Interim superintendent of Newark Public Schools appointed as Cerf announces departure

Newark Public Schools Superintendent Chris Cerf announced his resignation and the appointment of an interim superintendent. Credits: Elana Knopp

Newark, NJ--Deputy Newark Public Schools Superintendent Robert Gregory has been appointed by the school board as the district’s interim superintendent after Superintendent Christopher Cerf submitted his resignation at Thursday’s meeting of the board, effective February 1, 2018.

Gregory will head the district until the search process is completed and a new superintendent set in place on July 1.

The search for a new superintendent will be headed by a committee made up of three school board members and three Newark leaders jointly selected by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and state Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington. The search will continue through May 31.

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The announcement comes on the heels of the approval of the transition plan by the state education commissioner this week that will allow for the district’s Advisory Board to become the official Newark Board of Education on Feb. 1.

A public referendum will be held on Nov. 6 to determine if school board members will be elected or appointed by the mayor. The city will vote on the issue on Nov. 18, 2018.

The transition plan, which was presented to the board at Tuesday’s school board meeting, includes a detailed timeline and set of milestones to guide the district’s transition over a period of two years.

The plan will expire on Jan. 31, 2020, at which time the education commissioner will notify the State Board of Education (SBOE) that the district has successfully met all benchmarks required under the plan.

The transition plan was developed with direct input from the Newark community through public meetings in November and based on feedback from NPS staff, school board members, the Newark Education Success Board and representatives from the mayor’s office.

With the completion and approval of the transition plan, Cerf said in a letter to district colleagues that it was time to focus on working together to ensure an orderly transition.

“To be clear, the most important action the board will take in the coming months is the search for and selection of a permanent superintendent,” Cerf said in his letter.

“As that process moves forward, the work of successfully educating Newark's children remains our paramount goal, a goal that is best served in an environment of stability and unity of purpose," Cerf said. "I believe that the right path to achieve that goal is for me to step down and for the Board to select an interim superintendent to lead the district pending the appointment of a permanent successor.”

The district will be hosting town halls for central office staff and principals on January 4 in order to provide information to the public regarding the transition.

Core elements of the transition plan include Governance, Instruction and Program, and Fiscal Management, Operations, Personnel and includes key milestones and safeguards, as well as an Accountability Scorecard, which will be used to track and measure the district’s progress toward implementing the plan and a timetable for activities relating to and leading up to the withdrawal of state intervention.

The plan is closely aligned to the recommendations of the Newark Education Success Board (NESB) established jointly by Gov. Chris Christie and Baraka in 2015 to recommend a path forward to the return of local control.

In 2016, the NESB published a report that included strategic recommendations for the district and which served as a critical guide in developing the transition plan.

The report outlined recommendations at both the district and school level to ensure that issues that led to the state takeover would not be repeated.

The NSEB noted that its report “is not a document to be shelved and forgotten. The NESB members intend it to be a living work used to support the current work and ready the district for the return of local control as soon as it is officially announced by the New Jersey Board of Education.”

In September, the state Board of Education voted to initiate the return of local control to the district after more than two decades under full state intervention. The vote came after it was determined that the district had made significant progress and had satisfied the regulatory requirements of QSAC, or Quality Single Accountability Continuum, the state Department of Education's monitoring and district self-evaluation system used for public school districts.

After state takeover, NPS made incremental progress in various areas, most notably through making improvements in basic operational functions of the district and rooting out poor financial practices.

In 2008, the state returned the area of Operations to the district, followed by the return of Financial Management in 2014.

NPS began making accelerated progress on the state’s remaining QSAC domains in recent years, with the return of personnel granted in 2016 and governance and instruction and program returned this year.

Cerf, a former New Jersey education commissioner who took the helm of the district in 2015 with the goal of returning the district to full local control, praised the efforts of district colleagues, educators, parents and students.

“Allow me to express my deepest gratitude and admiration to the Newark community, its extraordinary educators, our nearly 6,000 employees, and, most of all, the over 55,000 students and their families who have worked so hard to build the foundations for a bright future,” Cerf said.

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