State Board of Ed Approves, Newark Will Regain Control of Schools

Sep 14, 2017

Ras Baraka was a teacher in the Newark Public Schools system when the state took over in 1995. He says it was a dark time in the city’s history. Now the Mayor, Baraka celebrates the occasion at City Hall.
Credit Ken Downey Jr. / WBGO

It’s been over two decades since plundering graduation rates, and overall poor performance forced the state to seize control of Newark Public Schools.  In recent years, a combination of state and city led initiatives changed education in Brick City.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie calls the return of local control a watershed moment.

“In the last six years, the accomplishments of this system are very impressive.  The job is certainly not complete, but we’ve made real progress at times in the face of real emotional opposition.”

Statistics show drastic improvements, says former Newark Mayor turned United States Senator Cory Booker.

“This is probably one of the best success stories in the country if you look at the data.  From being the number one city in America for Beat the Odds schools, schools that are high poverty with high performance, from having our graduation rate since 2010-2011 jump fifteen to twenty points in graduation rate.  Achievements in English and math have increased.”

The conversation towards success hasn’t always been pretty.  Whether it’s the public versus charter school expansion argument, the city wide protests of the controversial One Newark Plan, and even plain as day partisan political bickering, all persons involved were hoping to improve education for Newark’s children.

“If you were to ask me four or five years ago when I first was running that this would happen under Governor Christie; I would have said you were joking," said current city mayor Ras Baraka.  "But god blessed us with the opportunity to sit down talk and discuss that this is what we needed and wanted, and we got to this direction.”

Baraka was a teacher in the Newark Public Schools system when the state took over in 1995.  He says it was a dark time in the city’s history.  Now the mayor, Baraka celebrates the occasion at City Hall.

“We never had the opportunity to say whether we agreed or disagreed.  The children never had an opportunity to have a voice.  For twenty-two years we’ve been a shadow in our community.  Not today.”

So what happens next?  State Senator Ron Rice was the prime sponsor of the Quality Single Accountability Continuum, known as QSAC.  The law that created a monitoring system for New Jersey public schools.  He says the city and state will create a transition plan.

“Then you’re going to have a referendum under QSAC to determine whether you want a local board of education appointed or elected.  That’s people involvement.  Then the board has to make a determination whether they are going to keep the superintendent, which they can do for a while, or are you going to look for another superintendent through a search.”

Current state appointed Newark Public Schools superintendent Chris Cerf is only focused on the task at hand.

“I have a contract that runs through June, but right now I’m completely focused on making this transition successful.”

Officials expect the transition of local control to be complete around the start of the 2018-19 school year.