Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka Declares Crucial Role of School Leaders in Restoring Cities and Community Schools

Rising to speak before a rousing standing ovation from AFSA members, Newark, NJ Mayor a long time and current AFSA and CASA Local 20 member Ras J. Baraka declared his bona fides as an educator for 22 years, including a stretch as principal of Newark’s Central High School. The Newark Public School District was taken over by the state 22 years ago, a takeover he continues to challenge.

“The leaders of the public schools are very, very important,” he declared. He mocked the idea that when he ran for mayor people questioned whether he had administrative experience.

“The one thing I learned quick was to think on my feet, and that the school ran like none of the bad things that happened before eight o’clock had really happened,” he said.

“We taught people to teach people how to teach people every day, sometimes in very difficult circumstances.”

A native of Newark, where his family has lived for more than 100 years, and have been actively involved in public life.

Things that he wanted to do as a school, he said happily, I now get to do as Mayor.

“I believe in community schools,” he said, “because I went to a community school.”

He asserted the need for wraparound city services to make community schools work.

“There is not a crisis in education. There is a crisis in economic deprivation and racial segregation,” he declared.

“We don’t have the choice in public schools of taking whoever we choose. We have to take all comers.”

On short notice, he was thrust into the leadership of Central High School. He moved quickly to make the school the center of community activity. “I knew that we needed a community wrapped around the school. And that’s what we need to do in this country. We need to wrap communities around the schools.”

He noted that other successful countries do not look at schools as a byproduct of the economy, and he berated the test-driven approach of No Child Left Behind. “Imagination and courage built the greatness of America,” he said, “not tests.”

“The problem is, we got a lot of people coming out of these schools that know how to pass a test but can’t think.”

He encouraged the attendees not to be discouraged, because a majority of Americans, he asserted, continue to believe in the value of public education.

“If we followed No Child Left Behind, every school in America would be a failure. So we can’t get discouraged by a policy that were false in the first place.”

He asserted that the attack on public schools going on is really an attack on public sector unions. “They actually believe,” he said, “that they don’t really need a principal anymore. They believe that schools can just be managed. And they’re absolutely wrong.

“Charter schools are not public,” he insisted, “because they are not governed by the public. And if they’re not governed by the public, they’re private schools.”

He expressed pride in the work of school leaders. “We know the importance of public school leaders. We know how important we are in this whole equation. We should make our schools the best schools that there are in any community where we are.”

Forty percent of children in Newark live in poverty, he noted. Those who are school leaders working in such dire situations, he roared, “are heroes.”

“We need to begin to put people to work. Give them a job. Full employment is important. Poverty exists because of unemployment. Poverty exists because of the economic situation in this country.”

“Fix that,” he trumpeted, “and you will fix everything.”

At the end of his speech, Mayor Baraka was with a crystal plaque hailing his advocacy for public schools.

President Woodard commended what she called “the Ras effect,” which she said calls on all to stand up and speak out.

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