Newly appointed principals at Science Park High School and Newark Vocational High School, both named over the summer by the Newark Board of Education, sent out welcome letters to parents this week to announce their arrival and set the stage for the year.
The new arrivals come amid concerns over principal turnover in the district after their first-year predecessors were ousted from their positions. But parents aren’t sure if the reshuffling will help address some of the long-standing issues affecting both high schools.
“I’m just tired of meeting new principals,” said Doug Freeman, whose son is a senior at Newark Vocational. “The first two didn’t have a real opportunity to bring their vision to life.”
Both high schools are set to face more challenges following a year of learning disruptions due to COVID, student mental health, and staff burnout. The departure of the former principals has also sparked questions over the district’s support given to first-year staff.
Additionally, the departure of vice principals and leadership of color raises questions about district officials’ stated goal of elevating people of color to leadership positions, especially men. Both incoming principals are white women who are replacing people of color.
Karisa DeSantis is the new principal at Newark Vocational replacing Lucinda Eason, a former vice principal at two Newark high schools who started in the fall of last year. DeSantis, a former principal at Elliot Street School and vice principal at Rafael Hernandez School of the Performing Arts, will have to address the high schools’ struggle with discipline, violence, and absenteeism, and concerns over racial representation.
“The school used to be a family-friendly environment,” Freeman said. “You barely needed security and there’s security on the outside corners because they keep making these changes.”
Marcus Allen, president of the Parent Teacher Student Organization at Newark Vocational, is concerned about the continuous turnover at the high school. He’s hoping to meet with DeSantis in the coming weeks but fears for his son’s experience in school.
“Now, he doesn’t trust the experience or trust that he will have the experience he was initially promised because there have been so many changes,” Allen said.
Darleen Gearhart takes the principal’s role at Science Park High School replacing Angela Mincy, who left in 2021 to take the helm at Marion P. Thomas Charter School. Gearhart also faces challenges in the highly selective magnet school that has been accused of under-enrolling Black students.
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The district, DeSantis, and Gearhart did not respond to requests for comment.
In a letter to parents on Thursday. DeSantis laid out COVID and safety protocols for the year along with the announcement of a new vice principal, Peter Ramos, and a new department chair, Patrick Malpass. She brings 20 years of experience as an educator working in urban districts in New York, Florida, and New Jersey. In July, DeSantis sent out a survey to parents to gauge concerns, pointing to interest in addressing the school’s issues.
On Monday, Gearhart addressed Science Park parents in a letter detailing her plans for the upcoming year. The former Sussex Avenue School principal brings more than 28 years of experience working in Newark Public Schools. She started her career as a math teacher at Weequahic High School, but will face concerns over discipline at Science Park after several fights broke out and multiple bomb threats were reported last year.
Science Park is the third high school in the past year to lose a Black male principal and Gearhart will have to address concerns about diversity and racial representation.
“As your new school principal, I believe it’s important that I understand both your needs as a parent and the aspirations you have for your child,” said Gearhart in a letter to parents this week.
Teacher retention and principal experience are key factors of school stability. Principals who have led their first school for five or more years hire significantly more teachers who stay at the school, according to a study released in May. At a time when many school districts are facing a teacher shortage, principal turnover could cause serious strains on students and educators.
Last month, district officials also approved 13 internal leadership promotions, two outside appointments for vice principal positions, and four resignations of top administrators.
Allen and Freeman are hoping to develop a working relationship with their new principals as they prepare their children for the first day of school next month.
“I want to know now what to expect,” Freeman said. “Morale has been very low.”
Jessie Gomez is a reporter for Chalkbeat Newark, covering public education in the city. Contact Jessie at email@example.com