Newark school board candidates discuss key issues ahead of election

A line of people sitting in chairs on stage with a large screen with a projected photo of a young child and a list of sponsors on the bottom front of the image.
Around 50 people attended a meet the candidates forum co-hosted by Project Ready, Chalkbeat Newark, New Jersey Black Empowerment Coalition, and The Gem Project on Tuesday, a week before the April 16 Newark school board election. (Screenshot of Candidate Form)

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Eight candidates running for a seat on the Newark Board of Education took part in a candidate forum on Tuesday to discuss key election issues, including academic performance, district transparency, and chronic absenteeism.

But after tension escalated between an audience member and a candidate, a key takeaway was ultimately a call for the school community to unite in its efforts to find remedies to some of those issues.

About 50 people attended the forum held a week before the April 16 election at the Newark Museum of Art and co-hosted by Chalkbeat Newark, Project Ready, The Gem Project, and New Jersey Black Empowerment Coalition. This was the third forum held this election cycle.

Nine out of 10 total candidates — including three incumbents — are competing for three full-term seats on the nine-member nonpartisan board. One incumbent, Kanileah Anderson, is running unopposed to reclaim her seat on a one-year unexpired term. She was appointed to that seat in January after it was vacated.

Shennell McCloud, the chief executive officer at Project Ready, co-moderated the discussion alongside Chalkbeat Newark reporter Jessie Gomez, and Emmanuela Awuah, a fellow from The Gem Project and student at Newark’s Technology High School.

Incumbents Anderson, Dawn Haynes and Helena Vinhas — part of the Moving Newark Schools Forward slate — participated in the event, along with five other candidates who are vying to unseat them, including Che Colter, Muta El-Amin, Latoya Jackson, Sheila Montague, and Debra Salters. Vereliz Santana, another incumbent on the Moving Newark Schools Forward slate, did not attend, nor did candidate Jimmie White.

Colter and El-Amin are running on the It Takes a Village slate. Montague’s platform is called Open the Door, and Salters’ platform is called Saving Our Children.

Candidates shared their visions for change in Newark Public Schools, including diverting more resources to classrooms, increasing transparency with line-by-line items in the budget, and teaming up with community organizations to empower attendance counselors, among other ideas.

During closing remarks from the candidates, an outburst with shouting between an audience member and a candidate caused the event to pause for a few minutes before it continued and wrapped up. A few weeks earlier, at another community candidate forum, a different disruption occurred that caused that forum to end abruptly.

With an aim to unify the crowd, McCloud brought Tuesday’s event to a close by sharing that she’s been attending Newark school board meetings for about 20 years, since she was 16.

“I go to the meetings and all I see is a lot of fighting among the community,” McCloud said. “We’re at a place where it’s time for us to come together — every single last one of us. Imagine the schools we can build together. Imagine the success our children can achieve. Imagine our pride knowing that we stood up, and most importantly, stood together to make our voices heard.”

Polling locations will be open 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on April 16.

Watch the full video of the forum below:

Catherine Carrera is the bureau chief for Chalkbeat Newark. Reach Catherine at ccarrera@chalkbeat.org.

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