Newark's New Mayor Demands Return of Schools to Local Control
Newark's newly elected mayor, Ras Baraka, joined with teachers' union leaders and community members Saturday to demand that state authorities in charge of the city's school system halt a controversial plan to shut down and restructure dozens of low-performing schools.
The Mayor-elect also called for state leaders to return control of the 38,000-student system to locally elected leaders, a step that would require legislative approval. A state-appointed superintendent has overseen Newark's schools for nearly two decades, but overall student achievement has hardly budged.
In announcing the "Newark Promise: Excellent Neighborhood Schools for All," Mr. Baraka, a former high school principal, made one of his first post-election appearances to champion his preferred brand of education reform. As mayor, he has no authority over the city's schools, but his strong criticism of Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson, and her "One Newark" reorganization plan drew broad support in the community during his campaign to become mayor.
The plan unveiled by the mayor and union leaders itself minces no words when it comes to Anderson, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who appointed the superintendent, and other state leaders who were part of overseeing the city's school system since 1995.
Newark's schools, it says, "have been continually undermined by a long line of education policymakers.
Among the major planks in the new plan backed by Baraka and the Newark Teachers' Union:
- Community schools that provide an array of services to students and their families, such as primary medical care, dental care, and early-childhood education;
- A rigorous, academic curriculum for all students that includes fine arts, sciences, and world languages;
- New approaches to school discipline that minimize suspending and expelling students;
- More investment in schools to pay for more support staff, updated classroom materials, access to technology and healthy food;
- Professional development for teachers to address current deficiencies such as instruction and support for English-language learners.
Newark's schools have been a fiercely debated and contested issue in the last few years, especially as Cory Booker, the former mayor and now U.S. senator, pushed for more charter schools and other education reforms that failed to garner strong community support. Booker convinced Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to sink $100 million into an overhaul of the school system that, so far, has yielded few tangible results.
In more recent months, Anderson has been pushing her "One Newark" plan that would shut down or consolidate low-performing schools, expand the presence of charter schools, and would allow families to apply to regular or charter schools under a common application process. The plan, and Anderson, herself, have drawn heavy backlash—some of it personal—from some city residents.