Monday, October 26, 2020

TRUMP LEFT NEWARK TO OUR OWN DEVICES – LITERALLY!

I am counting the days to Election Day.  Trump (he is not even worthy of being called President) has made me feel disrespected, angry, very angry, scared.

We all have our share of Trump stories, but I wanted to share my personal worst Trump moment, the moment I had it with this guy.

Last Spring, our state and city went into lockdown. We were in shelter and place status. And we heard nothing from the federal government. Trump was a deer in headlights. There was no plan.  He had anticipated nothing. And there was no direction.  It was clear to all of us, Newark was on its own.  A short time later, our schools opened for virtual learning, and it was a complete mess.

As I have talked about before, our kids were left home alone, many did not have the computers to join online classrooms, and far more families did not even have needed wifi technology.

When it came to COVID, Trump left Newark to our own devices - literally.  

As a father – this was my worst, most frustrating Trumpian moment.  I was angry. I was worried. And I could not sleep, which became the reason I eventually started this blog.

Last week I spent time explaining how the change we all seek must be led by us - that we cant really depend on anyone but ourselves.  Trump inaction is a good example of this fact - he has provided us plan, no computers, nothing - all during a time we needed it the most.

But here is a realization I had last week.

I just read this story in TAPinto Newark. I was struck by the investment University Heights Charter School made in providing free laptop computers to each of their students – over 850 students.

And there has been many other public schools that have done the same over the last few months.

This story in NJ Spotlight, highlights the work of the Newark School District, which states, "More than 98% of the district's roughly 37,000 students now have access to a laptop or tablet…That's a marked improvement from March, when nearly 30% of students needed devices for virtual learning after classrooms closed. In order to get students online, the district has given out more than 16,000 new and used laptops since the spring, according to data obtained through a public records request."

Other public schools, such as the KIPP NJ schools and the Uncommon Schools, have also provided computer lab tops for our kids in Newark.

And most of all, look at the great efforts of our Mayor and his team to address the issue. And he was doing this before COVID-19 event hit.

Friends, this is progress! This is creating needed change!  And most of all, this is change Newark created for themselves.

My most frustrating Trump moment, the moment I was at my worst and most vulnerable, eventually became a great moment for Newark.

Newark leaders stepped up. They filled the tremendous void that Trump created. We did not have computers for our kids – so we figured out a way.

This realization gave me pause – and it gave me hope.

If somehow we were able to step up and get our kids what they needed to learn, certainly, we can address the many other issues we must face.

So join me. Please share your worst Trump moment. All of us have a specific Trump incident or event that we will never forget. Feel free to email me directly or post on Facebook.  Perhaps that one Trump moment, that moment when he showed his cards on how truly terrible he is, also became a moment where Newark stepped up.

And while you are thinking about the last four years, let's all make sure we think about voting – making sure each of us has a plan to vote – so we can VOTE Trump out of office.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

NEWARKERS – STEP #1 IN OUR FIGHT FOR EDUCATION EQUALITY – FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE SDA.

As I've mentioned before, my daughter attends West Side High School in Newark. A long time ago, the State of New Jersey promised a new school building for West Side students. IT's been over a decade and we're still waiting. This has me up at night.


The SDA stands for the New Jersey School Development Authority. These are a big series of words for something very basic and desperately needed in Newark. The SDA is the government agency that plans and funds our school improvements and builds new school buildings. More specifically, the SDA is a multibillion-dollar state agency created specifically to build schools in cash-strapped districts – like Newark.

And how has the SDA treated all of us in Newark? Not very well.

As Newarkers know, our bricks and mortar public schools are a hot mess. 

Throughout our school district, classroom ceilings leak, the drinking water Is not clean, buildings are crumbling – and some have not been replaced since the Lincoln Administration – that's President Abraham Lincoln for those who were not around during the last civil war.

Unfortunately for our kids in Newark, the only thing more of a hot mess than Newark's school buildings is the actual SDA. Last week, you might have read the news.

A report was filed by the State Commission of Investigations describing how the SDA does its job – and let's keep this quick, the SDA ain't doin a very good job.

