dear readers

Raising our standards and evolving, with your help

While the school system limps toward a new governance structure, we at GothamSchools are shaking things up, too. To mark our first anniversary, we’re adding new staff (have you noticed those shiny new bylines?), excessing old ones, paying the bills in a new way, and changing up our content delivery model. We also plan to throw a party, at which we hope you’ll help us celebrate our continued existence despite the tough times.

Finally — permit one more forced parallel? — this post marks a new era of transparency and reader input, because we are both telling you all about the changes and asking for your help in pulling them off.

Please begin by enjoying our revised design, in which we distinguish between shorter dispatches and full-blown, robustly reported daily news stories. The shorter dispatches are indented and touched off by arrows, as in the post below this one. The stories are in the same maroon-headed format that you’re used to seeing blog posts.

The goal is to hold ourselves to an even higher standard, truth-telling-wise, while still keeping you up to date on the minutiae of school news (who just went wild at a City Council hearing, what article we just read and recommend, a deep thought, a breaking news item). The one unanswered question is what the new, indented dispatches should be called. Our working prospect is “margin notes,” but we want to consider all the possibilities before making that final. Please enter your ideas in the comments or write to if it’s too private and/or brilliant to share with the group.

The Community section will also be evolving. We’re keeping our current stable of columnists and adding some new ones. We’ll also be adding a new category of contributor, diarists, who will give firsthand dispatches from inside the school system. Our goal is to have a good mix of parents, teachers, students, and school leaders. We’ll keep publishing “guest perspectives” (what newspapers call op/eds) by submission in the Community section, too. Send an e-mail to for consideration in any part of the Community.

On the personnel side, Philissa Cramer, a founding staff member, is leaving full-time reporting to go off to New York University, where she is studying the history of education. Elizabeth Green is also changing her role as she heads off to Columbia University to commence the Spencer Fellowship, a program that gives working journalists sabbaticals at the Journalism School and Teachers College. She won’t be too far away from GothamSchools matters; her fellowship project is about the transformation of the city’s public schools under Michael Bloomberg. And both Philissa and Elizabeth will stay involved at GothamSchools part-time. Philissa will edit the community section, Elizabeth will be overall editor, and both will contribute regularly to the new “margin notes,” or whatever we decide to call it. Meanwhile, we’ve brought two energetic reporters on to keep up the full-time newsgathering, Anna Phillips and Maura Walz. Read more about all of us here.

Penultimately, about the money. We’ve been fortunate through this year to be incubated by a generous nonprofit, The Open Planning Project, which covered all our bills through September 1. We’re still tied to TOPP, but we’re also moving to raise money from more sources. A generous donation from one of our earliest contributors, Ken Hirsh, allowed us to stay afloat this fall. We need more help, though, both to keep up the journalism we do now and to improve the work we do in the future.

Want more video? We need cameras! Want more interactive databases? We need to pay web designers. Want more up-to-the-minute coverage? We need USB modems. We’ll be spending part of this year asking for your support in keeping our site going. Even a small donation could really help. E-mail if you’re interested or have questions about the new funding model.

Finally, that party: we’ll share more details as we figure them out, but rest assured it will be both a chance to celebrate the community that’s grown up around our site and an opportunity to hit us with your best shots about how we can improve. We see this reorganization as the first step in an evolution in which we will become, at every step, better at digging up and dispatching the school news. Share ideas about the bigger picture or just the party by e-mailing


Newark schools would get $37.5 million boost under Gov. Murphy’s budget plan

PHOTO: OIT/Governor's Office
Gov. Phil Murphy gave his first budget address on Tuesday.

Newark just got some good news: Gov. Phil Murphy wants to give its schools their biggest budget increase since 2011.

State funding for the district would grow by 5 percent — or $37.5 million — next school year under Murphy’s budget plan, according to state figures released Thursday. Overall, state aid for K-12 education in Newark would rise to $787.6 million for the 2018-19 school year.

The funding boost could ease financial strain on the district, which has faced large deficits in recent years as more students enroll in charter schools — taking a growing chunk of district money with them. At the same time, the district faced years of flat funding from the state, which provides Newark with most of its education money.

“This increase begins to restore the deep cuts made to teaching and support staff and essential programs for students in district schools over the last seven years,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, who noted that a portion of the increase would go to Newark charter schools.

Newark’s boost is part of a nearly $284 million increase that Murphy is proposing for the state’s school-aid formula, which has not been properly funded since 2009. In the budget outline he released Tuesday, Murphy said the increase was the first installment in a four-year plan to fully fund the formula, which calls for about $1 billion more than the state currently spends on education.

Even with Murphy’s proposed boost, Newark’s state aid would still be about 14 percent less than what it’s entitled to under the formula, according to state projections.

