Newark, the city I love, is in the midst of a significant environmental crisis that directly effects each of our children.
Last week, we learned that toxic levels of lead were reported in our district school’s drinking water. This is unacceptable. For the many of us who were born in Newark, who grew up here, and chose to raise our families in the city, the reaction from so many of us has been clear. There is frustration, anger, and fear. But unfortunately, few of us are actually surprised.
Newark is facing déjà vu all over again. Let us not forget, Newark’s school water reported dangerous levels of lead 20 years ago.
As an environmental professional and long-time activist, I have warned and even pleaded with the Newark Public School system to address this issue for years. I have advocated and held trainings sessions with parents, nurses, custodians and facilities staff to address concerns, such as the water and air quality, pesticides, cleaning products, and recycling in the hopes of protecting the health of our students and teachers. The Newark Board established a flushing system protocol to address the lead in the drinking water, so what happened.
We need a School Board where its members and their specific expertise are valued, respected, and fully utilized. If I am elected, I will work with and aggressively push Superintendent Cerf, and eventually a locally appointed Superintendent, to develop a long-term comprehensive plan to fix this water crisis in our schools. This has to be the utmost priority for the Newark School Board and failure is not an option. The very lives of our children are at stake.
For decades and even generations, whether it is our water, the continued school-to-prison pipeline every Newark parent fears, chronic student absenteeism, or classrooms falling apart before our children’s eyes, significant education issues seem to repeat itself over and over again.
Like all the problems our public schools face, and that Newark parents contend with each year, there needs to be accountability.
Out of the continued inaction we have witnessed, something new needs to take shape in our City. We need to begin solving problems. We need to be transparent and we need leadership that is willing to take on these challenges. The only way to do this is by coming together.
For too long we have played the blame game in Newark, rather than rolling up our sleeves and doing the hard work to create change. We have spent far too much time allowing the extremes from both sides of the education debate control how we tackle issues. Whether it be by design or not, these actions have supported the status quo.
There is so much in our public education system that needs to improve – but at our core, the solution rests on experience and dedicated leadership.
It is for this reason that I joined the Newark Unity Team and chose to run with Tave Padilla and Leah Owens for Newark School Board. The three of us do not agree on everything. But, just like the City we hope to serve, the Unity Slate is valuable, strong and needed because of our diversity, experience, and unique perspectives.
I am running on the Unity Slate not to defend or promote an issue or political philosophy. As a parent, I just want our City to focus less on trying to win arguments and more on a quality education for our children.
Like many in our community, when I think of the problems facing our public schools system, I feel disrespected, and that has to change for all of us. We can address this issue by making sure the right people are elected to Newark’s school board. I hope that after the April 19th election, a newly empowered School Board will tackle issues with a commitment to find long-term solutions, rather than the division that has hurt the welfare of our kids.
Hopefully, the water crisis we are currently facing can be a new beginning for our City and we will start doing things differently.
Let’s use the strong feelings that have developed in recent days and commit ourselves to quality education for all our children. Our mission at this moment, begins with step one, a very basic and immediate need – clean water in our schools. Children simply cannot learn if they are not healthy. If we are successful, and address this water crisis swiftly and strategically, perhaps it can serve as a new beginning for the City.
Kim Gaddy has worked at NJ Clean Water Action for 15 years. She is a member of NJDEP’s Environmental Justice Advisory Council, a founding member of the NJ Environmental Justice Alliance, former Chair of Newark Environmental Commission and is currently running on the Unity Slate for Newark School Board. The election is on April 19th.