The investigation cited "irregular hiring practices," classified Murphy-appointee SDA CEO Lizette Delgado-Polanco as "a woefully inexperienced CEO." It claimed that the top members of Gov. Phil Murphy's staff knew about the SDA issues and did nothing about it. And finally, the report stated the following, "The bottom line is this: the SDA may cease to exist altogether unless the state can restore lost public trust that will enable it to obtain a new round of large-scale public financing." 

So who is shocked by this? 

Probably no one reading this – I mean we do live in the Soprano state, right? 

So what if Murphy hired a bunch of unqualified friends and political supporters to run the SDA? What else is new? This is how New Jersey works!

Well, here is why Newark needs to start caring – 

Murphy's friends ran the SDA into the ground. This billion-dollar department now has no money left to build new schools! Billions of dollars are now gone! 

So hopefully now you are following me – no money means no new school buildings in Newark. 

To realize how Newark is affected by all of this – we need to look no farther than our own West Side.

We have been waiting to improve our high school for years. There is even a shovel ready project designed and proposed already to build a new West Side High School Building.

But wait, if that is the case, why hasn't a new West Side High School been built? Well, now we know – because the SDA is run by a bunch of cronies, who wasted billions of dollars.

Are you following me now, Newark?

Instead of building schools, the SDA and Murphy were too busy hiring friends and family members for jobs they weren't qualified for.

And the result for Newark – even though we were promised a new West Side High School a decade ago – no progress has been made, and my kids certainly won't have the opportunity to attend a new West Side High School.

The SDA scandal is an excellent example for the reasons education inequity continues in Newark.

But here is what keeps me up at night. 

Ideally, the Governor should stop putting his donors and friends ahead of the people who actually voted for him. We were there for him when he ran in the primary almost four years ago, and he should be doing more for Newark.

But really, let's be honest, are we shocked by this?

The answer is – NO.

We can't trust Murphy or anyone we are doing the right thing. The only people we can trust are ourselves.

If we are truly going to create change, we ALL need to know how the SDA and other agencies work.

It's up to us to know more about the SDA, make sure the SDA has the right leadership, and demand that people like Murphy do the right thing for Newark.

Yes, Murphy and our system has to change, but so do we. Until we stop blindly trusting the politicians who only seem to remember us every four years, we will never get anywhere.

Newark needs better schools. 

Our kids are certainly more important than Murphy's political patronage.

But friends, we cant depend on Murphy or anyone else. 

Yes, this SDA investigation is a Murphy mess, and we had nothing to do with it. But until we all stand together, educate ourselves on agencies like the SDA, and demand more from them, we will never see the priorities we dream about get addressed.

SDA is a lesson to all of us - it's up to us, not anyone else.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

REAL HEROES SHOW UP EVERYDAY FOR OUR CHILDREN WITH THE SUPERPOWER OF TEACHING!!!

Hearing the stories of first responders in the press, social media, and even in television ads is very moving for me. These stories touch my heart, and I often get emotional thinking about their sacrifice these last few month. These are the people on the front lines of the most difficult situations, risking everything to help all of us.

One of the things that weighs on me personally is whether just giving thanks is enough. The fact is, it's NOT.

Whether we are talking about EMTs, police, doctors, nurses, our country should be doing far more to support, protect, and pay them. However, as so many of us are just trying to make ends meet and our top priority is our kid's health – just saying thank you is an important start.

Like so many parents in Newark, I think it is important that we broaden who we view as first responders – and I don't think anyone will disagree when I suggest that NEWARK TEACHERS deserve our thanks and support as well.

Like our EMTs, police, doctors, and nurses, this new school year has shown so many of us that our teachers are also the real heroes of Newark.

Our teachers are not only teaching our kids, but they are parents as well.

Our teachers are not only teaching our kids, but they have the added burden of remaining safe and mindful of the many risks they face each day.

Most of all, by adapting to distance learning, our teachers have had to start from scratch and reimagine learning for their students, all with very little direction.

I would like us to do more for our teachers than say thank you. And I dream of a moment, hopefully, later in November, where we have leadership that can ensure our teachers are provided with needed safety materials and a plan that brings the support they so desperately need.

