By Lev D. Zilbermints
On October 10, 2018, Rutgers University opened a new Alumni Center at its Newark campus. Located inside the historical Joseph Fewsmith House at 72 Washington Street, the new Alumni House is designed to improve and strengthen the bond between Rutgers University and many generations of its alumni.
Alumni Center consists of three floors. The first floor consists of the entrance, lounge space, and a small conference room. There is also a main area lounge and a smaller lounge. The second floor hosts offices for people who work in the Alumni House. The third floor has a conference room, a bathroom and offices. All floors are accessible via staircases.
According to an information booklet distributed by the Rutgers University Alumni Association, the Rutgers Newark Alumni Center has a variety of uses. There is meeting space for all alumni and chartered alumni organizations; rooms for small receptions and social gatherings; casual use of space to meet up with friends, have coffee or just relax; free Wi-Fi for alumni; use of screen, projector and computer for meetings; and a baby-changing station.
The reception hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
According to Patrick Healey, Citizen Alum Graduate Fellow, the Alumni House had “just moved into the offices. Two years prior to that, it had been a former residence building that “had been vacant for a good amount of time.”
History of the Alumni House Prior to Its Opening
Prior to being opened as the Alumni House, 72 Washington Street served as the private residence of Dr. Joseph Fewsmith, a famous 19th-century surgeon. According to the Proceedings of New Jersey Historical Society, Volume 6, dated 1921, Dr. Joseph Fewsmith Jr. was an illustrious personage. He was born at Auburn, N.Y., on Jan. 31, 1851, the son of Rev. Joseph Fewsmith and his second wife, Maria Louisa Lehman. Fewsmith Sr. came to Newark in December 1851 to become pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church. He served in that capacity until 1888.
According to the Proceedings of New Jersey Historical Society, Volume 6, dated 1921, Joseph Fewsmith Jr. graduated from Yale College in 1871 and later from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Jersey. Later he became house surgeon in Roosevelt Hospital, New York. Following that, he went to Vienna, Austria, to study medicine. He witnessed surgical operations by famous European scientists of the period. In 1877, Fewsmith Jr. returned to Newark and established a profitable practice. He was physician at the City Dispensary, attending surgeon at St. Barnabas’ Hospital, St. Michael’s Hospital and the Protestant Foster Home, as well as consulting surgeon of the Home for Crippled Children.
According to the December 1914 of Journal of the Medical Society of New Jersey, Dr. Joseph Fewsmith was medical superintendent of Newark Orphan Asylum, which had 100 beds.
According to the New Jersey Historical Society, Dr. Fewsmith was for some time the medical examiner for the Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company and for the Royal Arcanum. He was elected a trustee of the City Home in 1902, as well as President of the Medical Board of St. Michael’s Hospital for many years. He was married in 1880 in Newark to Miss Jean A. Hendry, who died in November 1918. At his death on April 9, 1921, one daughter, Mrs. Lord, survived him. Dr. Fewsmith was elected member of the New Jersey Historical Society May 19, 1887.
The original Joseph Fewsmith house was designed and constructed in the 1880s by noted architect William Halsey Wood, who was related to the Fewsmith family. According to the information booklet, Wood designed numerous churches and homes in New Jersey, New Pennsylvania and other states.
Rutgers hired the firm Mills + Schnoering Architects to preserve the historic character of the building. The firm specializes in historic preservation, and undertook to renovate the building, which had been vacant for many years. According to the information booklet, the Alumni Center is among many James Street Commons historical buildings that have been preserved and given new life. The James Street Commons Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
Alumni React to Opening of the Alumni Center
Following the tour of the new Alumni Center, over 200 alumni gathered in the great hall of the Newark Museum, just across the street, for a reception. Various dignitaries, including the president of the alumni association; the chair of the Newark Advisory Board, Rutgers-Newark Chancellor Nancy Cantor, and other officials gave speeches. Food and drinks were served.
Joseph Lemkin, president of the Rutgers Alumni Association, said that he was surprised by the opening of the new Alumni Center on Washington Street.
“All I know is that I saw pictures a couple of years ago (about what the Alumni Center would look like). It is amazing, the collaborative effort. It is important, feeling to be welcomed back,” said Lemkin, Class of 1990, now a lawyer.
Yvonne Holmes, a Class of 2014, Newark College of Arts and Sciences alumna, said that “everything is beautiful.”
