The Newark Planning Board on Monday approved plans for a public charter school in the city's Central Ward on vacant parking lot once used by employees of The Star-Ledger.
The vacant parking lot at 377 Washington Avenue will become the new home for a North Star Academy, which will educate students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Uncommon Schools Newark, the parent of North Star Academy, operates 11 schools in Newark and has plans, which were previously approved by the state Department of Education in 2011, to grow to 14 schools.
Though the Newark Teachers Union held a small candlelight vigil outside of City Hall before the meeting, it was overshadowed by the nearly 400 charter school families and supporters who packed the City Council chambers for the vote. Supporters filled the balcony and overflowed into the hallway.
“I was proud to stand with nearly 400 Newark families at City Hall last night who came to ensure their voices are heard," said Juliana Worrell, Associate Managing Director, Uncommon Schools Newark and co-author of Great Habits, Great Readers. "We thank the Newark City Planning Board members for approving the development of a public school building on a currently empty lot. We believe all Newark students deserve a high-quality education and are proud of the work that North Star Academy has been doing in Newark for the past 18 years to help make that happen."
Central Ward Resident and mother of five, Crystal Wortham, testified before the planning board about her son, who has special needs.
"North Star is a gem in this community, a school that competes world wide," Wortham said. "My son has special needs and North Star meets all of his needs. His teachers make sure that there’s an action plan in place for him to be successful. Right now, 377 Washington Street is an empty lot, but it would mean so much more to students like my son who are loved at North Star every single day."
Maymouna Sissoko, who grew up a block from the parking lot and graduated from North Star in 2015, said she traveled from Barnard College in New York City to testify before the planning board.
"I would not be where I am today if not for North Star,” she testified.
The Newark Teacher's Union held a small candlelight vigil outside of City Hall before the planning board meeting.
Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins praised planning board members for approving the school.
"I want to applaud the planning board for putting the children and families of Newark first over politics," Chaneyfield Jenkins said. "By approving North Star's application tonight to build a new public school on a vacant parking lot, the members of this board courageously took a stand for the children of this city, who can look forward to a bright future."
The Star-Ledger sold the building last year after shrinking its once robust staff through layoffs, buyout and attrition. What remains of the Ledger staff is housed in a small office in the Gateway complex while a new company based in Woodbridge, NJ Advance Media, provides content for the newspaper and its website, nj.com. Maddd Equities, which purchased the building, the parking lot and the parking deck, has not yet revealed its plans for the 177,000-square-foot building.