Newark school board votes in Thomas Luna to fill vacant board seat

A man in a suit stands against the backdrop of a city skyline.
Thomas Luna, a two-time school board candidate and charter school teacher, will fill the empty seat on the Newark Board of Education. (Courtesy of Thomas Luna)

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Board of education leaders in New Jersey’s largest school district voted in a new member, weeks after the former president stepped down and a new one took her place.

Thomas Luna won a unanimous vote at a school board meeting Monday to be the new member of the Newark Board of Education following a vacancy left by former president, Asia Norton, who resigned two weeks after the start of the school year. Luna was chosen out of 10 candidates who submitted applications to the board last month.

“I get to wake up every day and teach the future of the city. And to bring that perspective is something that is really important to me, and I think will benefit everyone in terms of working with this team of board members to do the work for our kids and our families,” said Luna, a teacher at KIPP Rise Academy and two-time school board candidate, during a phone call on Tuesday.

Luna will be sworn in during November’s school board meeting and will serve on the board until April, when school board elections for the new year take place. 

His selection is the latest reshuffling of board members after Hasani Council was sworn in as president last month when Norton departed for a role with the Superior Court of New Jersey.

The news comes as board members continue to work on hiring their separate attorney, solidify their goals for the year, and push for the release of a long-awaited review of the cultural climate at Newark School of Global Studies in the wake of reported incidents of racial harassment at the school, among other work.

Following Norton’s departure, the Newark board had 65 days to fill the vacant seat, according to New Jersey law. They solicited nominations from the community and received 10 applications, which they accepted until Sept. 29. The current board interviewed the candidates on Monday and later that evening voted to move forward with Luna, based on the information received during those interviews, said board president Council on Tuesday.

Luna, a seventh and eighth grade math and science teacher for more than 10 years in Newark, said his first order of business is making sure he gets his “personal bearings” about the work the board is doing. He said he is grateful and excited to work with the city’s school board and best serve its students. 

Thomas Luna ran for a seat on the Newark Board of Education in April 2022 and 2023. (Screenshot by Catherine Carrera / Chalkbeat)

Previously, Luna ran for a school board seat in April 2022 and 2023 but both times lost to the Moving Newark Schools Forward slate, which has had strong backing from powerful state and local politicians. Chalkbeat Newark interviewed Luna for the 2023 school board voter guide where he said, “the most pressing issue facing Newark schools today is achievement.” 

“As a board member, I would work with my fellow board members and the superintendent to establish and fully fund intervention strategies and teams within our schools to provide the academic safety nets our kids need,” said Luna in April. 

A first-generation college graduate, Luna received a degree in public administration from Texas State University. As an educator, Luna has said he’s mentored many of his students even after they moved on to high school and college.

As a leader and organizer with Newark for Education Equity and Diversity, a nonprofit, he has helped community members and elected officials pass policy on the state and local levels. He has led and developed various community programs and believes in collective change, Luna said. 

The board may also have to fill another vacant position as board member A’Dorian Murray-Thomas runs against Khalil Kettles next week in the Nov. 7 general election for a seat on the Essex County Board of Commissioners, which approves the county budget, among other responsibilities. Murray-Thomas is running as a Democrat and Kettles as an Independent to represent District 2, which includes Newark, Irvington, and Maplewood. 

Murray-Thomas’s term on the school board expires in 2025, but she would not be able to simultaneously hold elected positions on the school and commissioner boards. If she wins, there would be another vacancy on the board in January.

Jessie Gómez is a reporter for Chalkbeat Newark, covering public education in the city. Contact Jessie at jgomez@chalkbeat.org.

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