility while offering hand wringing and excuse making as defenses for inaction and incompetence. Mind murder is often a silent process that almost inevitably rages back at us with a seemingly incomprehensible vengeance—though we should understand. After all, it is our own handiwork. Please go to the community forums for the kids.

January 16, 2008


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