With the Newark school board election just three weeks away, the dynamics of the race shifted today as Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins announced she was endorsing former Newark Public Schools Acting Superintendent Deborah Terrell.
The move to create an informal ticket pits Chaneyfield Jenkins, who has already thrown her support behind Charles Love, against Mayor Ras Baraka and nearly all of her colleagues on the City Council, who are supporting the Newark Unity Slate, a ticket backed by the Parent Coalition for Excellent Education (PC2E).
The Newark Unity Slate consists of Reginald Bledsoe, Josephine Garcia and Flohisha Johnson.
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There are 15 candidates running for three seats in the April 25 election, including another slate, the Community Team, consisting of Denise Cole, Ryan Talmadge and Philip Seelinger Jr. Seelinger is the only incumbent running for reelection.
Voters will have an opportunity to hear the candidates at a forum sponsored by the Newark Trust for Education on Wednesday, April 5 at 6 p.m. at Express Newark, in the Hahne & Co. building, 54 Halsey Street.
This year’s election comes as the possibility of local control returning to Newark becomes a reality after more than two decades of state control, especially with the impending departure of Republican Gov. Chris Christie in January 2018.
In recent years, Newark has been ground zero of an intense battle between charter schools and district schools. While both are public schools, opponents of charter schools claim they are draining resources from the district, an argument Newark Schools Superintendent Chris Cerf deconstructed in an nj.com op-ed Sunday.
Though PC2E was founded to give voice to charter school parents and receives funding from pro-charter groups, the organization last year teamed up with a candidate supported by Baraka, a persistent critic of charter schools who has called for a moratorium on their continued expansion. The three candidates forming the Unity Slate easily sailed to victory last year.
This year, the Unity Slate features two charter school parents: Garcia, whose children attended Robert Treat Academy and Johnson, whose children attend North Star Academy. But they are not the only charter parents running. Husband and wife Jameel Ibrahim and Ezdehar Abuhatab have a daughter in North Star Academy. Sheila Montague has a child attending Philips Academy Charter School. Love is also a North Star parent, who previously worked with PC2E, but did not get their backing to run.
Love, who is working toward his doctorate from Fielding Graduate University, has worked for more than 15 years as a substitute teacher, a special needs paraprofessional and a community engagement manager for Newark Public Schools and currently works with a nonprofit organization that serves at-risk teens in Essex, Passaic and Hudson counties.
Terrell spent her career in Newark Public Schools as a teacher, principal, administrator and eventually was appointed acting superintendent before Cami Anderson. As vice principal of Ann Street School and principal of Harriet Tubman School, Terrell twice won a U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon Award. After retirement, she worked with The North Ward Center and had at one time appeared on billboards with the non-profit organization’s founder, Stephen N. Adubato.
Though Love and Terrell are not formally on a ticket, Chaneyfield Jenkins’s support could make them competitive with the Newark Unity Slate.
“As we get closer to local control of our school board, it is vital we have elected members who are experienced in education, accountable to the voters and understand fiscal responsibility,” Chaneyfield said.
“Charles Love and Deborah Terrell represent the best of Newark,” Chaneyfield Jenkins said. “They share the same values of putting our children’s education first, ahead of political interests. They are both competent and capable and will work for all the children of the city.”
Baraka's office declined to comment on the school board election. Muhammed Akil, the executive director of PC2E, could not be reached for comment.
Bledsoe currently serves as a legislative aide to Councilman-at-large Eddie Osborne. Garcia serves as a legislative aide to Councilman-at-large Carlos M. González. Garcia served on the Parent Council Executive Committee at the Robert Treat and for five years as a volunteer of the Science Park High School Parent-Teacher Association. Two of her three children graduated from Newark public high schools.
Johnson, who worked as a parent advocate at PC2E, served as a parent council president at North Star Vailsburg Middle School, where her youngest son attends.
“We are delighted to have this incredible coalition of support for these very impressive young people who are going to make us proud as our city takes a historic step toward regaining local control, self determination and making key decisions when it comes to the future of our most valuable resource – our children,” North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. said at a press conference announcing the Unity Slate.
But the Unity Slate won’t have one prominent supporter that it had last year. LaVar Young, an education reformer who heads New Jersey Black Alliance for Educational Options, told the 74 Million that he didn’t think the candidates had enough experience to run a $1 billion school system.
“It’s difficult to prepare for being on the school board,” said Young. “When you look at the backgrounds and experiences [of those candidates], they’re good people. A good person doesn’t necessarily qualify you to be in a position that these folks are running for.”
Full bios of each of the candidates are available on newarktrust.org Campaign Central website.