The Newark School Board election results are in and the winners are Kim Gaddy, Tave Padilla, and Leah Owens.
These results are notable in two ways. First, the state will likely cede control of the N.J.’s largest school district within the next year or so, and the Board will assume autonomy for the first time in two decades. No longer “advisory,” the nine members (three seats are up every year) will appoint Superintendent Chris Cerf’s successor, set the tone for collaboration with city and state officials, and be accountable to the public in all educational, infrastructural, and fiscal matters.
Secondly, this election marks a coming-out party for a new organization called Parent Coalition for Excellent Education. PC2E aspires to change the nature of school politics by amplifying the voices of parents, particularly those who support school options for their children, regardless of system of governance, in chronically-failing districts. According to an article last year in NJ Spotlight, PC2E’s transformative mission is supported by U.S. Senator Cory Booker, N.J. Senator Teresa Ruiz, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, and Senator Sandra Cunningham, who chairs the Senate’s higher education committee. (Sen. Booker is Newark’s former mayor; Sens. Ruiz and Cunningham are Newark natives.)
Typically the voices of these parents are heard incidentally: not through elections but because they enroll their children in Newark’s growing sector of public charter schools or they line up for scarce magnet school seats that, unlike charters, have rigorous admissions criteria. These parents walk the walk -- next year 40% of Newark’s schoolchildren will learn in charters because of rampant demand and magnets are full -- but they don’t have an apparatus to talk the talk. PC2E aims to provide that apparatus in order to counter the loud noise of anti-choice special interests, specifically NJEA and Newark Teachers Union, as well as allied groups like Save Our Schools-NJ and Education Law Center.
Those who support status quo schooling have loud megaphones. PC2E hopes to provide parents who support great schools with loud megaphones too. With amplification, organizers hope, parent voices will be formidable and make a substantial imprint on community politics.
Indeed, Newark Teachers Union endorsed one candidate, Carole Graves, who led the union for almost twenty years. She lost.
In its inaugural year, PC2E’s Action Fund, its C(4) arm, created a voter registration and get-out-the-vote campaign in all Newark’s five wards, with special attention to the South, West, and Central Wards. Gaddy, PC@E's candidate. is a former Newark School Board member, community leader, and (coincidentally, given the discovery of lead-tainted water) environmental expert who has served fifteen years at NJ Clean Water Action and other environmentally-oriented groups.
The concept of a "Unity Slate" is a new development in Newark politics, both municipal and educational. And right in PC2E’s wheelhouse of lessening divisiveness and focusing on schoolchildren. Historically various ward and civic leaders run their own slates, which is how Mayor Ras Baraka filled the Board in previous years with hand-picked supporters. This year, however, the Mayor saw virtue in acquiescence and settled for just choosing Owens.
Here's a statement issued last night by PC2E's Executive Director Muhammed Akil:
"For too long, Newark has been clamoring for quality public schools. Today, thanks to the work of three diverse candidates and organizations, like PC2E, the priorities of all Newark parents and the importance of public school options are taking center stage.
"This was a turning point election that showed the direct impact an organized voter registration effort, focused on empowering parents, can have on a City.
“Rather than focusing on differences, a community chose to rise together to address issues that unite us all - demanding quality public schools; promoting parent empowerment and the expansion of public school options; rejecting the school or prison pipeline, and electing school board leaders that are responsible, knowledgeable, and accountable.
"As seen in the election results, thousands of parents were galvanized into action and voted, many for the first time. District school parents and public charter parents came together not only to register to vote but to invest time in every Ward encouraging others to get involved.
“This election provided a voice to many parents who have traditionally not had one, and it is no accident that these results occurred on PC2E ‘s watch.
“PC2E and parents throughout the City have provided a wake-up call to the long-time defenders of the status quo. In the coming weeks and months, PC2E will continue to fight alongside Newark parents in support of all public schools – district charter, magnet, and community. PC2E will continue to prioritize our efforts in voter registration and policy education, we will continue to support the voice of all Newark parents, and most of all, we will not rest until every Newark family is provided public school options that guarantee high-quality classrooms for every child.