The above image is of Robert Gregory who will soon become the Acting Superintendent of Schools for the Newark school district.

By Karen Yi,
NJ Advance Media for

The state-appointed superintendent for Newark schools will step down in February, paving the way for the district to select its own leader for the first time in 22 years. Superintendent Christopher Cerf announced last week he would resign on Feb. 1 – the same day the state’s takeover of Newark schools will officially end.

“Now is the time to focus on how we can all work together to ensure an orderly transition proceeds when we return from winter recess,” Cerf wrote in an email to district employees on Thursday, hours after the School Advisory Board accepted his resignation. “To be clear, the most important action the board will take in the coming months is the search for and selection of a permanent superintendent.”

The state Board of Education seized control of Newark’s public schools in 1995 after a state probe- in a 1,798-page report – accused district officials of mismanagement, neglect and corruption. Since then, the state has appointed the district’s superintendents, who have veto power over the local school board.

After years of raucous battles between state-appointed school leaders and Newarkers who felt they had little say in the governing of their schools, the state in September approved returning local control to the district. Last week, the state approved a transition plan that details a timeline and the search process for a new superintendent.

“This plan puts the district in the best position to transition to full local control, while ensuring that it builds on the progress it has made over the years,” Gov. Chris Christie said in a statement after the plan was approved. The plan was assembled by district leaders, the school board, Mayor Ras Baraka’s office and input from the public.

Transition Plan:

Under the transition plan for 2018:

* On Feb. 1, the School Advisory Board will become a fully functioning Newark Board
of Education, giving it the power to hire and fire its own superintendent.

* Newark residents will vote Nov. 6 on whether they want an elected school board or
one appointed by the mayor.

* The transition plan will set milestones and guide the district through Jan. 31, 2020.

* A new superintendent will be selected by May 31, headed by a search committee of three board members, three Newark leaders jointly selected by the mayor and education commissioner, and one member appointed by the commissioner.

* The new superintendent, who is in charge of the day-to-day management of 64 public schools, will begin July 1.

Cerf, a former state education commissioner, was appointed to the district in 2015. Under his tenure, scores on the state standardized exam known as PARCC have risen, as have graduation rates. The district increased its retention rate of effective and highly effective teachers to 96 percent, submitted a balanced budget and sold closed school buildings to plug the deficit.

Robert Gregory to become Acting Superintendent:

Once Cerf resigns, Deputy Superintendent Robert Gregory will take over as interim superintendent. In a recent NY Times article, Gregory stated hat he intends to apply for the permanent position with a goal of bringing all aspects of Newark’s community to the table to help “regain the trust” of parents, teachers and students. “We are trying to undo years of systemic failures. To do that you have to have systemic solutions. I have no intention of just keeping the seat warm.”

Gregory is the son of the late Carl Gregory, a 1966 Weequahic grad, who was the longtime Principal of Morton Street School in Newark.