In what local officials are calling an historic moment, the New Jersey Board of Education voted unanimously on Wednesday to restore nearly complete control over the Jersey City school district to local authorities.
“We could not be more excited about this opportunity,” said Dr. Marcia Lyles, superintendent of schools. “This is an affirmation of everything we’ve been working towards for the past several years. We’re looking forward to regaining full control.”
The state assumed management of the Jersey City 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.”
Mayor Steven Fulop and Superintendent Marcia Lyles joined state Commissioner of Education David Hespe in Trenton on Wednesday for the vote that returned two components of the Jersey City school system back to control of the city’s Board of Education.
The state had previously returned school governance and finance back the local government. The state will retain control of school instruction, which, according to Lyles, will likely be restored to the district in spring 2016.
“This is an affirmation of everything we’ve been working towards for the past several years. We’re looking forward to regaining full control.” – Dr. Marcia Lyles
This assessment process, completed every three years, breaks down school management into five categories: instruction and program, personnel, fiscal management, operations management, and governance.
“This takes a lot of work to compile,” Lyles said in a City Hall conference room during an interview that included Mayor Fulop, local Board of Education President Vidya Gangadin, and Catherine Coyle, a special assistant to the state education commissioner.
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.
Lyles said the district is working to resolve the remaining issue and hopes the district will regain full control of curriculum shortly.
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.
While the district still faces problems such as a fall off in eighth grade test results in 2014 and a drop in the high school graduation rate, Lyles said the district made gains on local assessments in the 28,000-student school district.
In a report issued to the Jersey City Board of Education earlier this year, Lyles pointed to significant improvement in this area. Based on advances, the district asked the state to remove a number of Jersey City schools from at-risk status.
“After almost three decades of state management, control of our public schools is returning where it should be – home,” said Fulop. “Jersey City has earned this opportunity. Our school system has seen promising improvement that reflects the hard work of many dedicated educators.”
Fulop credits Lyles
While he was still a councilman, Fulop, along with educational allies, successfully helped elect a controlling majority on the city school board.
After conducting a nationwide search, the new board appointed Lyles as superintendent in 2012.
“Dr. Lyles is one of the best,” said Gangadin, who indicated that 2012 was a positive turning point for the school district on this account.
Fulop said the future is bright, and the district looked forward to being treated the way most other school districts in the state are. Jersey City, however, currently receives $418 million annually in state school aid with about $110 million raised for schools from local taxes.
Lyles said the restoration of control will do much towards improving public perception of Jersey City.
“Our goal is to make Jersey City into a destination,” Lyles said.
Although Jersey City’s McNair Academy ranks as one of the top 10 high schools in the state, Lyles said this not enough.
“We want to make sure that all over our students get an outstanding education, not just at McNair, but in all our schools,” she said.
“This is hugely important to a city that is the fastest growing city in the state,” Fulop said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.