Newark promotes vice principals, department supervisor to lead schools in September

Three people walk on a sidewalk in front of a grey brick building.
Combined, the eight new principals bring decades of experience to their roles in the 2024-25 school year. (Screen Grab of Google Maps)

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The Newark Board of Education has announced the appointment of eight new principals who bring years of experience working in other district roles to their new positions.

District leaders tapped former vice principals and a supervisor for the Office of Special Education to lead seven elementary schools and a high school for the upcoming school year. Seven of the new principals this fall are women, and most bring knowledge of the schools they will lead this year.

Combined, the new principals bring decades of experience with the majority starting their careers as district teachers before transitioning into administrative positions.

The announcement of veteran leaders signals a change from previous years when district officials ousted and demoted first-year heads and placed Newark’s support of school administrators under scrutiny. The reorganization of leaders also continues Superintendent Roger León’s efforts to create teacher-to-leader pipelines and elevate people of color into principal roles.

The new principals “exemplify how leadership and learning are inseparable,” said León in a district press release on Monday. The appointees were promoted internally “after going through a rigorous interview process, affirming their suitability for their new roles,” added Board President Hasani Council in the release.

The school leaders must also work to create inclusive spaces, as they work in a district where Latino and Black students make up more than 90% of the student body.

District promotes eight new leaders to helm Newark schools

At the high school level, former Arts High School vice principal Regina Sharpe will replace principal Devonne De Nose who took the role in 2021. Sharpe earned a bachelor of arts in political science at Rutgers University and a master’s of arts in administration and supervision at Saint Peter’s College. Previously, she was a teacher at Dr. William H. Horton.

Robin L. Williams will lead Belmont Runyon School and replace principal Dr. Deneen Washington, a 25-year veteran of the district who started her career as an elementary teacher in 1998. Williams was the vice principal at Peshine Avenue School for grades 3-5 and a Newark Public Schools graduate. She earned a bachelor of arts in history from New Jersey City University and a master’s of science in education from Capella University. She taught social studies at Malcolm X Shabazz High School, became the department chairperson, and later the vice principal of curriculum and instruction at the school.

This fall, the district will open Branch Brook Elementary School and enroll students in pre-K to second grade and expand one grade level the year after, according to March’s budget hearing. Cristina Pennetti will lead the school and bring her experience working as a supervisor for the district’s office of special education since 2011. She earned a bachelor of arts in psychology from the College of Saint Elizabeth, followed by a master’s of arts in teacher of the handicapped high incidence disabilities from Kean University. She also obtained certifications as a learning disabilities teacher consultant and supervisor from Kean.

Neysa Miranda will replace Rosa Branco as principal at First Avenue this fall. Branco was promoted to assistant superintendent of the North Ward School Leadership Team last month. Miranda was a vice principal at First Avenue School and with over 23 years of experience, she held various district positions including teacher at McKinley Elementary School and literacy coach at Chancellor Avenue School. She earned a bachelor of arts in psychology and education from Drew University and a master’s of arts in educational leadership from Montclair State University.

Robert Spat will lead Franklin School next school year and leave his position as vice principal at Rafael Hernandez Elementary School. He will replace Amy Panitch who will leave her role to lead another district elementary school. Aside from his role at Rafael Hernandez, Spat also worked as an English language arts teacher for roughly 10 years in the district.

Mount Vernon School will welcome Serenia Farrell next school year, a former vice principal at Louis Spencer Elementary School. She replaces Camille Findley-Browne, who first led the school in 2019. Farrell holds over 20 years of educational experience with experience working as a teacher, teacher aide, and substitute teacher. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in African American Studies from Ramapo College of New Jersey and a teacher certification from Kean University. She also earned a master’s of arts in educational leadership from the College of St. Elizabeth.

Amy Panitch will leave her principal position at Franklin School to replace principal Sylvia Esteves at Park Elementary School. Esteves was promoted to assistant superintendent of teaching and learning last month. Panitch started her career at Franklin as a third and fourth grade teacher and rose to the level of vice principal after working as an instructional coach. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s of arts in teaching at Montclair State University and a second master’s degree in educational leadership.

Liana Rodriguez will lead Salomé Ureña Elementary School this fall and replace principal Daniella Alvarez, who was appointed to the role last year. Rodriguez was the vice principal at Roberto Clemente Elementary School and began her career with the district at the office of early childhood. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and received her early childhood certification. She holds a master’s of arts in educational leadership from Montclair State University.

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

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