But for now, I would like to use this blog not just to say thank you, but to encourage more people to share their feelings.

Below is an open letter I drafted to teachers. It touches on some of the points I have been thinking about a lot lately.

I am not only posting this letter on my blog, but I am sending it to my kids' teachers and posting on social media. Maybe the words will inspire you to do the same. If it is easier, perhaps you can cut and paste parts of it, put it in your own voice, and use it yourself. The truth is that we need to do so much more to help and support our teachers, but maybe this is a good place to start:

Dear Newark Teachers,
Thank you for putting my child's interest above your own. For taking care of him during the day so I can work and pay my bills. Thank you for your dedication, for not leaving Newark behind and remaining a vital part of our community.

Over the last few months, I know that it has not been easy. I understand that the direction you have received from the federal government and the state is continuously changing. In some cases, what you hear from our leaders does not always make sense or is not consistent, but somehow you have preserved and remained focused on  your passion for our kids.

As the point of contact for so many Newark parents, you often had to bare the burden of our frustration, confusion, and the lack of information we have received. Your follow up, understanding, and communication since we first started remote learning has been incredible and has helped so many through such a challenging time.

I have three children in three different grade levels, and I am unsure where we would be about you.

I am saying thank you because you are a hero – and you deserve not only hero's pay, but support. We need to do more in providing our teachers with professional development and technological assistance. I also believe that educators should be given Fridays or some extra time off away from the camera to spend time with their family or get a moment to breathe.

As a parent, I promise to do more, to ensure you are treated like the hero you are, and that includes voting in November,

Thank you for all you do, every day.

Sincerely,
Oscar James, II

Newark, let's be real.

Teachers need more support during this time from all of us.

And just as teachers have been there for us, we need to step up and help as well.

I would be nothing without the support I get from my children's teachers and support staff. Lets all please think about going that extra step. And we can start by saying thank you.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Sorry Roger, the Trump-like Threats and Intimidation Will Not Stop the Voices of Parents

 

Yesterday, I posted my third blog post.

 

In it, I reacted to this story in Chalkbeat – https://newark.chalkbeat.org/2020/9/23/21452648/newark-remote-learning-attendance-spring

 

I found it laughable that Superintendent Leon was reporting in the middle of a global pandemic that Newark school attendance was 99.8%. 

 

I mean come on, really?  99.8%. 

 

Well, guess what?

 

Within four minutes of posting that blog - guess who called screaming at me - Newark Superintendent Roger Leon. 

 

Yup.  No joke.

 

Leon was on fire!  He tried to intimidate me.  He threatened me.  And he even said he was going to sue me!

 

This call went on for 25 minutes - until I respectfully asked to end the call.

 

He got so nuts that about 10 minutes into the call, I could not believe what I was hearing, so I started taping the call.  Yes, I have it on tape, everyone.

 

Let's think about this, Newark.  We are in the middle of a global pandemic.  Parents are struggling.  Teachers are working so hard.  There is work to be done.  Yet, somehow Roger Leon has the time to call me four minutes after I posted my blog to yell at me and threaten me - for 25 mins?

 

Leon is the Superintendent of Newark.  Doesn't he have anything more important to deal with?  I don't get it.

So why am I now sharing this publicly? 

 

Well, first of all when he called me he threatened my freedom of speech with a lawsuit.  Second, tried to intimidate me by associating my words with the ridiculous action of other people.  The bottom line is this, he can't shut down my voice.

I would have welcomed a real, productive conversation with Leon, but that was not his intent in calling me.  Instead, he threw a tirade like an angry 2nd grader. 

 

Trust me, I know firsthand, it does no good for a public official to be so thin skinned. Many of you remember my time in office.

Another thought came to my mind listening to Roger yesterday, what is it about him and suing everyone?

 

Look at the record, he has inserted our school district in a wide variety legal cases, many of which have nothing to do with our kids and have paid for by our tax dollars.

 

My friends at the Newark Housing Authority have shared with many of us around the City that Leon has forced the NHA to budget hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars for a variety of school building lawsuits and no one really understand what he is even doing.  That's hundreds of thousands of dollars in the taxpayers money! 