Fran McClaine, Class of 1976, said that she had waited decades for an alumni center to open.
“I have waited for 40 years,” McClaine said.
Traci Simpson, Class of 1988, said that she had been waiting for 26 years for the opening of an alumni center.
Rutgers-New Brunswick is scheduled to open its Alumni Center on October 19. Rutgers-Camden already has a functioning Alumni Center for the past two years.
(Full Disclosure: Lev D. Zilbermints is a 2005 alumnus of Rutgers, Graduate School-Newark)
By Walter Elliott
ESSEX - Students, parents and staff among "Local Talk News" secondary school districts have been preparing for the immediate post-Labor Day opening of the 2018-18 school year with varying degrees of personnel changes and building grand openings.
That is, if your children have not been attending their local schools for orientation, fall sports practice or even classes already.
Heading back to school the day or two after Labor Day in the "Local Talk" area usually brings the definitive end of summer and start of the academic year. Districts, except for facilities projects and practices for football, used to welcome students and staff from a Labor Day-after standing start.
More local districts, however, have recently made earlier, rolling starts to their school year.
Some public districts now start orientating new teachers and students the last week of August. Part of the upward creep is mainly due to trying to fit newer state and federal curriculum, PARCC and other standardized tests and additional instruction into New Jersey's 180-day minimum school year.
The local charter and some private or religious schools began their school years around Aug. 15 for a projected June 7 dismissal. They are allowed to start and end earlier - like school calendars in the South and Midwest - while also meeting the state's 180-day instructional minimum.
Add the districts' attempts to remove the "last chance" stigma from summer school and the casual observer has found it hard to know when schoolchildren and teachers are taking their summer vacation.
Even the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association have advanced high school football season opening day, Aug. 30 this year, to the Friday night before Labor Day.
With that background, herewith is a roundup of what is new or different among "Local Talk" school districts. Please consider the following as a sampler; your experience, like fuel mileage, may vary.
NEWARK PUBLIC SCHOOLS: The state's largest public school district - in terms of facilities, student body and teachers, remains a meal by itself. There are several 2018-19 "coming attractions" that make this year a milestone.
2018-19 is the first full school year in 23 that NPS has full autonomy. The N.J. Department of Education, for the first time since June 30, 1995, is not directly making decisions normally left to administrators and board of education members.
NJDOE and the State Legislature, who still supply 70 percent of the district's budget through the "Abbott" funding formula, remains watching at arm's length through 2020.
"Under New Management" may best describe the enthusiasm that new Superintendent of Schools Roger Leon has brought to the job since July 1. The 30-year NPS teacher, principal and assistant superintendent has reformed his department head lineup and, for the first time, has been holding high school orientation Aug. 27-31.
"I want Sept. 4 to really be 'Day One,' " said Leon during the BOE's Aug. 21 meeting. "It used to be that there would be no instruction taking place on the first day of school. No longer; I want everyone ready and learning right from day one."
Part of Leon's emphasis is to combat NPS' challenging student and staff absentee rate. He had also cleared the housekeeping deck by holding the orientations, an inaugural Aug. 28 staff convocation at the Prudential Center and an Aug. 28 "Stop the Bleed" emergency handling how-to for NPS' 120 school nurses.
Healing was also on Leon's mind when he announced Aug. 21 that Barringer High School's STEAM and arts and humanities academies will be merged back into one school. Angela Mincy will be its sole principal.
West Side High School will be dropping "Campus" from its name. Its three academies will be melded under Principal Akbar Cook.
"How can a (BHS) Blue Bear live if it's cut in half?" asked Leon. "What does 'Campus' mean to a (WSHS) Rough Rider? I'm a Science High School Charger - but Barringer has to be a Blue Bear, West Side a Rough Rider and Malcolm X Shabazz a Bulldog."
A new South Street Elementary School, replacing a facility first opened in 1868, is to open shortly after Sept. 4. It is the only glaring exception among the bulk of maintenance and capital improvements NPS and the state Schools Development Authority have completed by Labor Day.
NEWARK-BASED CHARTERS: Consider this part as a scorecard to keep up with at least four school changes.
METS Newark Campus has moved out of the Greater Oaks Charter School's Broad Street building at 909 Broad St., to 570 Broad St. July 15.
