NEWARK, NJ - As the school year begins next month, West Side High School Principal Akbar Cook is preparing to implement several initiatives that will provide students more choices to carve their own path to success after high school. 

For his second year as principal, Cook will focus intently on preparing students for postsecondary success by strengthening pathways to two-four year colleges, trade schools, military, and straight to career.

“I know we’ve been getting a lot of exposure for being a community school,” said Cook during a panel at the fourth annual NJ Parent Summit on Saturday. “But people forget that we’re doing the basic things as far as academics as well.” 

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Some initiatives at West Side High School for the upcoming school year include: 

  • Expanded dual credit options for college. Felician University will offer shuttles to take students to their Rutherford or Lodi campuses to take courses. 

  • A comprehensive business academy. Students will participate in Virtual Enterprise International and learn how to run businesses by junior and senior year.

  • Opening a student-run clothing store. A lead clothing designer for Jay-Z selected five students to start their own clothing brand. Members from VH1 reality TV show, Love and Hip Hop, also selected 12 students to mentor through the process. Students will sell their own products. 

Cook is looking forward to academic gains that the new school year is expected to bring. Students wishing to go to college or a career route will have the opportunity to do so, he says.

The school currently offers advanced placement courses and dual enrollment courses with Rutgers-Newark, NJIT, and Essex County College.

Students earned first place in science and third place in mathematics at the citywide STEM Expo this year for the first time, a positive indicator that students are growing academically.

“We’re trying to turn things around and it starts with parents,” said Cook. “It’s going to be a heavy lift, it’s not going to happen overnight.”