 

I am sure those hundreds of thousands of dollars could be used much better, like purchasing computers for Newark's kids.

 

So for speaking my mind, I am now on a long list of people Leon is planning to sue.

 

What is going on here people? Enough of the lawsuits.  Enough of the threats. 

 

Let's keep this real -

 

We have a Superintendent who threaten lawsuits at every turn.

 

He provides us questionable school data in the middle of a pandemic.

 

He bullies people who disagrees with him.

 

He is very thin skinned.

 

And he has ignored the needs and concerns of our most at-risk families during a global pandemic.

 

That sounds a lot like Donald Trump to me.

 

I am just a parent, but here is some advice.  Roger, stop acting like Trump and start acting like a Newarker. 

Focus on our kids - not me.

 

A couple of weeks ago I began this blog with a single purpose.  As a life-long Newarker and as a parent, I did not like seeing what was going on in our city - especially as we confront this global pandemic. 

 

During the last few months, parents in Newark have really lacked information about our school system.  We have questions that are not getting answered.  Our families have being forced to choose between buying food or technology so kids can participate in our public schools.  In some cases, our kids have been home alone all day.  Parents are struggling like never before.  And most of all, our distant learning programs have been very confusing and unorganized for kids.  

 

I love this city and as a Father I have truly been losing sleep over all of this and I know many in my community feel the same.  So I decided to start a blog to share my feelings.

 

No offense to anyone who might be offended, but I am sorry, it has been frustrating to be a parent and having my kid in the Newark Public Schools right now.  Should we not talk about this?  Am I not allowed?  Shouldn't something be done?

One thing I won't be losing sleep over is Roger Leon calling me and yelling at me for 25 minutes.  Just like you Roger I was born here and you know Newarkers don't back down!

 

Roger, please focus less on me and more on just doing your job.

 

Btw, someone remind me to change my cell phone number.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Roger Leon and Donald Trump Have A Lot in Common - They Both Think We are Suckers

 

This summer, my daughter was assigned to West Side High School through Newark Enrolls.

 

The whole process has been one of the most disorganized I have ever seen. Hold on a second, I should not use the word "process" because there has been no process.

 

Having not received any specific information from the school district, I took the morning off from work on the first day of school to confirm my daughter was set up for the new school year. I was told by the school to come back another day with the rest of her paperwork, and this went on, ready for this, for three weeks!

 

We had a classroom schedule for my daughter, the school lost enrollment information that was provided months ago, and as I attempted to reach various departments, it was clear no one walk talking to each other. Bottom line, she was not able to start at West Side until 9/24/2020, yet she had a scheduled and we were told she was registered without having the supporting documents.

 

Let's be real. We all know the drill. This is what Newark school district parents are accustomed to. Unfortunately, many of you reading have your own story. We all do. It frustrating, and as parents, we should not all be struggling so hard to ensure our kids can receive a public education.

 

But here is where my frustration really turns to anger.

 

While we are dealing with all of this with my daughter, while so many parents are dealing with their own frustrations, according to ChalkBeat Newark, our District Superintendent, Roger Leon, has been running around bragging to our Mayor and School Board that Newark's school attendance has been - get this - 99.8 percent.

 

I am going to repeat this -

 

According to Newark's District Superintendent Roger Leon, our school district, the largest school district in the state, has maintained 99.8% attendance through this global pandemic.

 

It made me wonder if Leon counted my daughter as "present" while struggling to attend classes in September?

 

Last week, I spent a good chunk of my blog questioning why our Superintendent announced a ten-year strategic plan in the middle of a global pandemic, incredibly when he has been mostly silent on the real concerns we as parents face right now.

 

No one is happy right now. Too many Newark kids don't have computers or wifi to participate in these remote classrooms. Too many kids are stranded alone during the day. And parents are frustrated and have been provided with little communication or support from the school district since this horror all began. To be fair, this is not all Leon's fault, but my point was that this was no time for a PR stunt. Instead of trying to change the subject, Leon should be investing his time addressing the immediate concerns of parents.

