When an outsider arrives to shake up a school system, a tightrope walk follows
By Dale Russakoff
PUBLISHED: September 10, 2015 – 6:30 pm EDT
PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder/Chalkbeat
What could $100 million do for an urban school district plagued by low performance, a slow-moving bureaucracy, and deep student poverty? That’s what Newark set out to learn in 2010, when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg pledged that sum to the small city’s schools. Journalist Dale Russakoff followed the twists and turns of that process and in “The Prize,” out this week, she documents the politics, policy shifts, and unfulfilled promises of the $100 million gift.
This excerpt comes from early in superintendent Cami Anderson’s tenure, which began after officials couldn’t agree on a hire and former New York State Education Commissioner John King turned the job down, and illustrates the characteristics of urban education that she hoped to upend in Newark as well as the consequences of that upending. Many of those consequences — including intense community opposition to school closures and the concentration of especially high-needs students in certain district schools — have unfolded in New York City as well. Read to the end for a chance to win your own copy of Russakoff’s book.
The Newark Public Schools has its headquarters in a drab, ten-story downtown office building occupied mostly by state agencies. The school district fills the top three floors, crowned by the superintendent’s suite and a photo gallery of its many occupants stretching back to 1855. The early leaders sport high collars, bushy mustaches, and wire-rimmed glasses. Over time, styles change, but through 118 years and eleven superintendents, two things remain constant: everyone in the photographs is white, and everyone is male.