Marion P. Thomas Charter School's PAC Academy has temporarily moved from 570 Broad to a former North Star building at 18 Norfolk St. Renovation delays have kept Thomas PAC from moving into the venerable NPS Burnet Street School at 23 Burnet St. (NPS had leased BSS to Paulo Freire CS before NJDOE did not renew its charter in 2016.)
18 Norfolk St. will be officially made redundant when North Star opens its flagship Kindergarten-12 Grade building at 377 Washington St.
Meanwhile, the school itself came under fire after students with a touch of white in their shoes were told to leave, with school uniform policy cited as the reason. This caused several concerned residents to wonder why students were outside during school hours over such a small infraction that cost them instructional time.
746 Sanford Ave., which Lady Liberty Academy CS called home since 2016, also remains vacant. NJDOE, citing four years of academic probation, pulled the 17-year-old school's charter June 30. The LLACS Board of Trustees held an auction to clear out the1950s-era building and 2015 addition by July 15.
ESSEX COUNTY TECHNICAL SCHOOLS: The anticipated Sept. 5 opening of the Donald M. Payne, Sr. School of Technology will bring a state-of-the art vocational-technical high school to the "Local Talk" area.
Named after the late teacher-turned U.S. Congressman Payne, the school will open the same time as ECTS' Newark and West Caldwell tech schools. The $165 million facility's opening on the former United Children's Hospital site ends a 10-year struggle by the county to acquire the Roseville tract.
Payne's students, however, will be mostly coming from ECTS' former Bloomfield and North 13th Street (Newark) Tech schools. The county has not said what the respective 1929 and 28-built facilities' future will be.
ORANGE: Cleveland Street Elementary School students, starting Sept. 10, will be commuting from the North Ward to the South Ward's Our Lady of the Valley Elementary School building throughout 2018-19.
Cleveland Street School, built in 1898, is to be renovated and have an 11,500-square foot gym and classroom wing added to its south.
OPS employees and NJSDA contractors have been working to ready OLVL Elementary, at 510 Valley Rd., for Sept. 10. The district is renovating the ground floor on its own. OLVL, whose lease was arranged by the SDA and the Archdiocese of Newark, was last used as a temporary school while OPS' Lincoln Avenue School's building was revamped and expanded 2009-10.
Registered City voters are to decide who will sit on the Board of Education in its first regularly scheduled election Nov. 6. Voters added two members to the seven mayor-appointed panel in a March 13 special election.
SOUTH ORANGE/MAPLEWOOD: Returning Columbia High School students will be welcomed by Interim Principal Dr. Kalisha Morgan. Morgan temporarily succeeds Elizabeth Aaron, who was moved to a Central Office administration job, until that school board finds an ultimate successor.
Interim Superintendent Dr. Thomas Ficarra, with South Orange-Maplewood School District approval has meanwhile named Shannon Glander as Seth Boyden Demonstration Elementary School Principal. Raquel Horn was named principal of the Marshall School.
SOMSD Athletic Director Larry Busichio, in a late BOE move, has been indefinitely suspended with pay Aug. 20.
MONTCLAIR: Dr. Kendra Johnson will be greeting students as Montclair Public Schools' first full-time superintendent in three years.
Johnson, who was promoted July 1, also named Terry Trigg-Scales as Montclair High School's Interim Principal. Glenfield Principal Joseph Putrino has been transferred to the Renaissance School; Patrick Krenn is his interim successor.
Watchung Principal Anthony Grosso has been named acting Glenfield principal.
BLOOMFIELD: The district is wrapping up some $1.2 million in summertime capital projects.
Superintendent Salvatore Goncalves, in his annual "Welcome Back" letter, said that new fences have gone up along the Oak View and Carteret schools, three storage tanks beneath three schools and the Sutton Service Center and new elementary school flooring installed. New bleachers for the high and middle schools are being phased in.
GLEN RIDGE: High School students will be greeted by its latest principal, John W. Lawlor. Lawlor succeeded the retiring Louis Melchor June 30.
BELLEVILLE: Visitors to the Board of Trustees Aug. 27 meeting could not park directly in front of Belleville High School's auditorium due to continuing parking lot repaving. Attendees may have noticed that most of the classroom furniture and equipment that were in BHS hallways have been returned.
The work was part of a $48.5 million bond issue, approved by voters Nov. 6, to renovate all of Belleville Public Schools.
By Walter Elliott
NEWARK - A related ballot referendum question here headlines what is for now a "Local Talk" record eight public school district ballots for the Nov. 6 General Election.
