Newark schools open under local control for first time in 30 years

NEWARK, N.J. -- Tuesday marked a first day of school that Newark public schools hasn’t seen in three decades, and school and community leaders are doing the equivalent of a victory lap.

Superintendent of Schools Roger Leon and Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka will return to the schools they attended as children growing up in Newark to welcome kids back to class.

For three decades, public schools in the city have been under state control. At their lowest point, about 50 percent of the students would graduate high school.

Now, after decades of failures, the school system is again under local control.

Baraka, Leon and 1,000 Newark public school employees will spend Tuesday morning welcoming children back. They’ll do it Wednesday, too, at all 64 schools in the district.

This is the first time employees have been given the morning off to visit schools and welcome back and encourage students and parents.

That comes after weeks of some 6,000 employees phoning Newark parents imploring then to make sure their kids come to school every day.

Tueday is being hailed as SANKOFA Day in Newark. SANKOFA is the Ghanaian belief and practice of returning to your roots, “go back and get it,” and “it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”

In addition to the superintendent and mayor, new principals in Newark, most of whom attended Newark Public Schools, will welcome students at the school they attended.

According to Leon, the plan is to stop at nothing and to use every means necessary to get our children to school on the first day, the second day and every day.

"We have the power of our Mayor, the power of our community and now the power of our employees to encourage, inspire and get excited about education and school in Newark. We want to thank all of our community partners who have joined us in this initiative, like the Prudential Center and Newark City Hall who have used their exterior electronic signs to send positive messages for the first day of school," he said.