NEWARK -  NJ. - Dozens of people crowded into Mayor Ras Baraka’s West Ward campaign office headquarters on Wednesday to hear Baraka, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr., and state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz give their endorsement to the Moving Newark Schools Forward slate for the 2019 school board election.

The three-member slate consists of A‘Dorian Murray-Thomas, Tave Padilla and Shayvonne Anderson. Baraka described the ticket as crucial to educating all of Newark’s youth -- politics aside -- no matter where they attend school.

A total of 11 candidates are vying for three school board seats. Leah Owens who is up for reelection, Denise Cole, and Saafir Jenkins, are running together on the  "Children Over Politics" team. Denise A. Crawford, Maggie Freeman, Priscilla M. Garces, Yolanda Johnson, and Arlene J. Ramsey are also running for this year's election. 

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“We’re trying to figure out how we can educate these kids with all the resources that we have at our disposal [as we try] to find more. In a city that is growing and developing, we need to make sure we create a pipeline of kids graduating from high school, able to get into college and that colleges are accepting more of our children,” Baraka said to the crowd.

Murray-Thomas, whom Baraka heralded as “a breath of fresh air to politics” in the city, would be the youngest woman -- at age 23 -- elected to the school board in Newark’s history. Padilla, seeking reelection and Anderson, a vocal parent advocate, complete the slate which is also endorsed by charter advocates and other elected officials.

Murray-Thomas, a Newark-native, attended The Chad School, an Afro-centric private elementary school that closed in 2005 and TEAM Academy, a KIPP New Jersey charter school. In college, Murray-Thomas founded She Wins, a civic leadership organization that serves middle school and high school young women from more than 20 Newark schools.

“It’s always been my duty to be worthy of the sacrifices that were made for me to be standing here today,” said Murray-Thomas.

Padilla, a current school board member (2016-2019) has worked as Co-Director of Youth Development and Recreation at the North Ward Center for the past 16 years. Padilla boasts 92 percent attendance at school board and committee meetings.

“No child should be relegated to attend a failing school,” Councilman Ramos said. “I believe that we have succeeded the last three elections in putting together coalition teams that are diverse and responsible school board members that led us to the day we are in.”

Anderson, a mother to 10 children who mostly attended charter schools, believes in school choice and the power of parents. She founded a women's abuse support organization and serves as a mentor for Big Brother/Big Sisters of New Jersey. 

“I’m running because Newark schools need to be accountable to Newark families. I know this school system because I lived this school system,” said Anderson, who attended Newark public schools. “Parents need to understand the power and influence they possess when it comes to the role in their children’s lives.”

School board election voter turnout has been historically low, on-trend with municipalities across the country. Last year marked the first school board election since the state governed the district. Yet, 7,288 ballots were cast, approximately 5 percent of the registered voters. Parents of school-aged children may have stronger vested interests and understand what’s jeopardized when residents chose to not vote, but Ruiz urged voters to consider collective consequence.

“We got our school district back, but with that comes a lot of responsibility. If you produce a well-rounded tax paying resident who is qualified, a believer in themselves and community, there's nothing that prevents the city from moving forward,” Ruiz said.

“The greater our school systems are in the city of Newark, everything else will take care of itself.”