Newark appoints district deputy superintendent, hires communications chief after yearslong hiatus

Three people walk on a sidewalk in front of a grey brick building.
Other appointments promote school principals Rosa Branco, who heads First Avenue school, and Sylvia Esteves, who leads Park Elementary school, to assistant superintendent roles. (Screen Grab of Google Maps)

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The Newark Board of Education appointed four employees to top leadership roles and hired the former spokesman for Paterson Public Schools and the South-Orange Maplewood school district as the new district communications director for the upcoming school year.

During last week’s Board of Education meeting, members unanimously approved the resolution appointing the five to executive positions following a more than two-hour executive session.

The board appointed Yolonda Severe, the district’s executive director of the office of Early Childhood, as deputy superintendent after her predecessor, Nicole Johnson, retired from the role last June. Jose Fuentes, assistant superintendent, will become the district’s second school business administrator joining Valerie Wilson, who’s held the role since 1996, according to Nancy Deering, the district’s acting communications director since at least 2022.

The latest reshuffling of staff comes as the district heads into another unprecedented year that will focus on managing its $1.5 billion spending plan, renovating school buildings, increasing enrollment, academic recovery efforts, and a pending lawsuit for the release of a report on the cultural dynamics at the Newark School of Global Studies. The reorganization of leaders also comes before the district’s summer announcement of new principals for the next school year.

The other appointments promote school principals Rosa Branco, who heads First Avenue school, and Sylvia Esteves, who leads Park Elementary school, to assistant superintendent of teaching and learning and assistant superintendent of the North Ward school leadership team respectively, Deering said.

Paul Brubaker, who was also a former spokesman for U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., will replace Deering as director of communications with a salary of $180,000, according to June board documents. Deering will continue her role as the director of board relations.

The appointments, with the exception of Brubaker’s, are effective as of July 1, Deering added. Brubaker is set to begin his role on Aug. 1, he confirmed via email.

During last week’s board meeting, the board also approved the appointment of 65 instructional staff members, including a librarian at Thirteenth Avenue School, a dance teacher at Malcolm X Shabazz High School, four high school physical education teachers, and a new department chair at the Newark School of Fashion and Design, according to June board documents. At the elementary schools, 19 elementary teachers, including two kindergarten teachers, and five pre-K teachers, will start next school year with salaries ranging from $62,000 to $104,100, according to the June board records.

Jermaine Blount was also hired as the director of mentoring services, a new position amid Newark’s ongoing efforts to help students recover academically. He begins the role with a salary of $151,500, June board records show.

Board members also approved the appointment of 32 “hard-to-staff” employees, which include a physics and science teacher and three math teachers. The appointments also staff 14 special education teachers, 10 new bilingual education teachers, and three educators teaching English as a second language as the district expects to welcome more than 18,000 bilingual and students with disabilities this fall, the June board records show. The salaries for those teachers range from $62,000 to $105,010.

The district will modify the salaries of the appointed teachers over the summer to reflect the increased pay scale of $65,000 to $109,100 as listed in the new five-year Newark Teachers Union contract, approved by board members during the June meeting.

In previous years, the district has worked to create teacher-to-leader pipelines and elevate people of color into principal, vice principal, and executive staff positions.

Last week’s school board meeting agenda did not include salaries for the new executive appointments and Deering did not provide the information. State budget records for the 2023-24 school year showed Severe was salaried at $170,280 and Fuentes at $195,246 for that year. Deering, who managed the district’s communications last school year was salaried at $169,879. Wilson, a 27-year veteran of the district, had a salary of $223,131 last school year.

Clarification: June 26, 2024: The story was updated to clarify that Paul Brubaker will begin his role with the district on Aug. 1. An additional paragraph was added to clarify that the teacher salaries listed in this story will be modified over the summer to reflect the new pay range as stipulated in the Newark Teachers Union contract for next school year.

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

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