NEWARK, NJ — About a dozen residents took to the podium at Tuesday's Newark Board of education meeting mainly to address Superintendent Roger Leon's call to close four charter schools in the city.
Leon sent a letter in December to state Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet requesting that he not renew the charters of four charter schools: People’s Prep, University Heights, M.E.T.S. and Roseville Community.
Leon also asked the commissioner to “deny any and all requests for new charter schools and charter renewals unless the applicant shows that it would serve a specific educational need.”
Leon's request prompted anonymous posters to be placed around the city in the last few days. “Don’t let the king close more Newark schools,” one flyer states, with a photo of Leon from a birthday party where he was in costume as a king.
At Tuesday's meeting, parents of children who attend People's Prep urged Leon to keep the school open.
Jessica Reyes said People's Prep helped her teenage son on the spectrum gain independence and confidence as he adjusts to the school after a recent move into the district. She disagreed "wholeheartedly" with Leon's remarks saying the education offered at People's Prep was not "distinctive or innovative."
Lyaa Agyemang said her ninth grade son at People's Prep has benefited from the school's teachers and coaches.
"I don't want you to close People's Prep, please," Agyemang said. "If you close it, I don't know if my son is going to any other school."
Advocates for University Heights Charter School were in audience with signs but didn't speak during the meeting.
Former school board member Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, who now serves as chief education officer for Mayor Ras Baraka, said it is the commissioner of education's responsibility whether to open or close schools in the district, not the superintendent's.
"We have been through turbulent times, we have been through school closings," Baskerville-Richardson said. "We cannot allow untruths printed on glossy expensive paper to blur our vision. It is time to unite around data-driven vision and plan to benefit everybody."
Baraka said in a statement on the city’s website that Leon “has the right and obligation to assess all schools in Newark and make sound recommendations on how our limited resources are used to continue to move our district forward.”
Newark NAACP President Deborah Smith-Gregory, voiced support for Leon's actions on behalf of the Newark NAACP and the Alliance for Newark Public Schools. Roberto Cabanas, a field director for NJ Communities United, questioned the need to continue investing resources in charter schools.
Both Smith-Gregory and Cabanas coined Leon's decisions as "bold." Cabanas also said the decisions were "necessary to ensure confidence in the community."
Leon did not respond to public comments at the Tuesday Board of Education meeting.
Earlier Tuesday, Kyle Rosenkrans, the executive director of Newark-based New Jersey Children's Foundation, said while the organization supports the closure of under-performing charter schools in Newark, it disagrees with Leon's call to reject "any and all" new and renewed charter school applications unless they meet an opaque standard for "specific educational need."