Registered voters here in New Jersey's largest city are being asked Nov. 6 whether to keep the Newark Board of Education as an elected body (Type II school district) or a mayor-appointed panel (Type I school district).
The Newark Public Schools' nine voting members are currently voter-elected - an annual April event since early in the New Jersey Department of Education's 1995-2018 direct reign.
NJDOE has returned operational and institutional autonomy to NPS Feb. 1. Newark's school board promoted longtime teacher-turned-Assistant Superintendent Roger Leon to Superintendent of Schools, succeeding Interim Superintendent A. Robert Gregory and Christopher Cerf - the last NPS State District Superintendent - July 1.
Part of that return to autonomy process, however, included a stipulation that how three NPS BOE members are annually selected be put before voters.
NPS could rejoin some 15 Type I statewide school districts - including East Orange, Montclair and Summit - in having its mayor appoint board members.
NPS had that practice until sometime during Mayor Sharpe James' 1986-2006 administration. That appointed school board category, statewide, shrank from 20 since 2016.
Orange, with its Nov. 6 ballot, is making a three-year Type I-Type II transition. A successful Nov. 7, 2017 public question referendum vote started that process.
NPS's exact language has yet to be filed with Essex County Clerk Christopher Durkin's Election Division office. It is not known, for instance, whether the question and interpretive statement will include whether to move its BOE elections from the third Tuesday in April to the first Tuesday in November's General Election.
Newark and Irvington Public Schools are the last "Local Talk" districts to keep their April school board elections. Keeping it there allows Irvington voters - and, maybe future Newark voters, to approve or reject the next school year's budgets.
Nov. 6's "Local Talk" record public school district election participation is largely due to most of the other school systems taking advantage of moving their elections to November. The tradeoff, by 2012 state law, is that those school districts cannot put their budgets before voters unless it is projected to exceed the two percent property tax increase.
NPS board members and administrators may want to consult their Orange colleagues in how to draft their question and interpretative statement. A State Administrative Law Judge, citing a lack of detail and specifics, declared Orange's Nov. 8, 2016 approval null and void.
ORANGE Public Schools' first-ever November school election is to meanwhile pit three incumbents against three challengers.
Current Orange Board of Education members Rhoda O. Irodia and Jarteau Israel are seeking their first elected three-year terms. They were appointed to OBOE by Mayor Dwayne Warren.
Fellow incumbent Siaka Sherif is looking to become the first OBOE member to be re-elected.
A majority of participating registered Orange voters elected Sherif to an eight-month term March 13. The same voters finished expanding OBOE to nine members by also electing Tyrone J. Tarver to a two-year, eight-month term.
Orange Historic Preservation Commission member Derrick Henry is making his third run for the school board. Hamza S. Agwedicham and Brenda Daugherty are making their first runs.
BELLEVILLE Public Schools' ballot has two of its three incumbents - one of whom keeping a promise - facing two challengers.
Board President Christine Lamparello and Vice President Nelson Barrera are running for re-election.
BOE Trustee Arlene Schor, who was selected by the board July 16 among a field of six candidates, is making good her promise that night not to run for re-election.
Gynise M. Gotto and Olga Setteducato, who also appeared before BOE Trustees July 16, are the two campaigning challengers.
SOUTH ORANGE-MAPLEWOOD voters in are to choose among one incumbent and 10 challengers for three seats.
Annemarie Miani, of South Orange, is seeking her second three-year term. Current SOMSD vice presidents Madhu Pai and Chris Sabin, who was Miani's running mate in 2015, have decided not to seek re-election.
Recent Columbia High School graduates Felicia George and Avery Julien, both of Maplewood, are making their second straight run together. Shannon Cuttle, of Maplewood and Marian Cutler, of South Orange are also conducting second campaigns.
First-time challengers are: Narda Chisolm-Greene, Javier A. Farfan, Michael Laskowski, Bruno J. Navarro, Christopher Trzaska and James C. Wilkes. Chisolm-Greene is the sole South Orangite among the Maplewoodian challengers.
WEST ORANGE voters are to fill two board seats from among three challengers.
Cheryl Merklinger, Jeremias Salinas and Terry Trigg-Scales are making debut runs. WOBOE President Ronald Charles and Board Member Irving Schawrzbaum have decided not to seek re-election.
