by Eric Dawson

In previous posts, the Newark Report has traced at length some of the unique challenges we have faced in confronting the issue of education.

Whether it is our battle with state control; the disruptive and childlike behavior of NTU President and Kindergartener-At-Large John Abeigon; or the apparent lack of transparency and leadership during the Cami Anderson-era.

We are now about six weeks until the SAB election – and this is a good moment to take a step back and review some recent developments.

Yesterday, three candidates for SAB – Kim Gaddy, Leah Owens, and Tave Padilla – formally announced in a press conference a rather historic and unheralded “Unity Slate,” bringing together three well-recognized leaders to fill the three open seats on the SAB this year.

What is remarkable about this announcement is that while all three of the candidates obviously like each other personally, each one has different views and experiences in the area of education. What seems to be the common thread that unites Kim, Leah and Tave are not issues or even ideologies, just the strong desire to change the direction and discourse of how we do business when it comes to education in Newark.

Since creating The Newark Report a few months ago, I have received tremendous feedback from the community. Quite frankly, much, much more than I ever anticipated. Easily, the most compelling issue our readership is interested in is this Unity Slate.

As mentioned, the Slate was formally announced just yesterday, so I think it is fair for us to be a bit skeptical, considering all we have been through as a community. And while my judgments on the three candidates will develop over the next couple of weeks, there are some thoughts for all of us to consider.

Before attending a local community event earlier this week, I had the opportunity to ask Kim Gaddy what this Unity Slate is all about.

As many know, Kim is a life-long Newarker. She is a graduate of Weequahic High School, a mother of three Newark kids, she has served a variety of functions in City government – and even already served on Newark Board of Education and Newark School Advisory Board. On top of that, she is very smart and in fact, one of the nicest people I know in Newark. She is easily one of the most qualified candidates we could ask to serve on SAB and her deep focus has always shown a commitment to the future of Newark and our children.

I asked Kim Gaddy straight up – why is she doing this?

Kim could have easily led her own SAB slate and would have likely proven to be more than simply a contender.

Isn’t she compromising her own positions by joining this Slate, I asked?

Her answer, I must admit, left me both speechless, and as a long time supporter of hers, proud.

“Eric, I love Newark. After all we have been through, it’s time we come together. This is what is best for our City.”

It’s really hard for anyone, especially me, to be critical of a statement like that. And it is undeniable that what we have witnessed over the last two months has the potential to be transformative for the City and the children attending Newark public schools.

– More Newark parents are now actively engaging, sharing their voice in op-ed pieces and public meetings.

– Mayor Baraka recently forged a new alliance to support greater funding for Newark’s public education system – that included Shavar Jefferies’ Democrats for Education Reform, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, BAEO, PC2E, and Teach for America New Jersey.

– And now we have a group of candidates that say they’re coming together, not to support any one specific ideology, but to ensure – even guarantee – that all voices in our City are heard.

As any reader of The Newark Report knows, we have had our differences with Mayor Baraka and will continue to call out areas of disagreement. But it’s my hope that this blog can also showcase some of the great, positive things happening in our City.

The SAB Unity Slate could not have been created without Mayor Baraka, local education organizations and many of the community and local elected leaders that attended yesterday’s Unity Slate press conference. Each has seemingly committed to put aside their own ideology, and has decided to do what is best for our City and our kids. This is certainly encouraging news.

Whether we support the Unity Slate is something we all need to think about for ourselves. But as we reflect on the positive change we are seeing in the City and the promise and potential of this Unity Slate, let’s not forget that there are still people who will look to disrupt and marginalize things for no other reason than to defend their personal interests.

We showcased some of the interesting crybaby tactics of John Abegion, and the unchecked assumptions of people like Julia Sass Rubin.

But now – already, Elizabeth, New Jersey’s own Bob Braun has inserted himself against any attempts to unify the City, claiming that Mayor Baraka has “surrendered” and the current work being done to bring people together has been a “betrayal.”

Let’s be clear. Newarkers want unity.

It is laughable – and even offensive – that Braun, who sent his own child to the $35K a year Oak Knoll private school in gilded Summit, New Jersey, would have the audacity to attempt to discredit and destroy Newarkers who are attempting to create a better discourse.

We have seen progress in the last six weeks, real progress. Now, with six more weeks to go until the SAB election, the question is whether we are ready, willing and able for more real progress, or more of what we were accustomed to during the Cami Anderson-era.

At this moment, let us all acknowledge and carefully consider the positive turn of events we have seen in recent weeks in our City.

Let’s make a point to talk directly to all of the candidates of this Unity Slate and hear first hand what their hopes and intensions are.

And most of all, regardless of where we come down, let’s be sure to vote on April 19th. 

Regardless, I think we can all agree with Kim Gabby on at least one thing – “we all love Newark.”


This story is republished from The Newark Report.

Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.


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