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NJSBA on Zuckerberg Gift, Newark School Reorganization
TRENTON, September 24, 2010 —The $100 million foundation, created by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to improve education in the state’s largest school district, is a positive development for Newark’s schoolchildren, the executive director of the New Jersey School Boards Association commented today. However, efforts to reorganize the city’s public schools that result from the private funding must include community input through a local board of education structure, she said.
“After 15 years, state operation of the Newark Public Schools has not succeeded in turning the tide academically,” said Marie S. Bilik, NJSBA executive director. “When the city’s children are as likely to drop out as to complete high school and when the vast majority of schools fall seriously behind state standards, action is essential.
“Reform is far more likely to succeed with community participation in developing the strategies,” she continued. “The local board of education structure can be an effective tool in providing community participation.”
Newark is one of two state-operated school systems. Under that structure, the commissioner of education, a member of the governor’s cabinet, appoints the city’s “state district superintendent,” a position that carries all administrative and final policy-making authority for the city’s schools. A provisional board of education, elected by the citizens, is permitted to set policy and perform other functions of a school board, but the state-district superintendent holds all decision-making authority and may veto any board action.
Newark has been under state takeover since 1995.
The $100 million gift was announced by Governor Christie, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Zuckerberg on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show this afternoon. Plans to administer the funds would place more power over the city’s public schools with the mayor’s office, according to published reports
Full details of the Christie-Booker-Zuckerberg plan have not been released, although newspaper reports indicate that the governor would delegate the state’s authority to hire the district’s new superintendent to Booker. Further changes to the school district’s current governance structure would require legislation.
In an interview published today in the online publication TechCrunch, Facebook founder Zuckerberg cited reforms, such as closing underperforming schools, opening more charter schools and increasing the placement of college graduates serving in the Teach for America program in the Newark’s classrooms. Merit pay has also been discussed in the news media accounts of the Facebook gift.
“Major changes in school district governance and organization require input from everyone affected—particularly, students and parents—as well as taxpayers and the board of education elected to represent them,” said NJSBA’s Bilik.
“Local school board governance can be an effective tool for reform; it’s the process in place in our state’s local school districts, and it has resulted in some of the nation’s highest performing schools.”
The New Jersey School Boards Association is a federation of 588 local boards of education and includes 44 charter school associate members. NJSBA advocates the interests of school districts, trains local school board members, and provides resources for the advancement of public education.