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Q&A with ThirdWay CEO Cami Anderson

In addition to being the CEO of ThirdWay, Cami Anderson is a former superintendent of Newark Schools. Photo Credit: Cami Anderson

Former Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson is now CEO of ThirdWay, an organization focused on solving problems of equity, specifically in regards to the treatment of marginalized students in school systems.

Discipline Revolution, one of her initiatives within ThirdWay, seeks to redefine the role discipline plays in the classroom, particularly in regards to the system’s disproportionately harsh punishments towards students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ students. On Nov. 11, she sat down for an interview with The Daily Princetonian.

The Daily Princetonian: What made you become interested in education development?

Cami Anderson: I have 11 siblings — my parents had three and adopted nine. Most of my siblings joined our family because of some significant challenges, and I just saw at a really young age how school was different for me, who was able-bodied, heterosexual, not housing insecure, than my siblings, who did not have those privileges.

Just also seeing my siblings, some of them court-involved, kids of color, LGBTQ, just [seeing] all the ways in which schools made those labels worse instead of better. I’m just driven by this question of what … a better school system would look like, where all of my siblings could thrive … It’s been a burning thing for me since I was a kid, and it’s kind of what has driven my whole career.

DP: How does Discipline Revolution measure its success?

CA: We don’t just look at suspension, because if you do that, you can reduce suspensions but increase expulsion, or reduce suspensions and increase transfers or school-based arrests. For us, the ultimate measure of success is closing the opportunity gap.

We still have most school systems’ black students underperforming as compared to their peers, even when we control for poverty, students with disabilities who underperform as compared to their peers. In the end, we believe that all the things we’re doing close opportunity gaps, and you can see things like decrease in chronic absenteeism … and better achievement among groups of folks who have been underserved.

DP: What are some solutions or alternatives to punishments?

CA: We do a lot around ‘creating’ the conditions in classrooms and in schools where students feel seen and heard and whether their identities are affirmed and they’re busy doing meaningful work. So lots of stuff on prevention, high quality relationships between teachers and students, culturally responsive teaching so that students feel like they see their own culture and their own identity affirmed, de-escalation conflicts so that when young people inevitably challenge [the system], which is kind of their job, that the adults know how to meet them … We start with the premise that we shouldn’t think about discipline as a thing to do to punish kids, but rather as a set of things that adults can do to create the conditions where harsh discipline isn’t necessary.

DP: I want to talk about your departure from your position as Newark’s schools superintendent. What was the reason behind that?

CA: My team and I felt like the building blocks of the plan were in place. We had done a ton of great work to seed the long-term strategy, and that was just a good time to have a different and new voice.

DP: Talk to me about this plan.

CA: It’s called One Newark. We basically said, “10 years from now, what needs to be true in order for every kid in Newark to have a neighborhood school that is excellent?” Newark is a city that was built for three times the population it currently has. We looked at building quality — literally, there are some buildings in Newark that Abraham Lincoln visited. So, there’s just a lot of underinvestment buildings, too many schools for the [number] of folks living there now, and in the charter sector, there were thousands forming, but no coordination.

So, what we did was, we sat back, and we really did look at the long goal, looked at how many families were on the waiting lists for charter schools, what the characteristics of those families were in terms of special-ed status, ELL status, and created a whole plan. And it had all those tenets that I walked through: unifying the enrollment system so that we didn’t disadvantage families who couldn’t navigate 10 lotteries, creating a plan for every building — so before I got there, folks would just go to school and they’d just sit there, which is just not good for communities.

So we figured out how many schools we actually needed and which schools were inhabitable. We did some portfolio planning, built a bunch of new secondary schools because we felt we just didn’t have enough diversity of options for kids in high school, [created] a plan to help retrain folks who are laid off or impacted by the right sizing of the district … We had a whole thing on talent. We had a whole recruiting thing called Teach Newark.

So it was a nine point soup to nuts, from enrollment to talent, and it was a five-year plan with lots of milestones and lots of input. It was a good high quality plan, and it continued to be executed after I left. I just felt like it was time to have a different person for that phase of the work.

DP: Can you talk about some of the findings that suggested the plan caused massive layoffs among teachers?

CA: It didn’t. There’s a lot of misreporting about what was and wasn’t in that plan. So there’s about a hundred schools in Newark and because the charter growth was profound, they were going to end up running around forty percent of the schools based on the growth and that’s partly because of community demand — I think there’s something like 5,000 people on the charter school waiting list — which meant that the traditional system was shrinking. So it is true that there were fewer jobs available as a result.

