Jersey City BOE announces search committee for new superintendent of schools

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The Jersey City Board of Education convened yesterday for its second of three public hearings for the public to voice their input on who should be the district’s next superintendent of schools.

Yesterday’s meeting was held at William Dickinson High School and the third and final public meeting for a new superintendent will be next Thursday, June 20, at Public School No. 26 at 6 p.m.

The public turnout was unusually light, but a couple of speakers threw their support behind Acting Superintendent Franklin Walker.

They questioned the board as to why are they conducting a national search when Walker has spent nearly 40 years in the Jersey City Public Schools system and is a proven educator.

One of those speakers, Robert Knapp, reminded the board that Walker had the opportunity to become superintendent over five years ago after the retirement of Dr. Charlie Epps, but the position instead went to Dr. Marcia Lyles.

“It seems like deja vu all over again. Six years ago when we stood, support, side-by-side,  shoulder to shoulder at number 11 school at this board meeting. We stood side-by-side and supported the very honorable Franklin Walker,” began Knapp.

“We stand here again today, but only with a different atmosphere, a different era. We have our own born and bred person who, an administrator, who came up as a teacher, up through the administrative ranks right here in the city of Jersey City.

“There’s been some talk of bringing in an outside agency to conduct a national search. Stop. We implore you to put an end to that. Why are we looking past Jersey City, and looking past our very own Franklin Walker?”

Charles Mainor, a former assemblyman for the 31st Legislative District, seconded Knapp’s endorsement for Walker without naming him by name to be the next superintendent because of his long tenure within the city’s public school system.

“I do want to be honest … this is a very serious matter. We have to make sure that we do it right this time. As far as the search, ok, I think we should search for the best person who is suitable to serve and represent our children. But I think that search will stop right within the board of education. By bringing in someone from the outside, do they really understand what our children are going through?,” Mainor questioned.

Mainor is one of six individuals thus far who has been asked to be part of a search and evaluation committee that will name the next superintendent.

The committee will consist of a total of 14 individuals, including BOE president Sudhan Thomas, Trustees Marilyn Roman and Mussab Ali, as well as Vice President Lorenzo Richardson, and five parents from within the district.

The proposal to include parents of children in the Jersey City public school system seems to be in response to recent criticism that the board wasn’t incorporating more people from the community to have a say in the superintendent selection.

A letter to the editor yesterday expressed concern that the board’s search thus far has been an “aggressively hurried process.”

According to the letter, the parent council leaders feel that they’ve been left out.

In an on-camera interview after the meeting ended, we asked for Thomas’s reaction.

“Are we being aggressive in our approach: we have to be because this is the most important thing that a board does. This process has been in play for five months. We are going to take into account every input, every communication, every detail so that we take this forward,” Thomas began.

“But I think it’s important to look at the history and how the city feels about the previous search, and what we’ve inherited, and we have to be very careful to ensure that those mistakes aren’t repeated again, but at the same time taking into account every voice so that when we finally complete this process, five years from now nobody looks back and feels that they were not included in this process. That’s the responsibility of this board.”

In his president’s report that was read on June 6th, Thomas elaborates on the city’s dislike for the previous superintendent selection process and the deficits they have since inherited.

“The process [back in 2013-2013] will be remembered as the dark days of the JCBOE. A small group of folks held secret meetings at an empty house in Downtown and hijacked the course of the future of the JCBOE, a course, which, five years hence, has led to a $120 million deficit, $750 million of underfunding by the state without a challenge and $1 billion in underfunding for JCBOE capital expenses.”

We followed up the interview with Thomas to learn who else will be serving on the search and evaluation committee.

“For example, there’s Suzanne Mack, a former JCBOE Board President, I personally take a lot of counsel from Sue, and there’s Angel Valentin, another former JCBOE trustee … these two individuals have credentials that surpasses a lot of the board members that we have on the board today,” started Thomas.

“There’s also Charles Mainor, activist and former assemblyman, and Ahmed Shadeed, a leader in the Islamic community in Jersey City, as well as three more spots for parents. We’re going to balance this out with community leaders and parents so that this is an all inclusive evaluation committee,” said Thomas.

The meeting streamed live on our Facebook page and can be viewed below: