Winston Churchill once said, “Fear is a reaction, courage is a decision.” As a city recently granted back local control of its schools, the Newark school board has an opportunity to vote for courage.
Newark tragically lost Octavio “Tave” Padilla who was not only a fierce friend to many and champion of Newark schools, but also a member of the Newark Board of Education (NBOE). His untimely passing left an empty seat on the school board well before an election. This raised two important questions: Who would fill the seat? How would they be selected?
The law states the school board can decide to fill a vacancy within a 65 day window but lacks a process. The New Jersey School Board Association gives best practices on a process but lacks enforcement. The Newark Board of Education has nothing on vacancies at all in its bylaws. Without a clear and enforceable process, confusion ensued.
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On one hand, several education advocates, believing the process was open to the community, submitted letters of intent to fill the vacancy. On the other hand, the school board lacked bylaws to guide their decision-making process. In the end, no interested community members were given an opportunity to make their case and the NBOE filled the vacancy without any public input or transparency. This was a mistake.
In this era of local control, our community must come first, and our school board must have clear, transparent, and community driven processes embedded throughout its decision-making structures. To make this a reality takes policy. That’s when Newark for Educational Equity and Diversity (NEED) took action.
NEED is a grassroots organization that promotes educational equity by organizing the talent and brilliance of Newark parents, students, teachers, organizations and advocates. After many hours, conversations, meetings, feedback sessions, and discourse, we finally had The People’s Policy 9120. This policy would ensure that vacancies have a clear process in the NBOE bylaws that require public notice, public interviews, and public decision making.
After an extensive and aggressive policy campaign with NEED’s partners at Parents Educating Parents, The Newark 72 Collective, We Don’t Need Permission, Parents Engaging Parents, and Parent University, The People’s Policy made it to the NBOE governance committee. This committee oversees policy changes and ultimately decides what makes it on the NBOE agenda for adoption. And now, the policy and our community wait to see whether our school board, particularly our new president Dawn Haynes, has the courage to change the status quo.
The fact of the matter is, the Newark I know is not afraid of change. Local control means our school board must show courage and commit to a collective community-driven approach forward. Jersey City, Weehawken, Passaic, Paterson, and other school districts all have policies on the books when it comes to vacancies. Why not Newark? What are we scared of?
NEED is calling on the NBOE governance committee to put the People’s Policy 9120 on the agenda for May and calling on every single board member to vote yes to the policy’s passage.
Show what it means to be for the people.
Show what it means to have courage.
Show that Newark is not afraid.
Thomas Luna is Co-Chair for Newark for Educational Equity and Diversity (NEED) and is a lifelong educator currently teaching 8th grade math in Newark’s West Ward.