Baraka says ending One Newark 'the only answer' to city's school issues

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on August 12, 2015

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka speaks at a press conference on the city's ongoing education issues at City Hall Wednesday morning. To his left is the city's Chief Education Officer Dr. Lauren Wells.

 

NEWARK – Despite an impending transition of the city's schools back to local control and what appears to be an improved relationship with officials at the state-run district, Mayor Ras Baraka is not backing down from criticisms of their controversial "One Newark" reorganization plan.

At a press conference Wednesday morning, the mayor announced the opening of several "School Enrollment Support Sites", which will help parents place their children in community schools, or address what he called ongoing issues with their placement under the district's current choice-based system.

Among the common problems he said parents were reporting were long bus rides across the city and widespread overcrowding at schools.

"I think this helps the district. This is just not a thing that says 'One Newark' is broken'," he said. "But ultimately we have to remember that none of this would have taken place if One Newark didn't exist."

Baraka, who sports first-hand experience in the district as a former principal at Central High School, has been among the harshest critics of "One Newark", which was instituted before the 2014-15 school year under former Superintendent Cami Anderson.

Anderson remains on paid administrative leave, but has been replaced by former state education commissioner Christopher Cerf. Baraka said he has been assured by Cerf that he is committed to returning the district to local control, and committed at least one district staff member to the five newly announced enrollment support sites.

In a statement, Cerf said the move spoke to he and the mayor's common goal of providing a quality education for all students.

"I support any initiative that provides parents with information and resources to help them choose a school that works best for their child. Our teams have been in communication about this effort and we believe it will complement the work already underway at the District's Family Support Center," Cerf said.

The district also operates its own Family Support Center to help parents with problems regarding their child's placement. The facility was ridden with hours-long delays and other issues last summer, though a number of changes to its procedures appear to have resolved those problems.

Though both city and state officials have agreed that control of the schools will be handed back to local officials for the first time in 20 years, details remain scarce as to how long the process might take and what it might look like once complete.

Baraka said he is optimistic that full control might be assumed in the next 18 months, or possibly in time for the next school year.

"We are going to do whatever we can to make sure that that takes place...until 'One Newark' is completely gone, which I think is the only answer," he said.

It remains unclear, however, exactly how the city would transition from the widespread changes it has undergone under Anderson and "One Newark".

Baraka said he believes Cerf's willingness to assist with the new enrollment sites is a concessions that he may be amenable to changes in how students are assigned to schools.

"I think that that means he understands there are some problems with 'One Newark'. The severity of those problems, we may have some disagreement," he said.

Baraka has said that he would not seek to reduce the number of Newark charter schools, which have flourished in the city in recent years and now educate approximately 40 percent of students. He stressed that he was not seeking a debate on the merits of the charter or public systems, but simply that they are organized in a way that works for all students and their parents.

However, he urged the charters to expand the number of grades in their facilities in order to ease the district's long-running issue with overcrowding. Some of the operations have taken up in former district buildings, but are serving fewer grades than the schools they replaced, he said.

He also requested that the district conduct an investigation to ensure that all students in the city's schools are actually residents, which he hoped might provide some added relief.

The Newark Educational Success Board, which Baraka formed with Gov. Chris Christie in June, has met once to begin discussing how best to transition the district back into local hands. Though the mayor had no report on their progress, he said he was confident in the group's ability to forge the right course.

"I don't have to tell the people on the success board what to do. The people that we put on there are very brilliant, they have their own minds," he said. "They know exactly what Newark needs."

The new enrollment centers will be open from Aug. 27 to Sept. 10 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Exact locations are as follows:

Central Ward – Willing Heart Community Care Center, 555 Martin Luther King Blvd

North Ward - Ebenezer Pentecostal Temple, 204 Montclair Ave.

South Ward – Donald Tucker Center, 23-36 Elizabeth Ave.

East Ward – Emanuel Church, 277 Oliver Street

West Ward – Jehovah-Jirah Praise and Worship Church Center, 505 South 15th Street

Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment