By Marion A. Bolden
Recently, the elected Newark Public School Advisory Board unanimously approved a resolution of “no confidence” in Newark’s state-appointed superintendent of schools. Subsequently, the Newark City Council voted unanimously for an independent evaluation of recently implemented educational initiatives and asked for a moratorium on all new initiatives until its analysis is complete. Not long after the council’s vote, the Essex County freeholders voted unanimously for an evaluation, as well.
Each of these actions is unprecedented and truly astounding — a clarion call. We need to chart a new course in the Newark Public Schools reform efforts, a course of communication and collaboration.
As former superintendent of Newark Public Schools, I am quite aware of the planning, coordination, outreach and time required to implement any significant reform or restructuring initiative. When reforms are implemented with little or no input from the community, there is going to be a level of frustration and lack of ownership because there is no buy-in. These conditions do not bode well for the sustainability of any reform, regardless of its intentions.
Decisions that involve the opening and closing of schools, school choice, elimination of staff and the sale of historic school buildings should allow an opportunity for the community to have input. Shared decision-making can be a longer and sometimes contentious process; however, working together for a common purpose gets us to the outcome we are all trying to achieve.
There were occasions in my tenure as superintendent when I moved so quickly to resolve what I perceived to be a crisis or time-sensitive issue that I did not advise or seek input from the parents impacted by my decisions. It was a mistake. I soon learned that you must allow for timely communication and collaboration with all stakeholders.
Almost always, our collaborative efforts resulted in changes we owned together. At the very least, they resulted in changes we could all live with, changes made in the best interest of children.
Parents have a right to expect a seat at the table with those charged with leading the school district. It does not matter whether there is local or state governance. Concerns of parents, students and the greater community must be considered.
Elected officials have a responsibility to represent their constituency. When these officials express concerns about the most important institution in the city, they are simply doing their jobs. We do not always agree. Disagreeing or questioning does not automatically make one’s actions politically motivated.
We all want what is best for our children. However, any change that dramatically alters the way in which services are to be delivered to children requires ownership from the stakeholders — those impacted by the change or reform. What a great opportunity it might have been if parents, community and district staff had been involved in the Newark Public Schools’ reform process.
Collaboration is a necessary prerequisite to successful reform. Unfortunately, collaboration is not taking place and disregard for the opinions of others has become the prevailing attitude. This sad condition will continue to exist until either the state returns local control to the citizens of Newark, or those charged with implementing reform begin to view the people of the district not as part of the problem, but a necessary ingredient for the solution.
Marion A. Bolden is former superintendent of Newark Public Schools.
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