Jersey City regains full control over school district after 33 years of state oversight

By: - September 15, 2022 7:03 am

The state took over Jersey City's troubled public schools in 1989. But this week, the district regained local control — and even got kudos as "high-performing." (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)

For the first time in 33 years, Jersey City will hold full control over its district’s public schools, after the state Board of Education on Wednesday approved a resolution returning the schools to local oversight.

The board even approved a certification celebrating the district as high-performing. 

It’s a complete turnaround from when New Jersey took over the school system in 1989, when state education officials blasted the district as so riddled with cronyism and turmoil that students couldn’t get a proper education.

At the time, a judge said in a scathing decision that while poverty and social problems complicated some school officials’ jobs, political interference led to the district’s failure to teach children “minimum basic skills needed to function in modern society,” according to a 1989 Bergen Record article. 

Now, Jersey City has shown through reports and testing scores that it has met all benchmarks and should assume full local control, state school board members said Wednesday. The motion approving local control passed unanimously. 

“The best is yet to come for Jersey City, but your moniker is still alive and well: providing enrichment, acceleration, resources, and support for all students,” said acting Department of Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan. “We look forward to continuing to partner with you, albeit in a different way.”

It’s the third district to regain local control. Newark and Paterson, both taken over in the 1990s for similar reasons, regained control in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Camden, which the state took over in 2013, is the sole district under full state control.  

“After 33 years, I’m proud to see that full decision-making authority has been restored to the local board of education in Jersey City. Moreover, I’m confident the community will continue to rally around their students to ensure that every child in Jersey City has access to a world-class education,” Gov. Phil Murphy said in a statement.

A long process

Jersey City schools became the first to be overhauled by the state in a process officials expected would take at least five years, officials said at the time. But it took much longer, because officials identified so many political appointees and so much wasteful spending, as they focused on steadily improving test scores and student enrollment year over year.

Jersey City began slowly regaining some local control in the late 2000s. The state takeover ended in 2018 with a two-year transition plan. State oversight was set to end in October 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed the transition. 

Since the transition period began, the state has limited its involvement, mostly monitoring the district’s continued progress, officials said. Partnered with the Rutgers University Office of School Accountability to implement the transition, state officials found Jersey City made substantial growth in most metrics, but continues to be a “work in progress.” 

While the scorecard notes that Jersey City schools should improve their fiscal management, the report declared a “successful implementation of the transition plan.” 

Jersey City officials and dozens of school staffers joined the virtual call Wednesday morning to mark the long-awaited day, lauding the state for its help in the transition. 

Superintendent Norma Fernandez said the students and staff worked hard to “make this day a reality.”

The process took a long time, made longer by the pandemic, she said. 

Still, she added, that delay allowed district staff to take more time to develop efficient systems in school governance, instruction and programs, fiscal management, and operations. That ensured “ethical decisions to meet the needs of the community,” she added. 

“Our goal for the Jersey City Public Schools is to inspire and prepare our scholars to confidently achieve their dreams and ambitions, and master future challenges to reach their fullest potential in a diverse and ever-changing world,” she said.


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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.