 

Little did I know that just as I was writing all of this last week, Leon doubled down and taken a page right out of Donald Trump.

 

It seems we have it much worse than just an obtuse Superintendent who does not understand our concerns. We actually have a Superintendent who is a liar, providing Trump-like alternative facts, and willing to say or do anything to benefit himself.

 

No need for the facts. No need for reality. No need for the truth. No need for checks and balances.

 

Thousands of Newarkers are dead or sick.

 

Classes have been pushed to remote learning, where - as I mentioned just last week in my blog - too many kids do not even have a computer, wifi, or needed supervision.

 

Yet somehow, through a miracle that only Roger Leon seems to believe, Newark classrooms have received a nearly perfect attendance score? Come on!

 

We live in a crazy time, a time when we have a President who dares to lie constantly. He has lied to us about the pandemic. He has lied about racism and inequity in our country.

 

We need honesty. We need transparency. We need the truth.

 

Roger Leon should be ashamed of his bogus enrollment claims.

 

99.8% - really?

 

Leon seems content to say whatever he wants, truth be damned.

 

By cooking his books, Leon is providing a terrible example for our kids.

 

Being a frustrated parent in the Newark school system, unfortunately, is expected.

 

But as we saw with Cami Anderson, it takes a special kind of Superintendent to make parents angry. And lying is simply inexcusable. Yet we all want to continue to blame Cami and say Roger is the savior.

 

Do our kids now feel empowered to not show up at school, knowing they will be marked as "present"?

 

Do our kids now feel that if Leon can cheat, so can they?

 

People, this is insane!

 

And again, these are the actions in Newark that keep me up at night. How can we allow this for Newark?

 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

STRUGGLING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING



 Last week I launched my blog - Newark Neighborhood View - and I want to thank you all for providing your thoughts and ideas after my first post. 



Hearing from so many of you and receiving so many responses was not something I was expecting when I launched this blog. In some cases, I heard from Newarkers who I had not talked to in months because of COVID, and some friends outreached who I had not seen in even years. 


Thank you for reading, and thank you for reaching out. Your encouragement meant a great deal to me this last week, and I hope to use this platform wisely.


Being a Father, entrepreneur and activist takes up many of my hours during the day, but I hope to contribute to this ongoing dialog at least once a week. 


For this week, I want to talk about one of the many reasons I started this blog, and one of the many reasons I can't sleep at night. I want to share what it has been like to be back to school in Newark. Because right now, I am feeling so frustrated and angry.


As a Father, this new world has been a struggle, and I know that I am not the only one struggling either. Many parents are struggling right now - specifically Newark's single parents and our grandmothers who are raising children again or watching over them during school hours.


I don't feel that the powers that be have forgotten us, at least not yet, but I do feel people in high positions are ignoring the problem, trying to change the conversation, and are not listening to the voices of our neighborhoods.


Newark Superintendent Leon made a huge mistake during the opening weeks of school that really upset me.


Instead of addressing immediate issues, Leon chose to launch some kind of PR stunt, announcing a "historic" 10-year strategic plan. As well as using the summer months to start frivolous lawsuits against private developers who purchased old school buildings through a bidding process. Distractions from the real issues at hand. This summer we could have better prepared for the issues we see today. Other districts are excelling with hybrid models and we can not get virtual learning together after the test run  we all were forced to endure earlier this year.


Take a look right here - https://www.nps.k12.nj.us/press-releases/historic-10-year-strategic-plan-to-build-a-new-educational-ecosystem-in-newark/


A 10-year plan? Why do we need a 10 year Plan when most people are uncertain about tomorrow, or the day after.


So our schools are not open. Our kids lack the technology to learn. Newark parents are confused and frustrated. And Leon is talking about a ten-year plan? Really?


Let's be real - instead of addressing our immediate needs, Leon tried to change the subject. 


I mean, let's face it. Our worlds are collapsing right now. 


We have not heard from Leon or any other elected official that represents the children of Newark at all, and finally, he shows up with a ten-year plan? Sir, right now, I am just worried where my kids will be in 10 days. I don't get it.


