Thomas Luna is a long-time Newark Educator, resident, and community organizer. He is a first-generation college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration from Texas State University. He has taught 7th grade/8th grade math and science for over 10 years in Newark.
Thomas has also led multiple after school programs, (robotics, ski club, drum club, and more) and has mentored many of his students even after they moved on to high school and college. As a leader and organizer with Newark for Education Equity and Diversity, he has galvanized community members and elected officials to pass policy on the state and local level. He has led numerous community programs focused on “people power”, and strongly believes in collective change. He is running for the school board to bring his experience as an educator and community organizer to the decision-making table on behalf of all kids, families, and teacher who, like him, call Newark home.
2023 Candidate Q&A
Q1: Why are you running for a seat on the Newark Board of Education?
I am running for the board of education because my experience as a veteran Newark educator and policy-focused organizer allows me to make sound decisions on behalf of the students, teachers and families of Newark.
Q2: What is your vision for the public education sector in Newark, NJ, over the next three years?
In 3 years, my vision for the Newark Board of Education is to create a system of kid-first schools that allow our students to receive world-class education from talented people who believe in them and their potential. This vision can be achieved by ensuring that every single decision we make ,as a board, is both kid-focused and aimed at providing the necessary equity to support our students, staff, teachers and families.
Q3: What are you planning to accomplish as a member of the board of education?
I'm running with the Newark Kids Forward team based on a platform of three key necessities in achieving our vision for our schools: achievement, equity and community. I plan to raise our achievement rates in our district. We currently have an achievement rate of 23% passing rate for ELA and 12% passing rate for math. As an experienced educator, I know test scores are one pixel of the larger picture AND that standardized tests, for better or worse, are often the gatekeepers for higher education. So, the issue of achievement becomes paramount in ensuring we are doing right by kids and providing them with the ability to compete on the state and national level and live choice-filled lives in the future. The second area I would focus on is to move our district towards a higher degree of equity. Equity is defined as having individual needs met in order to thrive; this is often related to the idea of justice. By providing all students, teachers, staff, and families with the right levels of support, we can create avenues of success that all students deserve. While there have been improvements to this area, there are very real issues of equity that must be addressed and improved. Lastly, I would actively seek ways to bring more of our community to the table. As an organizer, I've seen some amazing things happen when people ,who are passionate about our kids and city, come together. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case this year. I strongly believe that the more we value and include our community in large-scale decisions, the better off we will be as a city. To add, this is not an exhaustive list. As any education advocate knows, there are a whole host of interconnected issues that impact education. However, my belief is that if we focus on achievement, equity and community, we will move all of our kids forward.
Q4: How will you define success as a board member after one year? Two years? Three years?
Every year, my metrics will be the same and are guided by three questions. Question one: are our students learning at high levels? The metrics for this can be internal and external snapshots of achievement data as well as a review of the rigor being asked of our students. Question two: Do our people (teachers, aides, paras, etc) have the resources and support to provide an excellent educational experience to our students? The metrics for this can be staff wellness/culture surveys, focused resources on struggling schools, and an audit of IEP compliance. Question three: Does our community feel valued, respected, and heard? The metric for this can be increased parent/community-focused initiatives that put power in the hands of our families and an increased presence of families and stakeholders at city-wide NBOE events.