On the heels of a historic state Board of Education vote that returned control of schools back to Newark, hundreds of elected state, city and school officials gathered for a celebratory rally at City Hall to celebrate the historic milestone.
As the rotunda inside city hall filled to capacity just ahead of the rain, a marching band from Newark Public Schools broke out in dance and song as the crowd applauded and cheered.
“So, who’s excited?” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said to raucous cheers. “I can’t tell you how fantastic it is to be in Newark today. We fought for 22 years and one minute to get local control back.”
State board members said just before today’s vote that the district had proved its ability to return to local control after it surpassed benchmarks in all five categories of the state’s Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) scores.
The state’s education commissioner will now work with the district in developing a transition plan outlining the final steps towards gaining full local control.
The transition plan is expected to take several months, after which it will be approved by the state board and then be presented to the local board.
Newark Chief Education Officer Antoinette Richardson said that now the city needs to focus on getting things done.
“Today is the end of state control and the start of the process to full, legal, local control,” she said. “Today is a beginning. We’ve been waiting for 22 years.”
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka noted that he was a teacher at the time of the state takeover in 1995.
“We never had the opportunity to say what we wanted,” he said. “For 22 years, we were being shackled in our community. Not today.”
At this morning's state board of education meeting, Newark Public Schools Superintendent Christopher Cerf noted the district’s steady gains in recent years, with significant improvements in PARCC results in both ELA (English/Language Arts) and Math and increased graduation rates. Cerf also expressed confidence that the current graduation rate of 77 percent would rise to 78 percent by year's end.
BOE Chairperson Marquis-Aquil Lewis, who was a student at the time of the state takeover, said the return back to local signals a new era in Newark.
“Today marks a historic day for our city and our students,” he said. “Taxpayers have a real decision as to what happens in our educational system.”
State Sen. Ronald Rice, co-chair of the Joint Committee on the Public Schools, issued a statement following the state board’s vote.
“I commend the state board for finally recognizing the importance of returning the Newark school district back to local control,” he said. “The reality is that states cannot run school districts, and we have proven that in Newark, Paterson and Jersey City, where the schools were held under state control for more than two decades.”
Rice applauded Baraka and his team for taking on the issue at the start of his administration.
“This has not been an easy process,” Rice said. “…All of us coming together helped to lay the foundation for this action. This is important progress for our city, and there is still a lot of work to be done. The transition process under QSAC must be adhered to and the Joint Committee on the Public Schools will be monitoring that process to be sure it is followed.
Rice also noted that issues created by the state needed to be addressed, such as budget deficits resulting from mismanagement by numerous state-appointed officials.
“Those problems cannot be handed over to the district with the expectation that they will be resolved without assistance from the state,” Rice said. “The next steps in this process will be critical and I am committed to holding state officials accountable to make sure the transition is done the right way and according to the law.”
State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, who serves as chair of the Senate Education Committee, also issued a statement after the historic vote.
“This is a historic day for the City of Newark,” she said. “Twenty-two years of state control did not deliver the results that many vowed it would. The residents of Newark deserve to have a voice in their public education system and the ability to make decisions about their future, just as communities in towns and cities across this state. We now have the opportunity to do that.”
The district will now move forward with the help of the state's Education Commissioner. Upon completion of the transition process, the commissioner will recommend to the state board that withdrawal from intervention be completed and that the public school district be fully returned to local control.
Following approval by the state board, the commissioner will make a determination regarding the district’s placement on the performance continuum and issue a letter to the school district designating it as a “high performing” school district.