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In Newark, heads of school safety and bilingual education step down

Departing chief of bilingual education, Brenda García, at a school board meeting in August 2018.
Departing chief of bilingual education, Brenda García, at a school board meeting in August 2018.
Newark Public Schools/YouTube

The officials overseeing security and bilingual education in Newark schools are stepping down, adding to a number of high-level departures over the past year.

Eric Ingold, the district’s safety director, left earlier this month; people familiar with his plans said he has taken a position at a police training academy. A retired district security chief, Willie Freeman, will return as a consultant at a rate of $700 per day while the district searches for a replacement.

Brenda García, who has headed the district’s office of bilingual education for the past two years, is stepping down to take a job in New York City’s education department. The district has not announced a replacement.

The district has seen a large turnover in top officials over the past year, as is customary when a new superintendent takes over. Superintendent Roger León forced out many officials just before taking the reins of the district in July. Other executives, including the heads of enrollment and an assistant superintendent, were spared from the purge but later decided to leave.

García’s exit comes as the district contends with an ongoing federal investigation into its language services and a bilingual teacher shortage. Meanwhile, the district saw an influx last year of 900 additional students still learning English, who account for 13 percent of the enrollment. Many are recently arrived immigrants.

In August 2017, a complaint prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into the district’s approach to serving English language learners, García said at a school board meeting last year. The investigation focused on how the district enrolls those students and how it communicates with their parents. In response, the district began translating the letters it sends home into multiple languages and hosted meetings specifically for families of students still learning English, García told the board.

The growing number of English language learners in Newark schools coupled with a nationwide shortage of bilingual teachers has led to some overcrowded bilingual classrooms, García said at the August 2018 meeting. To adjust, the district added 40 additional teacher positions this school year — though it’s unclear how many have been filled.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigrants has fueled anxiety among many foreign-born students and families in Newark. In response, educators must work to make those students feel safe and valued so they can continue learning, García said.

“It’s hard to talk about bilingual education and not talk about the current state of our nation,” she told the board, whose members appeared impressed by García’s handling of the many challenges facing the bilingual department.

“You are an exemplar of what leadership should look like,” board member Leah Owens said at the August meeting.

Freeman, a former New York City police officer who oversaw school safety in Newark Public Schools for many years, will return as a security consultant next month, according to a contract approved at Tuesday’s board meeting. He will stay through the end of August, and will help train the new safety director after that person is hired.

Board member Tave Padilla said he was sorry to see Ingold leave. But he added that Freeman’s decades of experience in the district makes him the ideal person to temporarily oversee security.

“He knows the district inside out,” Padilla said. “I got to tell you, we’re lucky to get that man.”

A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about the departures.

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