BLOOMFIELD has 10 candidates vying for three three-year seats and a single one-year seat.
Former board member Benjamin Morse and newcomer Bryan Crawley are looking to fill the remaining year of Gladys Rivera's term, Rivera, who was elected Nov. 2016, resigned Sept. 6, 2017.
Incumbents Daniel Anderson, Michael Heller and Laura Izurieta are vying against five familiar or new challengers for the full terms. Former School Board President Shane Berger is seeking for a return. Joey Polidoro, Ralph Walker and Dick Wolfe are making their first runs.
GLEN RIDGE has two incumbents and two challengers vying for two board seats.
Borough Board Vice President David J. Campbell and member Tim Keppel are seeking re-election. Challenging are Anthony Bonnet and Teresa Boyle-Vellucci.
NUTLEY has its three incumbents facing as many challengers for full terms.
Salvatore Balsano, Ryan Klineand Deborah J. Russo are looking for re-election. Former six-year member Kenneth Reilly is seeking a return. Teresa A. "Teri" Quirk and Erica Zarro who have formed a parents group wanting armed school guards, are challenging.
By Walter Elliott
NEWARK - A majority of participating voters here and in Irvington may well have had a major motel chain's "No Surprises" advertising slogan in mind when they went to the school board election polls April 17.
The "Moving Newark Schools Forward" team of Yambeli Gomez, Dawn Haynes and Asia Norton, according to unofficial 7 a.m. April 18 returns, were swept onto the Newark Public Schools Board of Education over 10 other candidates on the city's ballot.
Some observers have been calling Tuesday's election in Newark historic because it is the first election of the school board's newly-autonomous era.
The three newcomers, who are to join the other sitting six NBOE panelists May 15, are to soon choose the next Superintendent of Schools from among three final candidates.
Previous "State District Superintendents" have been chosen from Trenton - The New Jersey Department of Education, the Governor and State Legislature - in 22 years of state control since July 1, 1995. NJDOE granted NPS autonomy Feb. 1, although contract clauses keep state return at arms length through Feb. 1, 2021.
"Team Irvington Strong" runners Jamiliah Z. Beasley-McCleod, Ronald J. Brown and Melody Scott were meanwhile similarly returned to their Irvington Board of Education seats. Township voters also widely approved the Irvington Public Schools' $17.5 million 2018-19 budget.
Both Essex County Clerk Christopher Durkin and Superintendent of Elections Edna Y. Baugh are meanwhile hoping that the "No Surprises" will translate into no challenges or recounts.
Baugh's voting machine mechanics, starting at 11 a.m. April 20 at the county's Belleville garage, will start preparing the electronic devices for the May 8 nonpartisan municipal elections in both towns plus Orange and Belleville.
New Jersey Superior Court Judge Thomas Vena granted Baugh's show cause request April 16 to allow county technicians' access. Attorney Roland Hunt, representing IPS, offered no objections to her request.
Vena could have ruled to have Newark's school board vote postponed to May 8's ballot had he seen things independent candidate Barbara Anne Todish's way.
Baugh relayed to Vena Todish's e-mail asking the judge to reschedule the election to May 8. Todish claimed that the Ras Baraka 2018 municipal campaign had "politicized the non-partisan school board election."
Baraka has made no secret of endorsing "Moving Newark Schools Forward." His campaign workers have printed similar mayor-council and school board candidates election materials.
The said team have been previously called "Newark's Unity Team" in 2016-17. The fusion ticket came when Baraka's "Children's First Team" and the former Steve Adubato, Sr.-backed "For Our Kids" slate merged. This year's ticket includes support from, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) and charter school interests.
Todish also asked Vena to "recuse himself from the decision" since he has not consistently used his middle initial in all of his ruling documents.
Independent candidate Che' JT Colter appeared to express his concerns "from those who I've talked with in the South Ward and among the seniors to keep a close eye on the election."
Vena ended the 15-minute Monday morning hearing at the Historic Courtroom by granting Baugh's request.
Vena's decision means that the standard 14-day voting machine impound period, including a garage watch by State Troopers, is down this time to 63 hours. Any recount will have to rely on the machines' recording tapes and paper rolls.
NEWARK: Moving Newark Schools Forward's Haynes, Norton and Gomez, as of Wednesday, have been chosen over two other teams of three and four independent runners.