The vast majority of those right-sizing, we were able to rely just through natural attrition because every year, when you have a system that big, x number of people retire, and we had an older teacher population to begin with. So I would say the vast majority of the right-sizing, we were able to realize just through natural attrition. So we had 100 jobs one year, 20 people left, and we just closed those positions. The reported massive layoffs are not accurate.

DP: I wonder if you could tell me a little bit more about why people are investing in charter schools as opposed to fixing public schools.

CA: Yeah, I see it as a “both and,” and we did in Newark, too. Charters have a lot of flexibility, and some use it to do many innovative, kid-centric things. With traditional schools, you have a lot more constraints … Meanwhile, the school itself is not good and families are frustrated. That’s what families in Newark would say all the time, like, ‘we want things fixed now. Don’t tell me that you have to negotiate with four unions to make it happen. I don’t care, my kid can’t read.’

Having said that, we also believe that there are things you can do from the traditional side, and we did them. In a bigger system, you can buy the best stuff, because you have the power of the purse. You have innovative collective bargaining agreements that allow you to retain the best folks and give flexibility to schools that are doing well.

DP: Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

CA: It’s good to be here, at Princeton. I’ve already met students … in the public policy space and beyond who are really thinking deeply about wanting to contribute to serving in a public policy type of role and trying to solve public policy issues. I think that’s great and the only thing I would say is that it’s not easy …

We have massive racial inequality as an example, and changing that’s going to be uncomfortable. So I’m glad to see there are people who want to be a part of the solution. I’m lucky that I’ve been at it all these years, and I plan to be at it for many more.

The Princetonian

Cami Anderson And Zuckerberg, The Unlikely Duo Behind Newark Schools’ Revitalization

How the chief of Newark’s troubled schools is spending Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million.

Since arriving in Newark, Anderson hasn’t shied away from bold moves. PHOTOS BY JEFF MERMELSTEIN

BY ANYA KAMENETZ
Even though it’s not in my nature, you have to just, like, take a minute, because it’s a big deal.” We’re in Cami Anderson’s private office. The Newark, New Jersey, school superintendent has just held a joint press conference with the head of the teachers’ union to announce a historic contract. Half of a $100 million donation made by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to the Newark Public School system in 2010 will sweeten a new agreement with teachers, who have been working without a contract for two and a half years. There will be a new performance-evaluation system, incorporating peer review, as well as bonuses for teachers who opt out of the old seniority rules–carrots alongside sticks. The agreement is already being hailed nationwide as groundbreaking.

Education is an opportunity to make good on the promise of America, to stop being a country where race and poverty determine your life outcomes.

Anderson–41, tall, broad-shouldered, blue-eyed–sits back in her chair, pulling her hair into a ponytail. The cinder-block walls and dead-fish fluorescent lighting contribute to the vibe of a locker room after a big win. The challenge in Newark is intense: Nearly half the students drop out, and 90% of graduates who do go to college need remedial classes. For Anderson, who counts among her supporters Democratic Newark mayor Cory Booker and Republican New Jersey governor Chris Christie, the scrutiny is equally intense; Booker has announced a Senate run, and Christie is widely expected to run for President, with both likely to tout her achievements on the campaign trail. As Joel Klein, Anderson’s boss when he was chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, says, “Nobody gives you $100 million and says, ‘Have a happy life.’”

When Anderson was offered the job as Newark superintendent, she almost turned it down, wary of the national spotlight. “My female CEO friends had to do an intervention,” she says. “They sat me down and said, ‘Don’t be a girl. Take the mike.’” She’s shown little uncertainty since then. “I got into this because I feel like education is an opportunity to make good on the promise of America,” she says, “to stop being a country where race and poverty determine your life outcomes.” Wendy Kopp, who runs Teach for America, where Anderson started her career, says: “I don’t think a more perfectthere’s example of someone coming into a situation and operating on the highest of expectations–both for kids and for adults.” Booker calls Anderson “someone I’m in awe of.” Says Klein: “She literally takes your breath away.”

It’s morning, and I climb into the messy backseat of Anderson’s black Escalade, her official city ride. Her driver, Billy Jarrett, hands her a foil-wrapped egg sandwich, another in a long succession of foil-wrapped meals. She reaches back to shake my hand, but quickly; we’re running behind.

