State approves plan transitioning Newark Public Schools to local control

Since the New Jersey Board of Education voted in September to end its control of Newark Public Schools, the work of ensuring a smooth transition has been underway.

A plan was approved last week by the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education so that in February Newark will take back full operational control of its school district.

The State Board of Education wrote “… the district has the adequate programs, policies, and personnel in place to ensure that demonstrated progress is sustained.”

The Board of Education and senior staff will have ethics training, also training in “Governance” best practices. The board will regain control of capital projects and search for a new superintendent.

“The superintendent doesn’t have the power to veto or overstep any of our decisions. Before they did,” said Marques-Aquil Lewis, chair of the Newark Public Schools Board of Education.

Under the plan, it mentions there will be continued focus on academics, training in “Instruction and Program” best practices, and continued curriculum review.

With new power also comes new control over a close to $1 billion budget.

“We just want to make sure that the money goes to the classrooms and that we don’t spend a lot of money on consultants,” said Lewis.

The current state appointed superintendent, Chris Cerf, wrote in a statement, “… the work of successfully educating Newark’s children remains our paramount goal, a goal that is best served in an environment of stability and unity of purpose.”

Cerf also mentioned in his statement he will resign Feb. 1, the same day local control takes effect.

Gov. Chris Christie applauded Cerf on a job well done, adding the transition plan “… puts the district in the best position to transition to full local control, while ensuring that it builds on the progress it has made over the years.”

Not everyone has been a supporter of how Newark Public Schools have been run. The head of the teachers’ union says he hopes now is the time for change.

“The fact that they’re leaving is absolutely positive, but now that they are leaving we can begin an educational autopsy on the damage that’s been done by corporate charter schools and their main cheerleader Christopher Cerf,” said John Abeigon, president of the Newark Teachers’ Union.

“But now you really have the power to make a change and make decisions,” Lewis said. “One of the first things I want to see is for us to dive deep into our special education department and help those children out and make sure they get the resources they need. Another area I believe we need to focus on is we have a huge homeless population of students in our district who often times get overlooked.”

He says that’s why dropout rates and juvenile detention rates go up, and why those students will become a priority, and finally be given the resources they need to succeed.

“I don’t think that was happening, but I think this board has the vision to do that,” he said.

On Nov. 6, it will be decided whether the Board of Education is elected or appointed. It’s a change that could also shift how things are done.

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