Jersey City public schools to regain local control

State education department cites significant progress in district improvements

In what local officials are calling an historic moment, the New Jersey Board of Education voted unanimously on July 5 to begin the process that could restore complete control over the Jersey City school district to local authorities.
This is the final phase of an action started in October 2015.
The state assumed management of the school system in 1989, citing a 75-page report that accused the district of “academic bankruptcy.” In 1989, the New York Times reported that Jersey City schools were “crippled by political patronage and nepotism, weak administration and management, fiscal irregularities, [and] indifference.”
On July 5, the state Board of Education voted to adopt Commissioner Kimberley Harrington’s proposal to initiate the state’s withdrawal “from partial intervention” in Jersey City’s public schools and to allow the district “to develop a full transition plan” that would reestablish the control by the local school board.
With that vote, almost 30 years of state control will come to an end and Jersey City will be the first New Jersey district under partial state intervention to regain local control.
In 1989, New Jersey became the first state to take both educational and administrative control of a local school district citing the mismanagement and low performance of Jersey City’s schools.
School officials said that the restoration of local control acknowledges the significant improvement the district has made, particularly in the last five years under the direction of Superintendent Dr. Marcia Lyles.
When the state took control of the district, less than 60 percent of its high school students graduated. In 2016 the district’s four-year graduation rate was close to 75 percent and though the 2017 total has not been finalized, the district expects to surpass the 75 percent mark, officials said.
“The members of the Jersey City Public Schools community have worked tirelessly to ensure that every child is able to achieve his or her fullest potential. Today’s action acknowledges that hard work and signals that we are on the right path,” Lyles said.
Echoing the recognition that the return of local control represents the efforts of a broad community, Mayor Steven M. Fulop said, “Today is a huge milestone for Jersey City and proof that the years of hard work by parents, teachers, educators and residents who demanded accountability has paid off.” Looking ahead, he added, “We know there is still more work to do to continue to improve our schools and we will work side by side with the superintendent and the Board of Education to ensure that all students have access to a quality education.”

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“It has been a long road to recovery, but I am proud to announce that, as of July 5, Jersey City has finally regained full control of our public school district after three decades of state control.” – Mayor Steven Fulop

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District met criteria in five key areas

In preparing for the restoration, the state Department of Education evaluated Jersey City’s readiness to reclaim local control using the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC).
This assessment process, completed every three years, breaks down school management into five categories: instruction and program, personnel, fiscal management, operations management, and governance.
In 2015, the state restored to local control a number of key areas including school governance and finance, but withheld control of school instruction.
Since 2012, the district has made notable gains in student performance and graduation rates as well as reductions in drop-outs and suspensions.
The district has also expanded Advanced Placement programs and Career and Technical Education Pathways, developed innovative instructional programs and significantly increased the number STEM opportunities for students at all grade levels. These efforts helped the district raise its most recent QSAC score in Instruction and Programs to 90 (out of 100).
In June, the district was informed that it had met the requirements to be certified in all areas on its most recent NJQSAC review, paving the way for full local control to be returned.
However, the state Board of Education still needed to pass resolutions to return Instruction and Programs and local control to the Jersey City Board of Education. The most recent vote taken completed this process.
“It has been a long road to recovery, but I am proud to announce that, as of yesterday, Jersey City has finally regained full control of our public school district after three decades of state control,” Fulop said. “There are many partners to congratulate on this effort, including the Superintendent of Schools Dr. Lyles, the Board of Education members over the years, the many teachers, administrators, and school staff that have worked in the district, and of course, the involved parents throughout Jersey City.”
Fulop noted that eight years ago his team started getting involved in Board of Education elections with the hope of electing board members who were focused on progressive leadership and finding a new superintendent to lead the schools.
“At the time, our ultimate goal was to regain local control of our district, which is why [this] achievement is so incredibly significant to us,” Fulop said. “Each and every day, our city’s teachers, administrators, and parents put Jersey City’s students first, and I am proud that the work our community has done to improve our schools has been recognized.
In an interview earlier this year, Lyles said the district has concentrated on upgrading practices that improved efficiency and effectiveness within the school district. She said this report helped the state Board of Education to decide the district was capable of resuming control over its operations.
Under Lyles’ watch, the school district has seen improvement, reducing the dropout rate, and increased advancement for students dealing with English as a second language.

Al Sullivan may be reached at asullivan@hudsonreporter.com.

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