My name is James Wright Jr. I am an Advanced Placement Environmental Science Teacher at North Star Academy Washington Park Highschool and Director of Community Engagement for the non-profit My Son is Me Inc. I am also a son, brother, uncle, cousin, friend, and most importantly Newark native. I have had the privilege to graduate from North Star Academy Washington Park Highschool with the class of 2018 and proceeded to graduate from Boston University in 3 years with a bachelor's degree in political science. This would not be possible without the village around me.
The coaches, mentors, teachers, and community leaders all helped cultivate my path. During my youth, my friends and family attended schools all throughout the city. Whether the school was Shabazz, Weequahic, Eastside, KIPP, Uncommon, or Science Park outside the uniform we are all children of Newark laying a foundation for the generations to follow. At the age of 14, I became aware of the critical needs of our community. Upon graduation from Boston University, I assisted my father James Wright through our non-profit My Son is Me Inc. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic we mentored young men, predominantly Newark Pop Warner athletes, with educational, mental health, and social services. When the pandemic struck, we adapted to answer our communities' urgent needs by providing 250 senior citizens and large families in Newark with Shoprite gift cards to combat food insecurity. In 2022, I joined the North Star Academy Washington Park Highschool campus. I took ownership of the AP Environmental Science curriculum and content creation for both the Washington Park and Lincoln Park campuses. As a result, I am grateful to educate 400 Newark students through direct instruction or content creation within my first year as a teacher. Outside of the classroom, through My Son Is Me Inc, I have gathered 30 inspiring young men who have dedicated their time to craft a community store that provides free hygienic products for the other students while receiving insight from guest speakers from the local community.
From my career as a teacher, mentor, and curriculum creator, Tawana Johnson's special education support expertise as a Newark Public Schools Parent, and Tommy Luna's 13-year teacher career and local activism and mentorship, we agree with the concerns of the community and must act to place "Newark Kids Forward." This will include:
Mandatory sensitivity training for all teachers and school leaders on diversity and race training to understand Newark's diverse and rich communities throughout all wards.
Academic externships and internships with local community businesses to develop professional and academic skills and mentor relations to visualize realistic applications of education in the real world.
Established structured mentorship and extracurricular programs that utilize alternative methods to provide social services, career, and academic resources for students.
I have seen firsthand the impact of giving back to others to break the cycle and change history. I now teach in the classroom I first entered as a high school student. The opportunity to return has emboldened my belief in the importance of the village. Each day I remind my students it takes 50 percent of those who walked the path and 50 percent of those who follow to make the future 100% possible. Together we will place Newark Kids Forward.
2023 Candidate Q&A
Q1: Why are you running for a seat on the Newark Board of Education?
I was born and raised in the Central Ward of Newark. I am a Newark resident, I’m a Newark educator, and a mentor. I have seen firsthand how powerful a village can be and how working together can produce great results for kids in Newark. I am running because I believe my personal
experiences can help the Newark Board of Education achieve at higher levels. There’s no question that Covid-19 stole so much from our children, but we can’t sit back and blame Covid-19 for everything. I’m committed to helping my city take back the losses and together we can come back
even better and stronger than we were before. It’s going to take our collective commitment to do so.
Q2: What is your vision for the public education sector in Newark, NJ, over the next three years?
Three years is a very long time to make important headway for our students. And we have much work to be done. We live in a city where only about half of our students enroll in college. We can’t accept that. Like it or not, the path to economic freedom is through college for the vast majority of
our students. Certainly not all of our students will go to college or even want to go to college and that’s fine. Many will go on to have very lucrative and satisfying careers in the trades and other programs and we celebrate that as well. But when I see college enrollment rates of 50% or below, I
see that it’s not that kids have a choice. And kids should be deciding whether they are going to college or not. When I look at third grade literacy rates of under 20%--those aren’t choices. When we see that for some our schools the math proficiency rate or the literacy rate is in the single
digits—that’s not the path to economic freedom—not even in the trades. To me, that points to a system that is not working for the vast majority of children, and we need to change that. My vision for our district is that we double the percentage of students in third grade who can read
in the next three years and that we increase the percentage of students enrolling in college to at least 70%. My vision is that people from outside of Newark will look to us and see what collaboration, commitment and transparency around data can do for student achievement.
Q3: What are you planning to accomplish as a member of the board of education?
The Newark Kids First Team has established a vision of achievement, equity and community. Our current reading passing rates of 26% and math passing rates of 13% simply cannot be acceptable. We have nearly 40% chronic or severe absenteeism rate in our schools. This is not normal. This is a wake up call. And so we need to very methodically and strategically institute the tools that work and stop doing what isn’t working. Parents can’t bring their kids to tutoring after school or on Saturdays. We know this, so why do we keep trying to do what isn’t working? We need to make tutoring part of the school day. We need to work with families, not against them. Parents are the best partners for our work together and so I intend to make sure that I’m speaking for families, for students and for teachers when I ask questions and obtain information because it’s clear that we can do better.
Q4: How will you define success as a board member after one year? Two years? Three years?
Success will mean a doubling of the third-grade literacy rate for Newark children after three years. We know how important third grade is and if you can’t read by third grade, you’re in real trouble because up until third grade you learn to read and after third grade you read to learn. So that
milestone is critical, and we are simply not making the cut. Success will also mean that more of our students are heading to college, if that is what they want. We’re going to do this by making sure our teachers have the support, respect and resources they deserve. We are in an unprecedented time of teacher shortages and while no teacher ever got into this work because they wanted to be rich, we still have to make sure this is a career that can provide for and care for families in a way that makes people feel good about what they do. We do this with a fair wage as well as all of the resources and support that teachers deserve and need in order to do right by kids. Finally, success means the community feels that their voice is heard, respected and represented in our school system. We are going to back all of that up with quantitative analytics of student achievement performance and qualitative data from surveys of students, teachers, staff and families. Success will mean that we have a healthy, open and
transparent effort to self-interrogate our methods and systems and just call it out when we are not doing right by kids so that we can take that first step in making it right. I believe this is possible, I’ve seen it done, and we can do it if we work together.