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Profile: Newark Interim Superintendent Could Be in for the Long Haul

Robert Gregory rises through the school ranks as Newark regains local control

Robert Gregory
Robert Gregory

Name: Robert Gregory

Position: Interim Superintendent of Newark Public Schools

Why he matters: Gregory takes the helm of the 36,000-student school district in its first steps of local control, starting yesterday, after 22 years of state operation. A former principal and assistant superintendent in the district, he was named to serve as the interim for the next several months as the newly empowered school board launches a search for a more long-term leader.

Why he really matters: Gregory has not hidden his hope to be that long-term leader, and with his track record and early popularity inside the district, he is clearly a frontrunner for the position to lead the state’s largest — and most attention-grabbing — district.

Just ask the kids: The city hosted a “Day One of Local Control” event yesterday to mark the end of the state’s takeover, and Gregory was a star as much as anyone, including even Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. When introduced, Gregory received a rousing standing ovation from the students on hand at Science Park High School. He later received two rapturous written resolutions from Baraka’s office and from the Essex County Freeholders.

No secret ambition: “I have no other intentions but to be the superintendent of Newark schools,” Gregory said yesterday. “I wouldn’t step into the role of the interim if I wasn’t focused on the big picture.”

Not a done deal: The school board has launched a national search for the next superintendent, hiring a search firm and saying it will cast the net wide. While a local candidate will clearly have an edge in a district returning to local control, Gregory is not the only contender from the inside, either. Another prominent name is Roger Leone, the long-time district administrator who said yesterday that he also would be seeking the post. Several other names of past and present administrators are also starting to emerge.

Job try-out: Gregory has served under former superintendent Chris Cerf for more than a year, and being appointed out of the gate to be the interim gives him a few months of runway to prove himself worthy for the job. He said he won’t waste time. First priority will be to open a dialogue with the community about what they want most for their public schools. Next will be a focus on professional development for teachers and principals.

“We have systems in place now that we are perfecting, but we also want to make sure members of the community understand some of the strategies we are using to improve our schools. One short-term goal is to make sure we are actively engaging the community with forums and public meetings.”

A teacher favorite? The Newark Teachers Union is no small player in the discussion, and its president John Abeigon said it is withholding judgment for now on the search process and any potential candidates.

“We’ll work with whoever they select,” Abeigon said yesterday. “[Gregory] is a good selection as an interim, and the next few months we’ll see how he does in the position. He is a former classroom teacher so he should know where to go to find the right answers.”

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