HOPE vs. HOSTILITY – Which Toni Baskerville Will Show Up to the Next School Board Meeting?

Let’s begin the Spring season by congratulating Toni in becoming the next President of the Newark School Board.

At this moment, as the Newark Report has previously posted, this is truly an amazing moment for the City.  Based on the leadership of three very different Newarkers – Kim Gaddy, Tave Padilla, and Leah Owens – we all witnessed history during last Tuesday’s election.  And from the work that has been going on since January a new breeze is finally blowing in Newark, a unifying force that has brought great optimism to many in recent days.  Newark’s parents, community leaders, and elected officials are encouraged by the results of Tuesday’s election. When it comes to education of our kids, Unity has finally overtaken strife.

As one city employee told me a few days after the election, “I really have never seen anything like this.  Considering everything that has gone on in education over the last few years, unity and hope is exactly what the City needed. What a contrast in leadership from just a few years ago.”

And if you look at the data, it seems fair to believe that Newark Parents agreed – they voted in record numbers.

There were almost twenty-seven thousand total votes casts in 2016 for SAB candidates, an increase of over 12,000 from just two years ago.

But now the campaign is over.

There are no more speeches, no more mailers, no more door knocking, no more debates…and now, a new Board President has been elected….

So the question that needs to be asked is where do we go from here?

…and that question falls directly on the shoulders of one person, the new Board President, Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson.

I have received reports from campaign staff and even the candidates that Toni was instrumental in debate prep, in supporting the slate publicly, and informally advising on the message and priorities of the Slate.  Most of all, she even served as a needed moderator – and at times an enforcer – on issues that popped up during the campaign.  She helped keep the Unity Slate together.  So in many ways, as a former Newark Teacher’s Union leader, Toni even went against her own Union and perhaps her belief system, to serve something much higher and more important.

Toni’s actions have helped create this new, positive atmosphere in Newark – and, for the lack of a better word, truly created HOPE for the parents of Newark.

As we saw in the election returns and at the Board swearing-in this week, this HOPE has resonated throughout the community and does far more for our children than the extremist comments that have controlled the education debate for far too long.

Every parent in our City has been touched by the positive change – regardless of whether they are a district, charter, magnet or community school parent.  And this is a very good thing.  HOPE is a good thing.  Civility and respectful dialog is a good thing.

HOPE vs. HOSTILITY – Which Toni Baskerville Will Show Up to the Next School Board Meeting?

The positive atmosphere we now see in Newark is in stark contrast to what we witnessed a short time ago, when Toni last served as President of the School Board. Granted, as we have previously pointed those were very difficult time for the City.

Specifically, it was an election year and school board meetings were a consistent, poisonous and bloody battleground for anyone who wanted a personal bullhorn and soapbox to spew verbal barbarism.

Under Toni’s previous leadership, the School Board meetings were a national embarrassment.

  • Valuable presentations were often cut short because of screaming and indecent heckling.
  • Overall disrespectful behavior was constant.
  • Some running for elected office were provided special opportunities to use the public meeting to garner unfair political support.
  • There were charges from many in our community, whether fair or unfair, that Toni abused her power as Board President to orchestrate demonstrations that only represented a small fraction of our City.
  • Most of all, and this is undeniable, there was a constant fear from many parents not to attend these meetings, let alone speak publicly.

It is our hope that the Toni Baskerville that shows up as President of the 2016-17 School Board will be the same person who helped drive the Unity Slate.

There should be no place in School Board meetings where people have the ability to disparage each other.  As the Unity Slate showed us, we can disagree without being disagreeable.  We can debate issues without pitting parents against each other.

This is a moment we can start working together to actually address issues – like the lead in our water, budget deficits, and ensuring more state funding gets into our classrooms.

As Toni takes back the gavel, our HOPE at The Newark Report is that we can build on what began with the Unity Slate.  That an environment can continue where more parents, not less, can feel comfortable sharing their voice.

Newarkers HOPE that President Baskerville-Richardson brings needed stateswoman-like leadership to the Board this time around. We HOPE President Baskerville-Richardson remembers that children are disrespectful when they see adults being disrespectful.

Parents, Board members and the new President need to remember that our kids will be watching.

Our kids will be in the audience at these Board meetings.

Our kids will hear about these meetings at School the next day.

Our kids will be reading about these meetings in the newspapers and on the Internet.

Our kids will be taking their cues on how to talk to adults, elders and each other from the actions that take place at these community meetings.

…And most of all, our kids, along with The Newark Report, will be watching President Baskerville-Richardson and we HOPE she does not forget that.

HOPE is a good thing.