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Let the People of Newark Pick Their Superintendent

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Author: dianeravitch

Citizens of Néw Jersey believe that the elected board of Newark should select their own superintendent. Newark has not been allowed to direct its own schools for 20 years. The state has failed, it is time to return to democracy in Newark.

Newark Residents Should Select Their Next Superintendent

We believe that the people of Newark should be able to democratically govern their public schools.

Fortunately, Mark Biedron, President of NJ’s State Board of Education, seems to agree. Mr. Biedron recently told the Star Ledger that “the people of Newark having local control over the school district…is a good thing.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Biedron will have an opportunity to act on this belief when the State Board votes on whether Chris Cerf should become Newark’s next Superintendent.

If the State Board approves Mr. Cerf, it will be continuing a 20 year history of disenfranchisement for Newark’s nearly 300,000 residents, who have had no say in this decision.

If the Board rejects Mr. Cerf and instead approves a candidate selected by Newark’s popularly-elected Board of Education, it will be putting Mr. Biedron’s admirable philosophy into practice.

There is plenty of precedent for allowing Newark to select its own superintendent.

Newark, Jersey City, and Paterson are all state-controlled school districts. Yet Jersey City’s popularly-elected Board of Education selected its Superintendent, Marcia Lyles. Paterson’s Superintendent, Dr. Donnie Evans, was selected by a committee that included members of Paterson’s popularly-elected Board of Education, along with other community leaders. In contrast, Newark’s popularly-elected Board of Education has had no voice in selecting Mr. Cerf, who was nominated for this position by Governor Christie.

Approving Mr. Cerf is also difficult to justify because Mr. Cerf lacks the qualifications necessary to run New Jersey’s largest school district. Unlike Jersey City’s and Paterson’s leaders, Mr. Cerf has no prior experience as a superintendent.

Nor is there a record of success in related public-education positions on which to base Mr. Cerf’s nomination. In fact, Mr. Cerf’s tenure as New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education was marked by numerous poor decisions regarding Newark, including:

Appointing and continuing to support Newark’s prior Superintendent, Cami Anderson, whose policies and behaviors generated broad-based rejection and rebellion from Newark residents;

Improperly giving in to a demand from Ms. Anderson “to allow her to retain full control over 28 low-performing schools, which resulted in New Jersey failing to comply with federal requirements; and

Forcibly maintaining State control of Newark’s schools by dramatically lowering the district’s scores on the State’s monitoring system (QSAC) from the scores that Mr. Cerf had given the district less than a year earlier.

The people of Newark deserve the right to select their next Superintendent. They also deserve an experienced public education leader with a proven record of success. Mr. Cerf’s candidacy fails on all these counts.

We encourage Mr. Biedron and the other State Board of Education members to vote no on Mr. Cerf’s nomination and to allow Newark’s popularly-elected Board of Education to nominate the district’s next Superintendent.

Newark’s residents have been deprived of their right to democratically control their public schools for 20 years. It is long past time to correct this wrong!

Rosie Grant, Piscataway, NJ
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