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Congratulations are due to the administrators of the Jersey City Public Schools and the city Board of Education for reaching a milestone last week that was decades in the making: the return of full local control of the city’s public school system.
The current superintendent of schools, Norma Fernandez, and board president, Gerald Lyons, had the honor of being in those leadership roles at the moment the state Department of Education handed over the reins. Their most recent predecessors, Superintendents Franklin Walker and Marcia Lyles and BOE Presidents Mussab Ali and Lorenzo Richardson, should also share in the praise since the district met significant benchmarks during their terms.
Much hard work and dedication both locally and at the state level led to last week’s announcement.
The unprecedented state takeover of the Jersey City schools in 1989 was a painful, but necessary, black eye for the district and the city.
Its most painful truth was that no one in leadership roles really cared about children, especially not the children of poor families who had no school choice.
The shame of that time can never be forgiven and must always remain as a warning that it can happen again, and oh, so easily.
The transition report that accompanied last week’s milestone laid out a series of accountability metrics that showed great strides in how the school system is governed; instruction and programming; and fiscal management.
To be sure, there are still areas where the district fell short of best practices so there’s no rest ahead for Fernandez, Lyons and whoever succeeds Lyons after he retires at the end of this year.
The school district is a billion-dollar operation paid for by taxpayers – both property owners through local tax bills and anyone who works in New Jersey through state income taxes.
We want our money’s worth.
More important, we want every child in our schools to get an education that will serve as a springboard to a fulfilling life.
The open secret laid bare by the state takeover was that longstanding political interference and unabashed greed were lining insiders’ pockets while children whose families couldn’t afford private or parochial schools were falling through not cracks, but chasms.
Anecdotally, we know that the schools are not free of politics today. And we know that not all schools are thriving and not all students are rising to their potential.
Because of that — with celebration past and the state no longer a backstop — administrators and school board members must work even harder to raise up the children in their charge.
Voters, too, must become more cognizant of the power they wield by becoming familiar with the candidates and issues and then heading to the polls on Nov. 8.
With all the minutiae involved with running a billion-dollar school district, leaders must always have the ability and humility to step back and remember that their decisions will ultimately trickle down to individual classrooms where future paths are charted.
To those like Mayor Fulop who greeted the return of full control with “mixed feelings,” we say that viewing the glass as half empty while dreaming of taking over the Board of Education does a disservice.
Those who’ve watched the journey for longer appreciate how much commitment and courage it took to get to this point. The extent of that accomplishment should not be dismissed as easily as the mayor does.
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