Newark school board picks new chair as some rail against 'power broker' choice

By Karen Yi | NJ Advance Media for
on May 03, 2017


Marques-Aquil Lewis


NEWARK -- School Advisory Board member Marques-Aquil Lewis will be the new face and leader of the board as it prepares to take back control of the city's public schools from the state. 

The board elevated Lewis to board chair Tuesday night despite public dissension from two board members who said he was not the right choice.

"I need to make clear that you did not earn this and this is not the board's choice," board member Leah Owens said during the meeting.

Lewis, 29, replaces outgoing board chair Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, whose term expired this year and will no longer serve on the board. Baskerville-Richardson worked as a Newark public school teacher for 36 years and served on the board for six years. 

Lewis, an eight-year board member who works at the Newark Housing Authority, said he was eager to move forward. 


"Everybody has their opinions," Lewis, whose son will start school next year told NJ Advance Media. "I'm qualified ... I believe I earned it." Lewis said he's the longest serving board member and was the youngest person in Newark to be elected to the board. 

After the vote, Lewis thanked his supporters, including Mayor Ras Baraka. "I eat, sleep and breathe Newark Public Schools," Lewis said. 

Board member Tave Padilla was also selected as the vice chair. 

"We women do too much work ... for me to sit here and actually rubber stamp this," Owens said, railing against the selection of two men to lead a majority female board.

"Not only is it a slap in the face to the women on this committee but it is a slap in the face to our mission. We have to look at who is going to be the most responsible person as we seek local control," board member Kim Gaddy said. "I'm disappointed in how the situation evolved."

Owens told NJ Advance Media the city's political heavyweights influenced the picks -- and ultimately won out.

"It's not a simple matter of counting votes because it's also about individual's relationships with particular power brokers and what ultimately they're willing to do in terms of that relationship," she said. "If we're going to move into local control in the same sort of political situations that essentially existed when we became state controlled, then nothing is going to be different."

Newly elected board members Reginald Bledsoe, Flohisha Johnson and Josephine Garcia were also sworn in Tuesday. The trio skated to victory in last week's election and were part of the so-called Unity Slate, backed by Baraka, the North Ward and charter school groups

"Through this whole process it was a struggle, it was a struggle down to Tuesday," Johnson said after she was sworn in. "Now its time to do the real work." Johnson also voted against Lewis as board chair but did not make any public comments. 

"I've been here the longest, I've been through six board presidents," Lewis told NJ Advance Media. "I understand it was about making a stand, a women's stand, but diversity comes in many different shapes and forms and we got to stop allowing people to divide us that way. It's about leadership and giving people opportunities to lead."

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