‘No pressure.’ Newark’s next superintendent lays out goals, weighs in on charters, enrollment

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The big story

If you thought incoming Newark superintendent Roger León was going to charge into his new role and blow up any remnants of state control, think again.

In a 45-minute interview with Chalkbeat last week, León — the first superintendent to be selected by Newark’s school board in over two decades — did not rail against the policies of his state-appointed predecessors.

Instead, he said they did “good work,” adding that becoming superintendent is “a baton-passing exercise” — certainly not the tear-up-the-playbook-and-start-from-scratch attitude that some observers might have expected. His harshest remark about state control was simply: “Our city is very sensitive to people making decisions and then telling them what the decisions were.”

He was equally measured about specific policies. Regarding the often-controversial charter sector (which Mayor Ras Baraka has said should stop expanding), León called for district-charter collaboration and cited innovative practices at some of the charter networks. He also suggested that he would keep in place a sometimes contentious single enrollment system for district and charter schools.

León, who begins his new role on July 1, also talked about what makes schools successful and listed the many things he hopes to accomplish as superintendent.

At the end of his long list: “That we will be able to say that the locally controlled board of the city of Newark got it right.”

Read the full interview here.

Newark news

A roundup of the past week’s local education reporting.

León continued…

  • More from the soon-to-be superintendent on charter schools, the district budget, and whether he plans to replace any school leaders and central office staffers. NJ Spotlight

Track meet scandal…

  • West Side High School’s track coach has resigned after admitting to falsifying the results of a track meet. NorthJersey.com

Student athletes…

  • The U.S. Soccer Foundation and the New York Red Bulls will build 20 mini soccer fields over the next five years at schools across the city, and will fund an after-school program. NJ.com, ROI-NJ.com
  • Players from the New York Giants gave advice to Newark student-athletes. TAPinto Newark

Charter commencement…

  • Mayor Baraka, who has called for a halt to charter-school expansion in Newark, will speak at University Heights Charter School’s eighth-grade graduation. TAPinto Newark

Student representatives…

  • Students have until midnight Tuesday to vote for their next representative on the Newark school board. Newark Public Schools

STEM week…

  • Newark middle-school students will spend this entire week working on one of two projects, “Ecosystems: Mystery at Loon Lake” or “Building a Lunar Colony,” as part of the district’s second annual “STEM Week” (an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). i2 Learning

Star educators…

  • The district last week honored 66 “Teachers of the Year,” along with other exceptional school staffers, including guidance counselors, social workers, and community engagement specialists. Newark Public Schools

News from Trenton

Reporting on statewide education issues that matter for Newark.

School funding showdown…

  • Last Thursday, New Jersey’s most powerful state lawmaker, State Sen. Stephen Sweeney, threatened a government shutdown unless the state’s school-funding system is adjusted so that certain districts stop getting more than they’re owed while others get less. NJ.com, NJ Spotlight, Politico NJ
  • On Friday, Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration froze state spending and ordered departments to prepare for the possibility of a government shutdown following a contentious meeting between lawmakers and administration officials over the budget and Sweeney’s school-spending proposal. Politico NJ, NJ.com
  • Here’s a guide to the budget drama. NJ.com

Exit exams…

  • Districts across the state are scrambling to get 10th-graders to take a PARCC exam that many skipped after confusing state guidelines led many to believe they did not need to take the exam to graduate. NJ.com
  • Opinion: Meanwhile, the state is phasing in new rules that limit students’ ability to graduate without passing the PARCC tests; as a result, thousands of students may have trouble earning diplomas. NJ Spotlight

Teachers union scolding…

  • State lawmakers grilled leaders of New Jersey’s largest teachers union last week over hidden-camera videos appearing to show local union officials discussing protecting teachers accused of abusing students. NJ.com, NJ Spotlight

Spelling bee…

  • New Jersey students were tripped up by the words “gelinotte” and “paillasson” at last week’s national spelling bee. NJ.com

Extra credit

Want to showcase your school or an upcoming education event? Send me photos and details.

Students from Hawkins Street School performed for Newark teachers at the “Spring Colloquium” on Saturday.

Hundreds of educators attended the first-of-its-kind conference at the NJIT campus, which featured over 20 workshops led by Newark Public Schools teachers and administrators. The topics included how to reduce teacher bias, how to promote student activism, and how to use hip hop to teach literacy, among many others.

Interim Superintendent A. Robert Gregory, who came up with the idea for the colloquium, said Newark educators have already found effective solutions to many of the challenges they face in the classroom — now they just need to share those with one another.

“The solution does not have to come from Mars,” he said. “The solution is right here in the city.”