Jersey City Superintendent: District’s Biggest Strength is Diversity

The Jersey City School District made history back in 1989 when it became the first one taken over by the state. Six months ago, the state restored some of those powers to local officials. Jersey City Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marcia Lyles told NJTV News Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the diversity of the Jersey City schools is one of the city’s biggest strengths.

According to Lyles, since she has been in the position, even though officials do not have control over certain areas, operations haven’t been any different.

Lyles said that she was attracted to the Jersey City schools because of the size and the possibilities. She said that having come originally from New York, which was huge and complex, she saw a great deal of potential in addressing the city’s issues and finding some solutions.

Lyles said that many of the challenges faced in Jersey City schools are similar to those faced in the New York schools, such as student achievement being a priority. She said that the biggest difference is the degree of diversity that is in Jersey City schools and she thinks that makes it a lot more doable to address issues, in terms of the broad spectrum of students and families working together.

Lyles said that she has heard that Jersey City is the most diverse city in the nation, or in the top five or six. She said that the pubic schools are very diverse and there are some schools where there are high concentrations of African-American or Latino students, but overall 38 percent of students are Latinos and 30 percent are African-American. She also said there is a huge Asian population, as well a Caucasian population.

She said that a sensitivity to that diversity and an understanding of the different cultures, needs and issues could be a challenge but it is a really big strength because the district has so much to pull from.

Lyles said that the equity issue is the biggest challenge, which is making sure that while officials are looking for excellence that they give those students and those schools that need more help to achieve the kind of help that they need and access to the resources that they need. She said that does not mean that all schools get the same resources but it means that they need to target their resources and target their support so that those schools’ leaders who are facing additional challenges can get that additional support.

The graduation rate is 67 percent, said Lyles. She said that she has placed a major emphasis on the graduation rate.

Jersey City is also part of the Seamless Summer Feeding Program. Lyles said the district is opening up elementary schools and middle schools, as well as a couple high schools, to feed children breakfast and lunch throughout the summer, while summer school is in session.