Murphy, a Democrat, is counting on a series of tax hikes and other revenue sources — including legalized marijuana — to pay for his budget, which increases state spending by 4.2 percent over this fiscal year. He’ll need the support of his fellow Democrats who control the state legislature to pass those measures, but some have expressed concerns about parts of Murphy’s plan — in particular, his proposal to raise taxes on millionaires. They have until June 30 to agree on a budget.

In the meantime, Newark and other school districts will use the figures from Murphy’s plan to create preliminary budgets by the end of this month. They can revise their budgets later if the state’s final budget differs from Murphy’s outline.

At a school board meeting Tuesday before districts received their state-aid estimates, Interim Superintendent Robert Gregory said he had traveled to Trenton in December to tell members of Murphy’s team that the district was “running out of things to do” to close its budget gap. He said the district wasn’t expecting to immediately receive the full $140 million that it’s owed under the state formula. But Murphy’s plan suggested the governor would eventually send Newark the full amount.

“The governor’s address offers a promising sign,” Gregory said.

Civics lesson

With district’s blessing, Newark students join national school walkout against gun violence

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Thousands of Newark students walked out of their schools Wednesday morning in a district-sanctioned protest that was part of a nationwide action calling for an end to gun violence.

At Barringer Academy of the Arts and Humanities in the North Ward, students gathered in the schoolyard alongside Mayor Ras Baraka and interim schools chief Robert Gregory, who offered support to the protesters and even distributed a “student protest week” curriculum to schools.

Just after 10 a.m., hundreds of students watched in silence as a group of their classmates stood in a row and released one orange balloon every minute for 17 minutes — a tribute to the 17 people fatally shot inside a high school in Parkland, Florida last month.

While the Barringer students and faculty mourned those victims they had never met, they also decried gun violence much closer to home: siblings and relatives who had been shot, times they were threatened with guns on the street. Principal Kimberly Honnick asked the crowd to remember Malik Bullock, who was a 16-year-old junior at Barringer when he was shot to death in the South Ward last April.

“Too many lives have been lost way too soon,” she said. “It is time for us to end the violence in our schools.”

School districts across the country have grappled with how to respond to walkouts, which were scheduled to occur at 10 a.m. in hundreds of schools. The student-led action, which was planned in the wake of the Florida mass shooting, is intended to pressure Congress to enact stricter gun laws.

Officials in some districts — including some in New Jersey — reportedly threatened to punish students who joined in the protest. But in Newark, officials embraced the event as a civics lesson for students and a necessary reminder to lawmakers that gun violence is not limited to headline-grabbing tragedies like the one in Parkland — for young people in many cities, it’s a fact of life.

“If there’s any group of people that should be opposed to the amount of guns that reach into our communities, it’s us,” Baraka said, adding that Newark police take over 500 guns off the street each year. “People in cities like Newark, New Jersey — cities that are predominantly filled with black and brown individuals who become victims of gun violence.”

On Friday, Gregory sent families a letter saying that the district was committed to keeping students safe in the wake of the Florida shooting. All school staff will receive training in the coming weeks on topics including “active shooter drills” and evacuation procedures, the letter said.

But the note also said the district wanted to support “students’ right to make their voices heard on this important issue.” Schools were sent a curriculum for this week with suggested lessons on youth activism and the gun-control debate. While students were free to opt out of Wednesday’s protests, high schools were expected to allow students to walk out of their buildings at the designated time while middle schools were encouraged to organize indoor events.

In an interview, Gregory said gun violence in Newark is not confined to mass shootings: At least one student here is killed in a shooting each year, he said — though there have not been any so far this year. Rather than accept such violence as inevitable, Gregory said schools should teach students that they have the power to collectively push for changes — even if that means letting them walk out of class.

“Instead of trying of trying to resist it, we wanted to encourage it,” he said. “That’s what makes America what it is.”

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Students released one balloon for each of the 17 people killed at a high school in Parkland, Florida last month.

After Barringer’s protest, where people waved signs saying “Love,” “Enough,” and “No to gun violence, several ninth-graders described what it’s like to live in communities where guns are prevalent — despite New Jersey’s tight gun restrictions.

Jason Inoa said he was held up by someone claiming to have a gun as he walked home. Destiny Muñoz said her older brother was shot by a police officer while a cousin was recently gunned down in Florida. The Parkland massacre only compounded her fear that nowhere is safe.

“With school shootings, you feel terrified,” she said. “You feel the same way you do about being outside in the streets.”

Even as the students called for tougher gun laws, they were ambivalent about bringing more police into their schools and neighborhoods. They noted that the Black Lives Matter movement, which they said they recently read about in their freshmen social studies class, called attention to black and Hispanic people who were treated harshly or even killed by police officers.

Ninth-grader Malik Bolding said it’s important to honor the victims of school shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida. But the country should also mourn the people who are killed in everyday gun violence and heed the protesters who are calling for it to end, he added.

“Gun violence is gun violence — it doesn’t matter who got shot,” he said. “Everybody should be heard.”