December 30, 2015 by Eric Dawson
The Plight of Students in Newark’s Public School System
Urban public schools, and Newark’s in particular, are in dire need of reform. Without change, they will continue to provide sub-par educations to our children. I know this because I was born in Newark and during my middle-school years my father, Carl Sharif, served as the President of the Newark Board of Education. Things were so bad even back then that he refused to let me attend Weequahic High School. I tested into a Science High School (Magnet School), and it changed my life.
I married at 24, though prior to starting a family, my wife and I moved from Newark to the suburbs. We did this because of the lesson my father taught me. I feared that if we stayed in Newark, our children might not receive the quality education they (like all children) deserved.
My father was born, raised and died a Newarker. He was a giant in the community and spent his entire life serving Newark as an activist. My Dad loved Newark. His greatest hope was that all of Newark’s children would reach their God-given potential, and he understood that the parents, the school district and the community as a whole played critical roles in realizing that dream.
In November 2012, after more than twenty years in corporate America, I joined my father full-time in campaigning for the hopes and dreams of inner city youth. Spending the last three years working so closely with him before his passing on September 30th, 2015, gave me a perspective that has fueled an inferno inside of me.
Today I am 52 and have 4 children. One graduated from USC and another is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania. The younger two attend Montclair High School where they compete in AP and Honors classes. I believe many more children in Newark and other urban school districts could achieve like this if they were in better schools.
I love Newark and have many relatives, including my 93-year-old grandmother, who still live there. In fact, many of my relatives have their children enrolled in the Newark public school system. We must all stand up and not allow our kids to be put at risk while others politicize the issue of education.
Many parents are searching for answers to the epidemic of failing schools, and some charter schools can provide those answers. However, just as all traditional public schools aren’t bad, not all charter schools are inherently good. We as a community must work together to weed out the bad schools and promote the good ones.
It is my belief is that all parents, regardless of their social status and income, should have the option to choose quality educational options for their children.
Today there are nearly 45,000 students in Newark. One-third of them attend charter schools. The other 30,000 are enrolled in the public school system and many of them are at a sad disadvantage compared to their charter school peers. The waiting lists at the charter schools are lengthy, which indicates that many parents want their children to attend one…but there simply isn’t enough room.
Charter schools are also trying to expand their service, but currently cannot. Mayor Ras Baraka, along with allies in the state legislature, supports Bill A.4351, which calls for a moratorium on the expansion of charter schools in New Jersey.
Yes. Newark’s own Mayor is campaigning against school reform.
My passion for this work has been some time in the making, and I hope you’ll join me in this effort to engage parents and the community in order to promote quality schools for all of Newark’s children. Positive change begins with us, the (largely) silent majority, and it’s time to make some noise.