To watch Anderson at work is to witness an adroit professional bound by a creaking bureaucracy. At the Board of Education headquarters at 2 Cedar Street, an executive assistant, already sitting at her desk, will not lift a ringing phone from its cradle until the clock ticks over from 8:59 to 9:00. Anderson is often away at that hour, dedicating three mornings a week to observing teachers in the classroom and debriefing with principals. We are headed to two of her schools this morning. We listen as a kindergarten teacher reads to her pupils, then eavesdrop on a discussion in an all-boys middle-school civics class. Afterward, Anderson shares her moment-by-moment observations with the teachers’ principals, all with actionable feedback: Give young children–whom she calls “the little people”–positive examples of behavior, rather than telling them what not to do; push teens to ground their discussion in facts and evidence. These points tie directly into learning goals that principals and teachers are responsible for together.

Anderson grew up in a decidedly unconventional household in Manhattan Beach, California. Her mother, Sheila, worked in the foster care system for 32 years and opened their home to those who were hard to place, with a new member joining the family almost every year. Two were the children of American GIs and Vietnamese women. Many had special needs–one came to their home after a year of operations at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

One of Anderson’s key goals is keeping kids in school; about half of Newark’s students end up as dropouts now.

At its peak, the family had nine teenagers and operated a little like a kibbutz, with weekly meetings over fondue or popcorn, and an official rotation for each team of siblings to do laundry or cook dinner. Anderson was a long-distance swimmer and basketball player on the boys’ team, and she sang, danced, and acted. She was passionate about social justice even then. “At a very young age,” says her mother, “she understood that [her siblings] had a start in life that was different from hers.”

Anderson moved quickly after arriving in Newark in the summer of 2011. Within several months, she announced the closure of six low-performing, under-enrolled schools. She cut 120 jobs and replaced 17 principals. She added seats in pre-K and an early-college dual-enrollment program, and created eight “Renew” schools that have extra training for teachers, hiring bonuses for high-needs classes, more computers and Wi-Fi, and more access to social services such as nurses, social workers, and community mentoring.

She went to a brutal public meeting,” recalls Booker, “hundreds of people screaming and shouting and threatening. She showed remarkable courage.

She has already been tested. Parents’ groups have sued the mayor’s office seeking fuller disclosure of the arrangements behind the Zuckerberg money, springing in part from a deep streak of local resentment at the idea of outsiders–especially powerful, moneyed outsiders–imposing their own agenda. Even shrinking schools with abysmal test scores can be beloved neighborhood institutions. “She went to a brutal public meeting,” says Booker. “You have hundreds of people screaming and shouting and threatening you. She was able to stand in the saddle, present her vision and the plan, and do it in a way that showed a remarkable courage. And now the schools that people were yelling and screaming about–they’re extraordinary models of promise and hope.” 

Anderson visits her charges often. Here, she sits in at a graphics class in Malcolm X Shabazz High School.

Cami Anderson And Zuckerberg, The Unlikely Duo Behind Newark Schools’ Revitalization
How the chief of Newark’s troubled schools is spending Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million.

Since arriving in Newark, Anderson hasn’t shied away from bold moves. PHOTOS BY JEFF MERMELSTEIN
BY ANYA KAMENETZ
Even though it’s not in my nature, you have to just, like, take a minute, because it’s a big deal.” We’re in Cami Anderson’s private office. The Newark, New Jersey, school superintendent has just held a joint press conference with the head of the teachers’ union to announce a historic contract. Half of a $100 million donation made by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to the Newark Public School system in 2010 will sweeten a new agreement with teachers, who have been working without a contract for two and a half years. There will be a new performance-evaluation system, incorporating peer review, as well as bonuses for teachers who opt out of the old seniority rules–carrots alongside sticks. The agreement is already being hailed nationwide as groundbreaking.
Anderson–41, tall, broad-shouldered, blue-eyed–sits back in her chair, pulling her hair into a ponytail. The cinder-block walls and dead-fish fluorescent lighting contribute to the vibe of a locker room after a big win. The challenge in Newark is intense: Nearly half the students drop out, and 90% of graduates who do go to college need remedial classes. For Anderson, who counts among her supporters Democratic Newark mayor Cory Booker and Republican New Jersey governor Chris Christie, the scrutiny is equally intense; Booker has announced a Senate run, and Christie is widely expected to run for President, with both likely to tout her achievements on the campaign trail. As Joel Klein, Anderson’s boss when he was chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, says, “Nobody gives you $100 million and says, ‘Have a happy life.’”
When Anderson was offered the job as Newark superintendent, she almost turned it down, wary of the national spotlight. “My female CEO friends had to do an intervention,” she says. “They sat me down and said, ‘Don’t be a girl. Take the mike.’” She’s shown little uncertainty since then. “I got into this because I feel like education is an opportunity to make good on the promise of America,” she says, “to stop being a country where race and poverty determine your life outcomes.” Wendy Kopp, who runs Teach for America, where Anderson started her career, says: “I don’t think there’s a more perfect example of someone coming into a situation and operating on the highest of expectations–both for kids and for adults.” Booker calls Anderson “someone I’m in awe of.” Says Klein: “She literally takes your breath away.”

