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Last night Newark School Board president Asia Norton resigned, effective immediately. Having completed her degree at Rutgers Law School last spring, she is taking a position with the Essex County Superior Court. In a Facebook post she wrote, “I am departing from the Board, but I am still here tearing down barriers to help our students reach their full potential. Thank you for this beautiful opportunity, Newark.”
Before attending law school, Norton worked at three Newark charter schools, North Star Academy, KIPP NJ, and the Marion P. Thomas Public Charter School..
Norton’s tenure on the Board has not been without skirmishes among a few Board members and Superintendent Roger Leon, although in May every member but one, Hasani Council, voted for her as president. At that same meeting, a Newark resident named Denise Cole who often speaks out loudly at meetings, declared “We don’t want her as president, she is a charter!”
A few months earlier, the city’s robust charter sector, which educates 36% of public school students, was also up for discussion: Leon had filed suit in Superior Court protesting the state’s approval for a 492-seat expansion to one of the best public schools in the city, North Star Academy. The Board discussed whether Leon had violated state regulations because such an appeal must be filed with the consent of the Board, an oversight noted by Board member Crystal WIlliams. Some members believed they would be voting on whether to support the lawsuit, including Norton, who said, “I was under the impression that the board will be voting on this and so the committee is not necessarily in support of the appeal but move it to the full board for votes.”
The state statute governing appeals says, “an eligible applicant for a charter school, a charter school, or a district board of education or State district superintendent of the district of residence of a charter school may file an appeal.” At the time, says Tapinto, Kyle Rosenkrans of the NJ Children’s Foundation opined, “the plain language of state regulations are quite clear that the right to appeal charter school decisions is the purview of the Board of Education, not the Superintendent. That is, unless Roger Leon considers himself a ‘state-appointed superintendent’ which would be news to many who fought for Newark’s return to local control.”
The Board never voted on the appeal and Leon didn’t withdraw the litigation.
Also, in August Norton suggested the Board bring in its own attorney as they weigh whether they should have separate counsel from Leon, particularly in regards to anti-Black racism at the Newark School for Global Studies. The district hired a company called CREED Strategies, run by Lauren Wells, Mayor Ras Baraka’s former chief education officer, to create a report on cultural problems at the school. NJ Education Report filed an Open Public Records request in order to see the report, which was paid for by public funds. The request was denied. Originally the Board couldn’t even see the CREED report; now they can do so by appointment but can’t take it off district premises.
At the time, Norton wrote on Facebook,
“Our children define who they are and control their narratives. I have pulled from their strength in tough times because they are the definition of perseverance.”
According to the NJ School Board Association, the remaining board members must vote to accept a resignation (they can’t say “no”) and the board has 65 days to pick a new member after widely advertising the vacancy on the district website, social media, school newsletters and “manually tacking up paper postings at the library, post office, senior center — even supermarkets.” If the Board doesn’t meet the deadline, the executive county superintendent will choose the new board member.
Newark Teachers Union President John Abeigon, who saw Norton’s post on Instagram, wished her well “in her future endeavors.”
Superintendent Leon has not responded to a request for comment.