Right now, we have single parents in Newark having to work. Our kids are in their homes alone, with no one to stay with them. In many cases, we do not have wifi or can't even get wifi if we could afford it. And even if we have wifi and the needed technology to learn, so many parents, especially our elderly, need help to educate their at-home children during these times. Instead of addressing these issues, STOP, dreaming about ten years from now. How about a plan to help our families now?


With this push to get students in front of the camera, we can get a glimpse of what life is like right now. 


We are seeing that people need help, and every household is not set up the same to be apart of the virtual learning experience. 


This is what keeps me up at night. This is why I started this blog. 


So many Newarkers cant access wifi.


So many Newarkers are dependent on free and reduced lunch and others that are not dependent are still in need of better options for providing food to their families. 


Parents are asking themselves, what should I spend my money on wifi or making sure my child has something to eat?


Everyone, this is real. 


While our Superintendent is thinking about how to plan for the next 10 years of his leadership , he seems to be missing the issues that we are facing right now.


The truth is that we need to know better. 


We must all come together and help each other during these times. As many of us saw first hand, when we all went to these same Newark schools, decades ago, while somethings have changed some things are business as usual.


To create change, it is going to have to come from all of us. 


If you have space for a child that you know needs help during these times, then it is our duty to open our doors to ensure an entire generation of children doesn’t fall grade levels behind during a world pandemic.


We all need to step up.


Monday, September 14, 2020

Introducing Newark Neighborhood View – Let's Be Real, What Keeps Us Up At Night?

As many of you know, I am a Newarker. I was born and raised here. Many of you know me, understand the love I have for this City, and take pride that you know my failings and the real-life lessons I have learned, sometimes the hard way.

I was introduced to many of you through my Dad, through Cory, and when I first served as a young (very young) City Council member. 

Politics is no longer my purpose. I now put the energy I gave to City Hall towards my kids – and I am very proud of that fact. 

Parenthood has given me a sense of purpose. It has filled a void that I lacked when in public office and allowed me to finally embrace maturity. There are times when I take a step back from my daily life, and I am proud that the raw passion I once had has developed into something far more impactful – wisdom. 

During so many times these last few months, I have prayed, reflected, and worried. 

I have been worrying a lot lately. 

And as I have witnessed the effects of COVID, Lead, and racism, among other issues in our City this year, I have found myself more and more worried about our neighborhoods, our people, and our families. 

Perhaps these worries are just part of gaining wisdom and growing older, or maybe there is something else going on. Perhaps things genuinely are as bad, as scary, and as messed up as it seems to be. Perhaps it's time, considering all that is going on right now, to worry.

A great deal has been on my mind, a great deal I am worrying about, and after thinking about it over the summer, I decided to start a blog – and I have decided to share it with each of you. 

There is much that keeps us all up at night – and there is much for us to worry about – so many issues, concerns, and frustrations. To address what is on my mind, I have decided to begin communicating what I am seeing and hearing. I have created this blog to advocate – and at times, even to fight - for what I think is right. There is simply too much in my head right now that I need to share - and as I have talked to many of you, I know you feel the same.

Like the many other decisions I have made – in politics, parenthood, advocacy, and business, many of you have been with me through it all – and I wanted Newark to be a part of this next adventure. 

I hope you will stay with me and hear what I have to say in the coming days and weeks. 

You may agree. You may disagree. 

My words may encourage or inspire you to do more. This blog may educate you and help us build a broader conversation. 

Of course, it may also trigger you to unsubscribe as well, but I hope that is not the case. 

This blog is about my love of Newark. All of Newark is part of my family, and I chose to speak up because there are issues and ideas we need to talk about. There is pain happening that is affecting all of us right now – young and old. We need to admit it. We need to talk about it. And we need to find a way to go beyond coping and worrying – and start addressing it. 

Regardless of how you may interpret what I am doing, I wanted to welcome you to my blog either way, and I hope you will continue on this journey with me. 

Thank you for listening. And I look forward to getting started.

TRUMP LEFT NEWARK TO OUR OWN DEVICES – LITERALLY! I am counting the days to Election Day.  Trump (he is not even worthy of being called Pres...