Naomi Nix, NJ Advance Media

NEWARK — Three years ago Darleen Gearhart, then a school district mathematics supervisor, would be assigned a job she would later describe as the hardest she had ever held in her two-decade long career at Newark Public Schools.

The task? To orchestrate a complete turn around of Sussex Avenue Elementary School — one of the worst schools in the district.

As principal Gearhart would soon get busy hiring new teachers, implementing curriculum changes and forming relationships with community organizations. Now, she says the school is starting to see slow but steady progress.

“What we’re doing for kids is giving them a real chance,” she said. “It’s a challenging job. It’s a rewarding job. By the same token, it’s one of the most important jobs you could ever do.”

Sussex Avenue Renew School is one of about 18 “renew schools,” which are part of a Newark Public Schools’ initiative launched in 2012 to turn the city’s poorest performing schools into successful centers of education.

But now, the renew school program is steeped in political controversy as activists and district officials debate whether the program is effective and by what measures it should be judged.


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