07/31/2013 09:12 am ET Updated Sep 30, 2013

How Newark Schools Are Earning Points for Its Constituents--Students, Families and Faculty

From a family of three biological kids and nine adopted, a mother who ran model day-care centers and a father who started out as an organizer in Watts, I am blessed to come to the work I do with a deep personal conviction that America will not be great until every child has access to an excellent school that delivers on their inherent potential.

And I believe that Newark can be the city that paves the way to show it can be done for New Jersey and for this country. I believe that we have the moral obligation to do it. Not just because young people deserve it, but because our country will be better when our boardrooms and the White House and heads of corporations and heads of universities and heads of publishing companies look more like the diversity represented in Newark than it currently does. So not only is it right for our children as a moral cause, but it is also the calling for our country to be greater by capitalizing on all of the talent we have far and wide.

I started as superintendent of Newark's schools two years ago, and now, I'd like to celebrate some achievements we've made in my two years here. In the parlance of basketball (of which I am a tremendous fan), we have put some points on the board. While it only the first quarter, probably toward the end of the first quarter, we have indeed put many points on the board--I will mention a few.

To begin with, transformational school leaders. We all know that when there are great schools, there are great leaders. We aspire to be the West Point of principal recruiting and training and selection. And while we have a long way to go, when I look to our principals and see the depth of their expertise and passion, and when I see people from other cities recruiting us now, instead of us having to recruit them, I know we are on the path.

It took us a year to hire a team of assistant superintendents to coach those principals--and we had two criteria: principals who had gotten breakthrough results on their own and principals who had deep conviction around coaching. And now we have five exemplary assistant superintendents who have built teams and support mechanisms. So I say, a three-point shot for all the new principals, and I'll just give us a solid 10, although there is no 10-point shot in basketball, for the progress we have made in rigorous coaching selection and supporting nothing less than transformational leaders.

The teachers' contract. I'll give us 50 points for raising the bar for the entire country. Much has been written about that contract, but much has not been written. It is a blueprint, and it is a vision for how management and labor can work together to get breakthrough results. It is meaningful compensation reform so that there is big differentiation between ineffective/effective, highly effective teachers and partially effective teachers. And the wild notion that you must earn a raise by being effective ... but by raising the stakes you must also place checks and balances.

So we have built in lots of checks and balances: an oversight committee of teachers, who are giving impact on the process, who are giving data, giving us feedback, helping us make small tweaks. Because you can't raise the stakes and freeze out the constituents that are most impacted by your decisions. For me, that is part of the deal. If you raise the stakes, you must also raise the level of transparency and input.

Family support. We have begun to create partnerships with our families. A pilot family university, family-friendly walkthroughs, deep outreach. And on behalf of a team that believes that you cannot have great schools without partnering with families, I am not going to give us any points for that. It's too important. It's too deep. It's too powerful--and it's been one hell of a first quarter. It really has. One that many, many, many teams would be jealous of.

When we talk about setting the bar high, that's not just a lofty aspiration. That's us putting the fate of our children's future in our own hands. So we need not kid ourselves that being slightly better is good enough. We need not kid ourselves that our children deserve us to set the bar any lower.