School in Newark starts with bottled water, 98% of teachers in place

By Jessica Mazzola | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on September 06, 2016

Newark school statistics cited by the NESB

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NEWARK — The 35,000 students who returned to the city's public schools Tuesday were greeted by a nearly full staff, new buildings upgrades, and a lot of bottled water.

District officials confirmed that the 30 school buildings in which water sources tested high for lead levels this spring will remain on bottled water, at least for now.

In preparation for the new school year, officials said the district put a "specific emphasis on water testing," taking about 8,500 samples from 70 locations throughout the district.

Officials said they expect all of the fountains to be back in use by October. They plan to hold community meetings over the next month to explain the testing results before reopening the water sources.

The schools have been on bottled water since March, when testing revealed that aging pipes created elevated lead levels in dozens of the schools.

The anticipated water fix is only one of hundreds of facilities projects the district undertook over the summer, officials said Tuesday. Those projects included the re-launch of the new North 10th Street School, relocation of the South Street School building, and the launch of the South Ward Community Schools program.

"One of the main priorities...has been to ensure that every student throughout the city of Newark is able to enter a safe, healthy, and welcoming learning environment on the first day of school," School Business Administrator Valerie Wilson said in a statement about the first day of school.

"The district is excited about the substantial steps that have been taken this summer to reach our goal that will have a positive effect on student achievement."

Along with students, about 5,500 employees also went back to school Tuesday, including 250 new teachers. The district's school buildings are starting off the year at 98 percent staffing – which school officials said is a marked improvement over years past. Schools are working to fill the remaining vacancies, they said.

"Newark Public Schools is committed to ensuring that high quality educators are at the front of every classroom leading our children—they deserve nothing less," said Larisa Shambaugh, chief talent officer of Newark Public Schools.

"We all remember meeting our new teachers on the first day of school. To this end, our office continues to work with each and every principal to ensure that our students have the best educators to experience a positive learning environment from the very first day of school."

The changes are all in line with the reform efforts announced in two reports over the summer, both aimed at returning the district to local control by the start of the next school year.

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