It’s morning, and I climb into the messy backseat of Anderson’s black Escalade, her official city ride. Her driver, Billy Jarrett, hands her a foil-wrapped egg sandwich, another in a long succession of foil-wrapped meals. She reaches back to shake my hand, but quickly; we’re running behind.

To watch Anderson at work is to witness an adroit professional bound by a creaking bureaucracy. At the Board of Education headquarters at 2 Cedar Street, an executive assistant, already sitting at her desk, will not lift a ringing phone from its cradle until the clock ticks over from 8:59 to 9:00. Anderson is often away at that hour, dedicating three mornings a week to observing teachers in the classroom and debriefing with principals. We are headed to two of her schools this morning. We listen as a kindergarten teacher reads to her pupils, then eavesdrop on a discussion in an all-boys middle-school civics class. Afterward, Anderson shares her moment-by-moment observations with the teachers’ principals, all with actionable feedback: Give young children–whom she calls “the little people”–positive examples of behavior, rather than telling them what not to do; push teens to ground their discussion in facts and evidence. These points tie directly into learning goals that principals and teachers are responsible for together.

Anderson grew up in a decidedly unconventional household in Manhattan Beach, California. Her mother, Sheila, worked in the foster care system for 32 years and opened their home to those who were hard to place, with a new member joining the family almost every year. Two were the children of American GIs and Vietnamese women. Many had special needs–one came to their home after a year of operations at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

Education is an opportunity to make good on the promise of America, to stop being a country where race and poverty determine your life outcomes.

One of Anderson’s key goals is keeping kids in school; about half of Newark’s students end up as dropouts now.
At its peak, the family had nine teenagers and operated a little like a kibbutz, with weekly meetings over fondue or popcorn, and an official rotation for each team of siblings to do laundry or cook dinner. Anderson was a long-distance swimmer and basketball player on the boys’ team, and she sang, danced, and acted. She was passionate about social justice even then. “At a very young age,” says her mother, “she understood that [her siblings] had a start in life that was different from hers.”

Anderson moved quickly after arriving in Newark in the summer of 2011. Within several months, she announced the closure of six low-performing, under-enrolled schools. She cut 120 jobs and replaced 17 principals. She added seats in pre-K and an early-college dual-enrollment program, and created eight “Renew” schools that have extra training for teachers, hiring bonuses for high-needs classes, more computers and Wi-Fi, and more access to social services such as nurses, social workers, and community mentoring.

She went to a brutal public meeting,” recalls Booker, “hundreds of people screaming and shouting and threatening. She showed remarkable courage.
She has already been tested. Parents’ groups have sued the mayor’s office seeking fuller disclosure of the arrangements behind the Zuckerberg money, springing in part from a deep streak of local resentment at the idea of outsiders–especially powerful, moneyed outsiders–imposing their own agenda. Even shrinking schools with abysmal test scores can be beloved neighborhood institutions. “She went to a brutal public meeting,” says Booker. “You have hundreds of people screaming and shouting and threatening you. She was able to stand in the saddle, present her vision and the plan, and do it in a way that showed a remarkable courage. And now the schools that people were yelling and screaming about–they’re extraordinary models of promise and hope.”
One evening I meet Anderson at a cavernous sports bar near the Newark train station. We’re joined by her partner, Jared Robinson, and their blue-eyed, curly-haired 3-year-old son, Sampson. She pulls out a red plastic binder with a set of spreadsheets outlining her six “pillars,” or priorities: students, teachers, school leaders, her administrative team, charter schools and other outside options, and families and stakeholders. Each pillar is aligned with specific objectives to be accomplished by July 30. At the end of every week, she reviews what she’s done, looks ahead, and makes a to-do list. Then she considers her priorities for the year and makes a second list–the steps she would take to achieve her long-term goals if she had nothing urgent on her plate. Finally she adds the second list to the first and divides the whole into three piles: do it, delegate it, or shelve it.

