Taking away school choice goes against Newark's history of improving education | Opinion

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
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on January 19, 2016

By Rashon K. Hasan 

The Newark School District has a long history that dates back to 1769 when our school system was founded and the first appropriation of money was made for the education of the poor. 

But for many of us who were born and raised in Newark, our modern-day school system began on July 12, 1995 the day that the Newark Public Schools district was taken over by the NJ State Department of Education.  These drastic actions occurred after a Comprehensive Compliance Investigation showcased a variety of inefficiencies and state violations, including low student achievement, election tampering, nepotism, and fraud.

From the ashes of the last 20 years, we have finally been provided the opportunity to build a new education paradigm for our city.

While I strongly support the return of local governance we must not base the promise of our new education system through only the narrow lens of the last two decades. Instead we must challenge ourselves to learn from the entire history of our education system.

Education brings greater freedom and we must all commit ourselves to liberate our children from the shackles of poverty.  As we have seen specifically from our history, Newark must continue to support choice within our public schools system.

Learning from the past

For example, residents of Newark knew as early as 1813 that there should be an emphasis on educating the poor and thus the city established what was known as the free or poor school which served the city's population of poor residents who could not afford to pay for their education. Later in 1828 the Newark Township appropriated $100 for the instruction of poor colored children in the town.

Residents and leaders also realized that there was no one size fits all approach to educating Newark residents. Segregation of Newark schools ended in 1909 with the closing of the "Colored School" which was located on Market Street.

As improvements and additions were made to the school system such as new facilities and the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts, there also grew a need to expand school options and provide school choice for Newark families. There were school reforms such as the creation of the first "all year schools" at Belmont Avenue and 7th Avenue Schools in 1912. 

These reforms and transformations of the school district also led to the establishment of the African Free School and Head Start Centers in 1965, The Springfield Avenue Community School in 1969, and School within a School at Malcolm X. Shabazz that formally became University High School in 1977.

Path to progressive education

Presently, there are some misguided leaders in our education space, who devalue school choice and want to go against Newark's history by limiting the types of public schools that our children are able to attend.  

Rather than create actual moratoriums on schools that are failing our children, those same people would rather blindly create moratoriums that stifle school choice. Rather than celebrating and supporting the public schools that are actually working and serving our kids, they wish to blindly ignore successful school reforms and instead support outdated methodologies that drive failure and poor performance.

This is an attitude that does not represent the needs of Newark parents and will slowly kill our chance to have a progressive education system in Newark.

Rather than demonizing, we need fearless leadership that's driven by a dream to ensure that the poorest children receive an education that is parallel to the education received by their counterparts. 

Some say it's an injustice to have public schools, like Charter schools, operate in a non-traditional fashion. The real injustice is in our inability to use the educational system to our advantage and provide the best school options for underprivileged children in our city and throughout the nation.  

As leaders in this education space we must foster a collaborative environment and work towards a shared vision to improve education for all students. 

Collectively we can make Newark the No. 1 city for public education in the Northeast Corridor. We can achieve this goal by supporting Newark's history and by being unapologetic in our support of expanding public school options in our communities.  

Rashon K. Hasan is a board member and former chairman of Newark Public Schools Board of Education.

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