The City of Newark is one step closer to regaining local control of its schools after the state’s education commissioner approved the district’s personnel transition plan.

At last night’s meeting of the Board of Education, State District Superintendent of Newark Public Schools Christopher Cerf announced that the district’s Personnel Transition Plan has been given official approval by the state’s education commissioner. Cerf, along with BOE Chairperson Marquis-Aquil Lewis, signed the official plan to cheers.

“As of yesterday, we received a signed document that our plan has been approved," Cerf said at the meeting. “This represents very deep work done by members of this board and has resulted in a signed transition plan.”

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The significance of the moment was not lost on anyone, as those at the meeting well remember the state's takeover more than 20 years ago.

On April 13, 1995, administrative law judge Steven Weiss put forth a 56-page ruling on his decision to hand over the district to state control. The decision rocked the city-- but now, said Lewis, all that has changed.

Lewis, who was an elementary school student when control was relinquished to the state and now sits as the board’s chair upon its return, addressed the meeting with emotion.

“We are one step closer to local control of our school,” he said. “Tonight, we will witness the official signing of this document. I’m excited because now we can decide our own destiny—our destiny is in our own hands. This brings tears to my eyes. We were once the rejected stones; now we are the cornerstones. We are committed to serving every child in this district.”

Cerf presented the personnel plan, which was implemented with the help of outside experts, including state representatives and members of other boards. After two special meetings of the board in April and May, the district submitted the plans for NJDOE review, which were approved on August 21. Implementation of the plan begins in September.

The approval is significant—as the board completes its training in each category of the plan, it can once again assume voting authority.

The personnel plan is divided into eight core areas, including confidentiality and ethics, collective negotiating, hiring, compensation and benefits, non-disciplinary transfers, renewals and tenure changes, reductions in force and discipline and performance management.

Cerf said approximately 98 percent of district staff has been hired, up from 97 percent at this time last year.

Cerf also announced that the district had passed muster in all five categories on the New Jersey Department of Education’s QSAC scores. QSAC, or the Quality Single Accountability Continuum, is the NJDOE’s monitoring and evaluation system used for public school districts.

In July, state Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington shared the district’s scores, which revealed that Newark was above 80 percent in all categories.

"We received a letter from the state saying we hit the mark in all areas," Cerf said at the meeting. "The board will vote to return to local control," he said, noting that the vote will begin the process by which a transition plan is developed. "That plan will be presented to this board; we expect that to happen over the course of the fall."

The district received a 92 percent rating in instruction and program, 92 percent in fiscal management, 100 percent in governance, 95 percent in operations and 100 percent in personnel.

Once the NJBOE votes on local control in September, the commissioner will work with the district in developing a transition plan outlining the final steps towards gaining full local control.

There was more good news coming out of the district, as Cerf announced significant improvements in PARCC results in both ELA (English/Language Arts) and Math.

According to preliminary PARCC results put out by the district, NPS students improved by 2.7 percentage points in ELA and 2.8 percentage points in math overall. Since 2014, NPS has shown gains in both these areas, besting statewide gains.

Participation rates also increased, with more than 93 percent of students taking the PARCC, up from 90 percent in 2016.

Lewis said that the entire community must take responsibility for the more than 35,000 students that will return to school in just a few short weeks.

"We need to take responsibility for every child that walks through our doors," he said. "I'm confident because we are Newark, and together, we can do it all."