Haynes was the top individual vote-getter. She drew 5,240 votes from among the 8,192 votes cast for a percentage of 26.95. Her and others' NPS results are with 108 of the 110 voting districts citywide reporting.
Norton placed second at 4,149 for 21.34. Gomez completed the sweep at 3,725 for 19.16.
Haynes, Norton and Gomez are to succeed current NPS Board President Marques Aquil-Lewis, Dashay Carter and Crystal Fonseca - 2015 team winners who chose not to run for re-election.
Independent candidate Jameel Ibrahim placed fourth. The second-time runner amassed 1,032 for 5.31. Fellow solo runner Colter placed fifth, garnering 1,108 for 5.24.
Denise Cole, of the "Same Vision, Independent Front" platform, placed seventh. Cole tallied 1,000 for 5.14.
Omayra Molina, of the "Parents as Partners" ticket, 888 for 4.57. She finished between Same Vision campaigners Cole and Yolanda Johnson - who received 740 for 381.
Parents partners Marcus Allen, at 517 for 2.66, and Khalid Hannah, at 384 for 1.98, were next.
Same Vision runner Johnnie Lattner came in with 375 for 1.93. Independent Robert House was next at 203 for 1.04. Third time independent runner Todish completed the balloted field with 141 for .73.
There were 31 write-in votes, making up the remaining .16 percent. There were 19,443 votes cast to fill the three NPS seats.
There were an overall 8,192 Newark and Irvington voters who made their choices Tuesday from a combined registered voter pool of 172,174. That ratio comes out to 4.74 percent of voters participating this election.
IRVINGTON: Scott currently garnered the most individual votes from among the five balloted candidates. She drew 829 votes or 30.40 percent from the 21 of 23 voting districts reporting.
Brown was second with 798 or 29.26. Beasle-McCleod completed the Team Irvington Strong sweep with 630 or 23.10.
"Team Irvington Strong" was organized by former IBOE President and current Mayor Anthony "Tony" Vauss. Vauss has also applied the TIS label on his past and current mayor-council candidate slates since his 2014 election.
First-time runner Tacuma Gora was best of the two-man "Change is Coming" team. He drew 290 for 10.63.
Team leader David Pinckney received 173 for 6.34. There were seven write-ins to round out the 2,727 votes cast.
There were 476 voters, or 83.95, approved the IPS $17.5 million budget for the next school year. Another 91 voters, or 16.05, voted "No."
The 567 budget and 2,727 board candidate voters were 4.74 percent of registered Irvington voters who participated Tuesday.
Irvington is the only "Local Talk" town whose voters approve or reject their municipal school district's annual budget.
By Walter Elliott and Dhiren Shah
NEWARK - A new dawn, one that has been anticipated and desired for 21 years, had broken for the Newark Public Schools Sept. 13.
That dawn was not the physical one that broke here at 6:36 a.m. but an institutional one some four hours later in a Trenton board room.
The New Jersey State Board of Education, in their monthly meeting at 100 River View Plaza, publicly approved the New Jersey Department of Education's transition plan to return full autonomy to NPS.
Their approval actually came as a pair of resolutions recommended by Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington Aug. 23.
Their votes mean that New Jersey's largest public school district will have the authority again to make decisions in personnel, governance, operations, fiscal management and program and instruction.
Their votes begin a transition that will also spell out NPS's steps to full autonomous sunlight. Those steps are to include a public question referendum on the current NPS Advisory Board's format and when to hire a successor to current State District Superintendent Christopher Cerf.
Registered Newark voters, for example, may soon decide on whether to keep the reborn Newark Board of Education an elective body or a mayor-appointed body or a hybrid.
The NJDOE retained a nine-person elective school board, but demoted them to advisory status, throughout their 22-year direct control. The panel, since 2015, has insisted on calling themselves a board of education while the NPS Central Office at 2 Cedar St. maintained "NPSAB" on their website and documents.
Newarkers may also be watching Orange's approach on deciding on an appointed or an elected school board. A citizens group, who favors replacing the current seven-member, mayor-appointed panel with an elected one, seeks to put their public question onto that city's Nov. 7 General Election ballot. Newark's school board will also pick Cerf's successor. It will be up to them to keep him as an interim superintendent or launch their own in-house and/or national search before July 1, 2018.
Cerf, who was appointed by Gov. Christopher Christie July 1, 2015, has a contract through June 30, 2018. The Montclair resident and former education commissioner has made making NPS fully autonomous his top priority.
