Nicole T. Johnson, North Ward principal, to become deputy superintendent of Newark schools

A Newark educator is rocketing from school leader to one of the top jobs in the district.

Nicole T. Johnson, principal of Elliott Street School in Newark’s North Ward, has been promoted to deputy superintendent. In her new role, Johnson will manage the district’s assistant superintendents and help lead efforts around curriculum, special education, and teacher evaluation, among other core district functions.

“They will be charged with the mission-critical task of inspiring, providing thought-partnership, coaching, and holding assistant superintendents and school support teams accountable,” said a description of the deputy superintendent job that the district posted this month.

The Newark school board approved dozens of personnel changes at its public meeting Tuesday, but did not release the names of people who were hired or promoted. Two people with knowledge of the staffing changes confirmed that Johnson was promoted to deputy superintendent. (Johnson and a district spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.)

Johnson is replacing Gerald Fitzhugh II, who is stepping down after one year to become superintendent of Orange Public Schools, a small district adjacent to Newark. Johnson will be tasked with helping oversee the rollout of Superintendent Roger León’s new district plan, which he unveiled this month.

The turnover at the top of the district comes amid a leadership shakeup at the school level. At least six schools are getting new principals and nearly three dozen assistant principals are leaving their posts at a time when León is looking to remove excess school administrators.

At the district level, León has said he is seeking leaders with extensive school-level experience. Johnson clearly fits that bill. 

She has worked in Newark schools for more than two decades as a teacher, literacy supervisor, vice principal, and principal, according to her LinkedIn account. She began her career in Newark at Bruce Street School for the Deaf, which León has said he wants to transform into “the best school for deaf children in the country.”

Johnson has been a principal for the past six years. At Elliott Street School, she has watched the school’s enrollment nearly double since it moved into a new building in 2016. In the 2017-18 school year, the most recent for which state data is available, Elliott Street served a larger share of low-income students and English language learners than the district overall. Its share of students who met or exceeded state expectations on the annual math and English tests was on par with the district average.

In a February 2018 Facebook post, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. praised Johnson’s leadership.

“Ms. Johnson is an outstanding educational leader and has been a great partner in connecting the community with the schools,” he wrote. “As an alumnus of Elliott Street School, I could not be prouder to have Ms. Johnson as our principal.”