Big staffing changes coming to Newark schools, as district overhaul begins

Welcome to Chalkbeat Newark's weekly newsletter! Today, read about a shakeup of school and district leadership, an inspiring student activist, and more.

— Patrick Wall, senior reporter

The big story

Roger Leon addressing Newark Public Schools employees

A major staffing shakeup is underway in Newark.

Superintendent Roger León is reducing the number of vice principals and eliminating the position of school chief innovation officer, which critics saw as a ploy to install less-experienced educators in school leadership roles.

He’s also hiring directors to lead more than a dozen central-office departments. Unlike some officials brought on by León’s predecessors, the new hires will be required to hold teaching certificates.

At the same time, hundreds of school employees will see their official job titles change — the result of a Civil Service Commission ruling that said prior superintendents violated hiring rules. The change means some staffers will have to reapply for their jobs.

As the shakeup starts, León noted the limits on his authority to replace personnel. Some school administrators with tenure “may not be worthy of being saved, but they’re protected by the law,” he said.

His view that some ineffective employees are shielded by job protections is a rare example of León publicly siding with his controversial predecessor, Cami Anderson.

“This is Cami’s argument, and I agreed with her,” León said. “It’s not fair that someone who isn’t good stays in a position because they have more years of experience than somebody who is better.”

Read the full story.

Student spotlight

Meet a member of Newark’s Class of 2019.

Bradley Gonmiah, Newark Students Union

If you’ve been to a Newark school board meeting in the past year, you’ve seen Bradley Gonmiah.

A senior at Science Park High School, he not only attends all the board’s monthly meetings — he also uses the forums to highlight challenges that he sees in schools and propose fixes.

He brought that same focus on solutions-oriented activism to the Newark Students Union, a citywide group he helped revive last year.

Now, he’s getting ready to attend an elite private college in California on a full scholarship to pursue his dream of becoming an astronaut.

“I can definitely go to Mars,” he said.

Read more about Gonmiah here.

Newark news & events

Local education reporting and upcoming events.

A surprise visit (and gift)…

  • Oprah Winfrey made a surprise visit to West Side High School on Friday, where she praised the principal and donated $500,000 to his innovative “Lights On” program. NJ.com, Newark Patch, CBS News
  • Superintendent León said he wants to expand the program, which keeps the school open on certain evenings, to more schools. TAPinto Newark

Tech boost…

  • Three Newark schools will get new iPads and teacher training in how to incorporate technology into the classroom through a program sponsored by Verizon. TAPinto Newark

Charter growth…

  • An appeals court upheld a state decision to let seven Newark charter schools expand. TAPinto Newark

Prison protest…

  • Newark teenagers joined a rally Saturday to protest plans to build a new facility in Newark that critics call a youth prison. Newark Patch, TAPinto Newark

News from Trenton & beyond

Reporting on statewide education issues that matter for Newark.

Pension plans…

  • State Senate President Stephen Sweeney is pitching a bill that would raise the retirement age and reduce retirement benefits for certain teachers and other public employees. NJ.com

District consolidation…

  • Sweeney also proposed bills to consolidate some of the state’s nearly 600 school districts, which proponents say would cut down on administrative costs. NJ Spotlight

‘Dark money’…

  • The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest and most powerful teachers union, contributed $2.5 million to a political group with close ties to Gov. Phil Murphy. Politico New Jersey, NJ.com

National news…

  • New research finds that online courses help students graduate high school — but raises big questions about whether it actually helps them learn. Chalkbeat
  • Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wants to crack down on charter schools, drawing a sharp contrast with Sen. Cory Booker, Newark’s former mayor who has supported charter growth. Vox

Extra credit

Want to showcase your school or an upcoming education event? Send me photos and details.

West Side High School Newark

Photo credit: Instagram/Akbar Cook