Their votes started the sunset of NJDOE's direct control of NPS's operations that began July 1, 1995. The State Legislature voted and then-Gov. Christine Todd Whitman so signed for NJDOE's takeover of NPS. They employed a 1987 law that allowed state education administrators to overrule local or regional school boards. This law, approved during Gov. Tom Kean's administration, would be also used for state takeover of Jersey City, Paterson and Camden's public schools.
They were also responding to an April 13, 1995 report from Administrative Law Judge Stephen G. Weiss who recommended NJDOE control based on prior 10 years of state monitoring. Weiss also compared the then-high $10,700 per pupil spending by NPS to the 25 percent passing rate of 11th grade students who took the October 1993 state High School Proficiency Assessment test battery.
"That's a description of failure on a very large scale," wrote Weiss in his 56-page ruling. "If 'abysmal' is too strong a description, it most certainly is distressing to contemplate." NPS then was teaching 47,000 students among its 82 buildings on a $540 million budget.
NPS reopened Sept. 11, 1995 with 10-year Superintendent Eugene C. Campbell replaced by Whitman-appointee Beverly Hall. Another 12 key administrators were replaced by those mostly from outside Newark. Top-down implementation of programs became the norm.
Observers and experts back then, who thought a 2000 turnaround was unrealistic, never imagined that the state would operate NPS for 22 years.
"Every couple of years, people would come in with a new teaching program," recalled Mayor Ras Baraka while he was rising from teaching to Central High School Principal. "Their programs were then replaced by other new ones."
The DOE had been applying its Quality Single Accountability Continuum on NPS several years before Christie appointed Cerf. QSAC set 80-percent scoring thresholds on personnel, governance, fiscal management, operations and program and instruction to turn those respective areas to the school board. NPS most recently passed QSAC's personnel threshold - the latest area after passing governance (100 percent), operations, (95 percent) fiscal management (92 percent) and program and instruction (92 percent).
Cerf and NPS Board President Marques-Aquil Lewis signed the personnel autonomy transition plan during their board meeting here at the Elliott Street School Auditorium Aug. 22.
"We got a letter from the DOE in July that we hit all the scores," said Cerf. "Students are improving faster than their peers across the state."
"This brings tears to my eyes," said Lewis. "We can now control our own destiny. We were once the rejected stones; now we're the cornerstones."
Cerf recommended full NPS's full autonomy transition overnight to Harrington. Harrington, on Aug. 23, then issued her autonomy recommendations to the Christie-appointed NJSBOE.
"Graduation rates are now at 75 percent, a 16-point increase in six years," said Christie while visiting NJIT Sept. 6. (Christie, who lived across from West Side High School until 1970, graduated from Livingston High School.)
Christie, Cerf and Baraka have also cited improving test scores, among other recent positive NPS trends, since Sept. 1.
NPS' state control era is an exception to Mayor Kenneth Gibson's quote that "Wherever urban America goes, Newark will get there first."
The state returned local control to Jersey City's public schools July 1. They first took over Jersey City in 1988 and Paterson in 1991.
Baraka and Cerf, in their Sept. 5 "First Day of School" visit to Technology High School, noted that high student absenteeism and school safety need improvement.
"Local control means that you're in charge now," said Baraka. "Stop thinking about 'us versus them,' because 'us' is the 'them.'"
Newark Mayor Baraka, with Newark’s Board of Education Advisors, called a press conference on Sept. 13, at Newark City Hall to announce the news and celebrate regaining control of Newark’s Public Schools.
Baraka said, “In our family, when there is a problem, we go to our father and mother, not anyone else. We decide our own future…Getting freedom means getting responsibility. We have to look at ourselves in the mirror.”
State Senator Ronald Rice, State Senator Teresa Ruiz, Assemblyman Tom Giblin, Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor, Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield-Jenkins, and Councilman Eddie Osborne were on hand to answer any questions.
Newark School Advisory Board president Marques-Aquil Lewis, Tev Padiah, Reginald Bledsoe, Dashay Carter, Crystal C. Fonseca, Kim Gaddy, Josephine Garcia, Flohisha Johnson, Leah Owens, and Student Representative Gina Matos all were present at the press conference.
The committee did excellent work to get back control to the local board, and they really deserve the credit with Mayor Baraka in the forefront as well as the background.