NEWARK, NJ--It was an evening to celebrate the best of the best at an awards recognition ceremony hosted by Newark Public Schools.

Held Wednesday at the Robert Treat Hotel in downtown Newark, the celebratory gathering was a salute to district principals, administrators, teachers and students who exemplify academic excellence and achievement.

Ten elementary, middle and high schools were recognized for the most academic growth in English/Language Arts and Math as assessed by PARCC exams and the state's Student Growth Percentiles (SGP).

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“We are thankful for the great work of our principals, teachers, and students and the academic achievement awards will honor their efforts and results,” Newark Public Schools Superintendent Christopher Cerf said.

The ten schools awarded include Camden Street School, Technology High School, Peshine Avenue School, Lafayette Street School, Branch Brook School, Park Elementary, Harriet Tubman Elementary School, Sussex Avenue Renew School, Science Park High School and Oliver Street School.

The challenge to make it to the academic A-list was given to district schools last year, and NPS Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty said the schools came through in spades.

“Today may actually be my best single day of the 2017-18 year,” Haggerty said at the ceremony. “A year ago, a challenge was given to schools to be on top in two key areas—growth and PARCC assessments. These 10 schools represent all of the city’s wards, both big and small schools. This evening is incredibly special. The city is in the room tonight and we are represented border to border, ward to ward. Excellence is in the room tonight."

Cerf expressed pride and gratitude at the efforts made by district educators.

“I’m just brimming with pride,” he said. “This is an extraordinary achievement. As we celebrate the greatness you have achieved, we really are celebrating the gift you’ve given to your students.”

Cerf noted the many challenges the district has faced in recent years and lauded the growth the district has realized.

“The last six or seven years have been very difficult,” he noted. “But the measure is whether more students have realized academic success and better life outcomes.”

Since Cerf first took the helm of the district in 2015, PARCC scores and graduation and matriculation rates have increased significantly.

Core standards, such as a district-wide curriculum, improved student assessments, new evaluation standards for teachers, teacher retention and school choice have significantly helped in moving the district forward.

The district has seen significant improvements in PARCC results in both ELA  and Math, with NPS students improving by 2.7 percentage points in ELA and 2.8 percentage points in math overall, exceeding statewide gains in both subjects.

Graduation rates have also significantly increased in recent years.

When the state took over more than two decades ago, just 54 percent of Newark students were graduating. Today, that rate has increased by 23 percentage points to 77 percent, with the expectation that it will rise to 78 percent by year’s end.

In addition, last year's NPS graduating classes saw more students matriculating to some of the country’s top colleges and universities, with students receiving full scholarships to schools like Harvard, Princeton and Rutgers.

In September, the state's Board of Education voted unanimously to hand back control to Newark's elected Board of Education, with the district currently working in close partnership with the state on a full transition plan.

NPS Deputy Superintendent Robert Gregory called the achievements “phenomenal.”

“This is extremely special to me,” Gregory said, noting that he is a third-generation Newarker and attended Harriet Tubman Elementary School.

Gregory said that his mother--hoping for better academic opportunities for her children--moved their family to a different school district after he completed sixth grade.

“She took us 90 miles away from Newark,” he said. “I left my father, my grandparents, my church, and started a new life in suburban America.”

At his new school, said Gregory, he was placed in all honors classes and was a straight-A student.

“That is all attributed to the education I got at Harriet Tubman school,” he said, noting the exceptional academic opportunities offered by Newark schools. “This event is about leadership, our ability to grow teachers and to celebrate teachers who are brave enough to give up old practices. I celebrate each and every last one of you. You as teachers are the backbone of American society.”