By David Cruz
“I believe it’s time to begin a new relationship,” Education Commissioner David Hespe announced today.
The Jersey City school system had cleared a fourth and penultimate hurdle in the marathon that is the state’s role managing the Jersey City school system. At today’s state Board of Education meeting Hespe announced that the board was returning local control to Jersey City schools in the areas of personnel and operations, leaving just the area of instruction and program to be cleared.
“I will be recommending that we create a working group in Jersey City to focus on this issue of instruction and program,” he said. “And so this new relationship, I think, also has to have a cautionary tone that we need to make certain that these issues that led the state takeover never reoccur as we focus on this last area.”
Cautionary tone aside, Jersey City Mayor Syteve Fulop and Superintendent Marcia Lyles made the trip down to Trenton this morning to focus on what they say will mean the return of full local control – after 26 years – this spring.
“This is the most significant step in our education system in the last 30 years,” said the mayor. “You got to really give credit where credit’s due; it’s Dr. Lyles, her entire team, the great teachers in Jersey City. When the state took over Jersey City it was the first state takeover in the country. It was because of political corruption, a lot of challenges in the school district. We’ve come a tremendously long way, so today is great!”
The Board heaped praise on Superintendent Marcia Lyles, who was appointed in 2012. She leads a system of 29,000 students with a budget of more than $660 million. Today, Lyles was low-key on what many see as a historic day.
“We’ve put in the structures that we can continue the work with our schools to improve our schools, child by child, classroom by classroom, school by school,” she said. “Not every school is where we need to be, but we’ve put in additional resources. We’ve built capacity among our leadership. Our teachers are working like heck to make sure that they have the skills to have our students succeed.”
The teacher’s union, which has had a rocky relationship with Lyles since she arrived, applauded today’s announcement, but maintained its distance from the superintendent.
“We haven’t had too much interaction with her,” said Jersey City Education Association President Ron Greco. “She took nearly 30 months to complete a contract and it’s still not done. We had to go to arbitration just two weeks ago because she intended to strip out language that she agreed to in negotiations, so we certainly don’t have a positive relationship with her.”
It was 26 years ago, almost to the day, that the state took the unprecedented step of taking over a school system. Fulop, who successfully backed school board candidates that supported Lyles’ leadership, says he believes total local control will be a reality here before this school year ends.