Today marked the beginning of a new era for the City of Newark, as city and school officials welcomed students back to the first day of school and the imminent return of full local control to the district.
Newark Public Schools Superintendent Christopher Cerf and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka officially opened the 2017-18 school year at Technology High School, where school board members, elected officials, teachers and others gathered for a press conference to usher in the first day of what promises to be a momentous year for the district.
Technology High School, one of the city’s highest performing schools, served as a fitting backdrop for the gathering and as an example of academic gains made across the district.
Cerf discussed plans as the district readies to return to local control after more than 20 years, focusing on how to build on the progress the district has already realized.
In July, state Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington shared the district’s QSAC (Quality Single Accountability Continuum) scores, the Department of Education's monitoring and evaluation system for public school districts. Newark had scored above the minimum 80 percent in all five categories.
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.
The district has already gained control of three of these five areas, and results are anticipated to pave the way for full local control later this fall.
Once the New Jersey Board of Educaiton 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.
Technology High School Principal Edwin Reyes acknowledged the significance of the day.
“As a proud graduate of the Newark Public Schools, this is an exciting time period,” Reyes said. “There’s a bright future for Newark. It’s a big year for our city.”
Cerf lauded Baraka, members of the school board and others for their hard work and commitment to moving the district forward.
“The mayor stood strong,” he said, noting Baraka's confidence that the district would one day return to local control. “I have the deepest respect for his leadership. The leader of this city believes in principle over politics.”
Cerf said that returning to full local control and improving life outcomes for Newark’s students are the district's two main areas of focus.
“Every child deserves to graduate and to attend college," Cerf said. "Every child deserves access to a free, public, quality education. There are far too many kids in Newark who don’t have access to opportunities they deserve."
Cerf noted NPS achievements within the last few years, including preliminary 2016-17 PARCC results which show significant gains in both English/Language Arts and math, with district gains exceeding state gains in both subjects.
The district also improved on the state's Student Growth Measure (SGP), with NPS students making faster gains in reading than their peers statewide, according to the latest data.
“Students are improving faster than their peers across the state,” Cerf said.
In recent years, Newark has seen consistent improvement in graduation rates, with an increase from 73.5 percent in 2015-16 to 77 percent last year.
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.
Cerf noted that efforts throughout the summer readied the district for a successful opening day.
Staff development workshops, teacher hiring, facilities improvements and easier student enrollment were some of the goals accomplished over the summer, Cerf said. In addition, the district assembled its Successful School Opening Team for the sixth straight year to ensure that schools were staffed, facilities ready and schedules prepared for students on the first day of school.
Cerf said nearly $5 million in major facilities projects and revitalization work was undertaken throughout the summer, including ongoing lead remediation that will place water back online.
Baraka noted that today would be Cerf’s last school opening and thanked Cerf for his efforts and dedication.
“I want to congratulate you for getting us to this point,” Baraka said. “You are to be congratulated for getting us where we are today. I’m glad to say we’re going to get local control. The real work begins for us in this city. There’s a lot of work to do. We have to make sure that everybody is laser-light focused to make sure we continue on these gains.”
BOE Chairperson Marquis-Aquil Lewis, who attended Newark schools and remembers when local control was relinquished to the state, said the district was ready and eager to welcome back Newark’s students.
“We are excited about today," he said. “We are ready for our students to get back to learning. Today, our students are counting on us because it takes a village, and that village is us.”