Now, in Newark, the community is getting ready for another round of "restructuring" and "renewing" and "repurposing" and "allowing proven charter schools to manage" a host of neighborhood schools. This is after the state-controlled district already closed and consolidated a bunch of schools last year, even as economically segregated charters with high attrition rates expand across the district with no input from the city's elected officials.
I doubt the president himself knows much about what's happening in Newark, what with running the country and all. But I do wonder what the First Lady would have to say about the Newark restructuring plan. You see, one of the schools being "repurposed" as an early childhood center is Maple Avenue Elementary. The draft plan published at NJ Spotlight calls for Maple's annex to be "divested," a euphemism for "sold." Which means that Maple will, for all intents and purposes, cease to exist as a neighborhood K-8 school.
Which is interesting considering that, back in 2010, Michelle Obama visited Maple Avenue Elementary and declared the school "phenomenal":
Remarks by the First Lady at "Let's Move!" Student Briefing
Maple Avenue Elementary School
Newark, New Jersey1:50 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Well, this is exciting because one of the important components of “Let’s Move!” -- we started this huge campaign to combat childhood obesity. Our goal was to eliminate it in a generation so that kids born today grow up with better habits, better ideas for how to keep themselves going. And we really enlisted the support of everyone.
And our visit here to Newark today kind of symbolizes how “Let’s Move!” is coming together because we’ve Mayor Booker here who has really taken the lead here in Newark that is dealing with this issue. And he’s pulled in everyone -- the superintendents, the police officers, the local community, parents. And Newark is a shining example of how cities can really take the lead and make this issue key.
Let me be the first to say that Michelle Obama is a great First Lady, and that her campaign to get kids to eat healthy and exercise is extremely important. And I'm a bit reluctant to criticize her as she has been dealing with some really terrible garbage since the day her husband took office.But it takes all of us. It takes parents, it takes teachers, it takes school cafeteria workers. But more importantly, it takes the energy and ideas of young people.
And that's another reason why today is so special and why this conversation is so special, because you guys, all of you sitting around, are leaders in your own communities and in your own schools, really demonstrating how with some very small, modest ideas and a little leadership, you can make changes right where you live. And we’re going to hear from you guys.
So we’re going to stop talking. Robert kind of got things kicked off to give us an example of some of the things he’s doing, but I know each of you have some ideas that you want to share.
And so I'll turn it back over to Mayor Booker, and we’ll hear from each of you, but I want to thank you all for your energy. I want to thank Mayor Booker. I want to thank Principal Washington of Maple Avenue School who is here. This is the school where we’re in. Principal, thank you so much. You guys are doing some phenomenal things here, and we’re just grateful to the students, staff and parents here for allowing us to be here, but also leading the way. So thank you so much. We’re very proud of you all.
PRINCIPAL WASHINGTON: Thank you.
MRS. OBAMA: All right.
But it bothers me more than a little that the FLOTUS comes to town and uses a school like Maple Ave. as a political prop, praising its students and staff and principal... but after she leaves town, the school is then is set to close under a policy promoted by the president himself.
As both Bob Braun and I have pointed out: the only reason Newark "must" close its neighborhood schools is because they have been underfunded and abandoned by the state, replaced by a system of "choice" in which the citizens of Newark have had no say. The demand for a few select charter schools has been oversold; but even if it is significant, it is a result not of the supposed superiority of these charters so much as the inevitable outcome of two decades of neglect while Newark's schools have remained under state control.
I'm glad the First Lady visited Maple Avenue Elementary. I'm glad when the influential are forced to see that not all schools serving poor children of color are "failure factories." I only wish Michelle Obama could persuade her husband, and the other powerful people who control urban education, that there are many good things happening in "failing" schools. I wish she could convince them that these schools don't need closing; they need help.
h/t @mark_dc_jerz on Twitter - great catch! Here's some video of the First Lady's visit to Maple Ave.
ADDING: Remember back in 2011, when the state monitor for Asbury Park's school closed Barack Obama Elementary? I'm sure the president approved...