‘I’m the boss.’ León shakes up the system in his first year — and promises bigger changes to come

Welcome to Chalkbeat Newark's weekly newsletter! Before the Fourth of July holiday, read about the new superintendent’s busy first year, a school leadership shakeup, and much more.

— Patrick Wall, senior reporter

The big story

Roger Leon

The question everyone was asking after Roger León became Newark’s first locally chosen superintendent in more than two decades was how much he would change. The answer: a lot.

Monday marked León’s first year at the helm of the district where he went to school and spent his entire career. In that year, he quickly began to axe recent policies he deemed failures and restore past ones he considered effective. Some district veterans cheered the changes, while other educators scrambled to keep up.

He also tried to reframe the conversation about Newark’s schools — a more symbolic, but perhaps equally important change. State-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson famously described Newark schools as broken and in desperate need of an overhaul. By contrast, León calls them “poised for greatness.”

Yet León has not made a clean break from the recent past. He’s echoed Anderson in calling for teachers and administrators to be held accountable for improving student outcomes. And he’s embraced school choice, defending an online enrollment system that allows families to apply to traditional and charter schools in one place.

But after a year of big changes and even bigger promises, Newark residents and state policymakers say they are ready to start seeing results. 

“Right now, the honeymoon is good,” one Newark parent said. But, “this time next year, it’ll be different kinds of questions being asked.”

Read the story here.

What to watch

What else is happening around Newark schools.

Several Newark schools will lose vice principals, get new leaders amid staffing shakeup

  • What to know: The principals of at least six Newark schools are departing and dozens of vice principals are leaving their posts, according to school board documents.
  • The changes were approved at last week’s board meeting without any public discussion or replacements being named.
  • At least 35 vice principals are exiting their roles; most will not be replaced.
  • The shakeup is part of León’s effort to slim down the corps of school administrators, which he said will save the district money.
  • The board also voted to give León unilateral power to make personnel decisions over the summer.
  • One activist said at Tuesday’s board meeting: “You’re not making things transparent to the public as far as governance.”
  • One big question: When will the district announce replacements for the departing school leaders?

Newark news & events

Local education reporting and upcoming events.

‘Safe Passage’…

  • A program is expanding that helps get students to school safely — and also gets them through difficult personal situations. Chalkbeat

STEM scholars… 

  • Three Newark students were selected to attend NJIT on full scholarships. Chalkbeat

Change at the top…

  • Nicole T. Johnson is rocketing from her position as a North Ward principal to the district’s new deputy superintendent. Chalkbeat

Enrollment updates…

  • Newark families will soon be able to enroll at school on their phones and get enrollment help in their neighborhoods. Chalkbeat

On the rise…

  • Newark public school enrollment is on the upswing, with enrollment topping 52,000 for the first time in at least three decades. TAPinto Newark

Summer scheduling…

  • The City of Newark is offering activities that blend learning and fun to keep students engaged during their summer break. TAPinto Newark
  • Summer school started July 1 for some Newark Public Schools students.

Cops and college…

  • Four Newark seniors were awarded $1,000 scholarships from Essex County Cops 4 Kids to help them cover college costs. TAPinto Newark

News from Trenton & beyond

Reporting on statewide education issues that matter for Newark. 

New Jersey budget…

  • Gov. Phil Murphy signed off on the 2020 fiscal year budget on Sunday. Here’s how it will impact New Jersey schools. Patch, NJ Spotlight

School safety…

  • A new report shows that violence, substance abuse, and bullying increased in New Jersey public schools in the last year.

School discipline…

  • After this school district started sending students to group talks instead of suspending them, fights decreased while test scores improved.

Career training…

  • An Essex County juvenile detention center’s school is giving students vocational training and getting them certified in construction skills. NJTV

Rethinking rankings…

  • An increasing number of New Jersey schools are getting rid of class rankings.

Busing debate…

  • A school segregation and busing expert weighs on former Vice President Joe Biden’s remarks from last week’s Democratic debate. Chalkbeat

Extra credit

Want to showcase your school or an upcoming education event? Send me photos and details.

Photo credit: Twitter/@CityofNewarkNJ