I see a flash of the toughness I’ve heard about when I float a remark from Klein, now the director of News Corp.’s education unit, that the ample spending in Newark schools–$23,000 per student, among the highest in the nation–removes an “easy excuse” for poor performance. “That’s a little shitty of my good friend Joel to say. That would be a fair assessment if we didn’t have LIFO,” she says, referring to “last in, first out,” the seniority rule. “Okay, I’m going to give you a pile of money, Joel, to run your shop. If you want to downsize from 50 to 25 and take that money and invest it in technology or whatever, you will have the 25 most senior people, regardless of quality. Now turn around your company.”

This January, Anderson was invited to the annual meeting of the William Morris Endeavor talent agency, where 450 clients and execs gathered for a mini-TED conference, with speakers that included Karl Rove, Al Gore, and Zappos’s Tony Hsieh. Anderson spoke about education as a civil right, contrasting the standard visions of innovation and transformation with the reality of the schools in her city, which still use purple mimeograph machines from the 1960s. She was mobbed as she got off the stage, and for the rest of the weekend too. The spotlight beckons.

Bloomberg EDU on Bloomberg Radio

Cami Anderson, superintendent of Newark public schools, talks about the challenge of reforming the low-performing district.

Sam Stone, executive director of the Civics Education Initiative and Donna Phillips, a social studies teacher and civics education researcher, discuss proposed legislation requiring high school seniors to pass a test on U.S. history and civics. Jane Williams hosts Bloomberg Radio’s “Bloomberg EDU.”

NJTV, Newark Schools Chief Makes Time’s 100 List

Newark’s Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson has made headlines implementing programs to transform a troubled school district. Her shake-up of Newark’s public school system has earned her a place in Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. Anderson sat down with Managing Editor Mike Schneider to talk about the recognition and her goals for Newark’s public schools.

Title IX Chat moderated by Alison Desir, July 2017

On June 23, 1972, Title IX was created. 45 years later, we have seen the ways in which the law has been bent and broken. Join founder Run4AllWomen Alison Desir and a panel of industry experts for a 5K run and after to discuss the history of Title IX—it’s intended and unintended consequences and the way it has transformed the world of sports.

Time 100: Cami Anderson | TIME

Cami Anderson is taking bold and controversial steps to reform education in the Newark Public School system.

Discipline Bias in Education Leaves Life-Long Impacts

Discipline Bias in Education Leaves Life-Long Impacts Interview with Soledad O’Brien, April 7, 2018.

TEDxEast: Basements, Barriers and Beliefs

Cami Anderson is a passionate and an established leader in the national education reform movement with more than 20 years’ of experience. In that time, she has taken on roles from teacher to non-profit executive to system-wide administrator.

In May of 2011, she was appointed State District Superintendent for Newark Public Schools by Governor Chris Christie, where she is responsible for raising student achievement for more than 40,000 students.

As chief executive of the largest school district in the state of New Jersey, Anderson oversees a budget of nearly $1 billion. She is accelerating innovation, initiating public private partnerships at unprecedented levels, and setting a new national model for the transformation of urban education in America. Under her tenure, Anderson negotiated a landmark contract with the Newark Teachers Union.

Prior to joining NPS, she was Superintendent of Alternative High Schools and Programs for the New York City Department of Education (District 79), consisting of approximately 30,000 young people and 60,000 adults. She received wide-scale recognition for her work with the city’s most struggling students. Anderson also served as executive director of Teach for America New York, where she founded a board of business and education leaders, increased teacher quality, and launched Teach for America Week.

She also served as Chief Program Officer for New Leaders for New Schools, which was recognized by Fast Company and Harvard Business School, Education Week, the US Department of Education, and the Teaching Commission as one of the most effective principal preparation programs in the country. Ms. Anderson also boasts a diverse background as a Montessori educator, youth theatre director, athlete, and Title IX advocate. She has been recognized for her dedication to expanding educational opportunities and empowering youth throughout her career.

Anderson was nominated for a national Teacher of the Year award, received the Peter Jennings Award for her impact on educational equity, belongs to the Aspen Global Leader Network, and was recently named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People.” She graduated with a B.A. in education and anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley and an M.A. in public policy and education from Harvard.

American Enterprise Institute: More is Not More, More is Madness

Anderson: More is Not More, More is Madness.

American Enterprise Institute: Cami Anderson on Newark and the challenges, successes, and lessons of school reform

Since taking office as the superintendent of Newark Public Schools in 2011, Cami Anderson has become a prominent figure in urban K–12 school reform. Having inherited a system with a roughly 50 percent graduation rate and a looming budget shortfall, Anderson has faced an array of challenges in her efforts to promote excellence and equity in Newark schools.