NEWARK, N.J. – Twenty-two years after a state takeover, Newark officially regained control of its schools Thursday, a milestone hailed by local officials as the beginning of a new era for the state's largest city.
Mayor Ras Baraka, a former school principal and son of late poet and activist Amiri Baraka, pushed hard for local control since his election in 2014, but also recognized the efforts of students who organized marches and protests over the years.
"We thank them for their efforts, for their valor, for their risks," he said at a news conference at Science Park High School. "They felt their school system should be moving in a direction they agreed with.
"We are not giving the keys back," he added.
New Jersey became the first state in the country to approve the takeover of local school districts in the late 1980s, and eventually took control of school districts in Jersey City, Paterson and Camden in addition to Newark.
Jersey City, the first to be taken over in 1989, was approved to regain local control last year, and the state's control of Paterson is expected to end this year. Camden, which the state took over in 2013, remains under state control.
The takeover of Newark's schools in 1995 was prompted by years of financial mismanagement, academic underperformance and crumbling infrastructure. The district currently serves about 35,000 schoolchildren.
A 2002 study by Rutgers-Newark's Institute on Education Law and Policy criticized the state takeovers, calling them "ill-conceived and poorly executed," and said there was "no clear understanding about what the state's focus should be, or how and when they should be returned to local control."
The state's board of education voted in September to return local control to Newark, citing the district's improved performance. State-appointed schools superintendent Christopher Cerf was officially replaced by an interim superintendent Thursday until Newark's school board chooses a full-time replacement.
Newark is among 20 cities that remain in the running to be the home of Amazon's second headquarters and the estimated 50,000 jobs it could bring.
"We need to make sure we have people ready for those jobs," Baraka told students Thursday.