Newark’s New Principals Go to Work

Leaders like Erskine Glover may prove the lasting legacy of outgoing superintendent

Clifford Janey may not make it through the year as Newark’s school superintendent, but Erskine Glover isn’t going anywhere.

And on yesterday’s broiling first day of school for New Jersey’s largest district, the brand new principal of Quitman Street School — decked out in his pinstriped suit and orange bow tie — began what may prove Janey’s most lasting legacy.

Glover is one of 25 new principals whom Janey appointed this year, covering almost a third of the district’s schools. Combined with new vice principals in another 20 schools, that’s a shakeup in the leadership of more than half the district.

Credit: NJ Spotlight
Quitman principal Erskine Glover promises to do "what needs to be done."
“It was a good day,” Glover said last night, still at his desk at 6:30 p.m. “But as I told my pre-high school kids, the first day is just the start. I want to see how we end.”

Those may be prescient words, as the next year could a pivotal one for Newark schools.

Seeking Stability

On Wednesday, the day before schools were to open, Gov. Chris Christie announced that he would not renew Janey’s contract to lead the state-run district. Janey still has another year to go in his three-year deal, paying him $280,000 a year, but the state was compelled by Sept. 1 to inform him of its plans.

That has left a lot of conjecture to whether Janey will stay the full year and who would replace him, with another search for a new superintendent soon to be under way in a district that is getting used to them.

“We need to find the right person so we can finally have some stability,” said Shavar Jeffries, president of the Newark’s advisory school board.

Touring several schools during the course of the day, Janey did not disclose his plans. He released a statement the day before in which he said he looked forward to a strong year.

“I am not going to comment further on matters relating to my tenure as superintendent,” he said. “I am focused on preparing for the upcoming school year. The teachers, administrators and support staff will continue to improve student achievement and the quality of educational opportunities in the City of Newark.”

Looking to Be a Leader

As one of Janey’s appointees that will likely outlast him, Glover stepped onto the sidewalk to greet more than 500 students — and just as important, their parents — for their first day

After more than 15 years in the district as a teacher, supervisor and vice principal, the 40-year-old native of upstate New York said he remembers well the mid-summer call from Janey himself, telling him of the promotion.

“On July 31, I became principal of Quitman Street School, and I’ve been excited ever since,” Glover said proudly.

“What does it mean? It means I’ll be the education leader I have always wanted to be,” he said. “More than a principal, I need to be an education leader.”

Indeed he does, in a school where in 2009 only one-fifth of third and fourth graders could read and write at grade level, and where it wasn’t much better in math. By middle-school years, only a third were scoring in the proficiency level.

He said the school lost 50 students this year, many for charter schools.

“I look at the data now,” Glover said, scanning the 2010 scores that are still preliminary but not much more encouraging. “We don’t look like a good school. It says we’re not preparing our students, and I’m angry that we aren’t preparing our students.

“But we’ll do what needs to be done,” he said.

Strategic Approaches

Change has come quick. Janey had a strategic plan for the district, from new mandatory uniforms to new uniform rigor in his high schools. But his new principals were also left to their own approaches, and for Quitman, it will include gender-segregated classes in seventh and eighth grades.

Glover said he is doing his dissertation at Columbia University’s Teachers College in math instruction and why girls do not typically do as well as boys. At Quitman, he also has the challenge of middle school kids of both genders in some of the toughest and most distracting years for youths.

“We are not preparing them as well as we could be,” he said. “Why is that? Maybe we need to attach different strategies.”

The school is also part of a broader network of Central Ward schools that will feed into Central High School and coordinate what they are touting a “global village.” That includes longer school days and a health clinic in the building.

Central is one of the districts receiving special federal grants to complete the project to the tune of $4 million, no small sum when staffing and programs are being cut elsewhere.

“It’s powerful stuff, and full-steam ahead,” Glover said. “And if we do this right….”

Glover said he was disappointed that Janey was not reappointed. He was his third superintendent in 15 years.

“It’s unfortunate, the stability,” Glover said. “I understand the politics and people have differences, but I would have loved to see his initiatives take root.

“And hey, he brought me here,” the principal said.

And whether his own fate will be tied to Janey’s he didn’t know — or much care, given he had Day 2 to prepare for. But again with a smile, he said nothing is quite like the first day of school.

“You’re optimistic on the first day,” he said. “Uniforms are cleaned and pressed and everything is shiny and new.”