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Newark School Board newcomer prioritizes school recovery

Crystal Williams, a newly elected member of the Newark Board of Education, puts safety, school culture and school recovery at the forefront of her agenda when she takes office.

Williams, who garnered the most votes in the April 19 school board election, was sworn in to a three-year term — and her first elected position — at last week’s virtual reorganization meeting. Re-elected board members A’Dorian Murray-Thomas and Daniel Gonzalez were also sworn in. The three ran on a list backed by powerful politicians, including Mayor Ras Baraka, who was re-elected for a third term on Tuesday.

Williams said at the meeting that she knows there is a lot of work to be done to help students recover from the pandemic. “I’m right here, ready to serve, ready to do what’s necessary to make sure the kids get what they need. We must emerge from this pandemic not the same, but stronger, smarter and kinder, with a commitment to do what is right for children.

Williams, a network technician with Verizon for more than 20 years, sees her role on the board as that of a customer service representative.

“If you don’t provide your customers with a quality product, your customer service fails and a competitor steps in and takes your customer,” she said in a recent interview. “It’s the same for students and parents in the Newark public school system. They are our customers and we should provide them with high quality service and education.

And, in those terms, she says she deeply understands what her new “customers” want from the board.

As a single mother of seven children who attend or have attended public and charter schools in Newark, Williams has seen school buildings deteriorate, lunches that cause her children to lose their appetites, a lack of resources in the classroom and low test scores.

She’s also seen the dangerous routes children take to and from school and hopes to fix it, though she’s not sure exactly how. “It’s all new to me, but I’m going to ask a lot of questions,” she said. She also said the toll of the pandemic on students’ academic progress is a huge concern, as is school culture, with low teacher morale affecting student motivation.

“I want the quality of life for students while they are in our schools to improve, ensuring that they want to be there and are proud of their school and feel welcomed, loved and valued,” a- she declared.

While juggling full-time work and the needs of her children over the years, Williams has found time to volunteer with parent-teacher associations and advocacy groups such as Unapologetic Parents, a supportive parent group. of school choice.

She met Jasmine Morrison, another mother and leader of the group, on a school bus bound for Trenton. Morrison said they were heading to the state capitol with other members of the group to rally against a decision to block the expansion of some charter schools in Newark.

“Crystal has been instrumental in the group, from going to rallies to helping organize coat drives and book bag giveaways,” Morrison said in a recent interview. “She has so much energy and you see that energy in her interactions with her kids, and I think she’s going to bring that to the board.”

Board Co-Vice Chair Asia Norton said she looks forward to the new perspectives Williams will bring to the board and its monthly committee meetings.

“While she’s new to politics, she’s not new to motherhood or the workforce,” Norton said. “Ms. Williams exudes pride in being a mother and making sure her children have everything they need, whether it’s in the classroom, on the football field or applying to college. And I think that ‘She’s going to do the same for the kids in the district.

Williams’ children range in age from 3 to 23. His eldest child, Brooklyn, graduated from Rutgers-Newark in May 2020 and struggled to transition to remote learning during that time.

Her son Jayson, 16, did well with remote learning but had serious difficulty returning to school in person, she said. After considering several options, Williams transferred him to Leaders for Life Academy in the South Ward, a school that helps students earn a high school equivalency diploma. He graduated in December and now attends Universal Technical Institute, a business school campus in Bloomfield.

“He took a different path,” Williams said. “I’m not going to make him fit into something he’s not. Now he comes home excited from school and earns money from his part-time job.

With seven children, Williams said, it quickly becomes clear that all children learn differently and require different supports.

In a recent phone call as Williams drove her second eldest, Autumn, 17, to Temple University in Philadelphia for a campus visit, she shared some advice she often gives to her children.

“Sometimes we have to take a detour and a detour isn’t necessarily a bad thing – you might find where you want to live along the way,” she said. “Sometimes a detour works in your favor. Keeping an open mind and a positive attitude is key.

Williams said she never imagined running for public office, particularly because she dislikes public speaking and prefers to stay out of the spotlight.

But after contracting COVID at the start of the pandemic and watching her children persevere in their struggles, she decided she didn’t want to “hide” anymore. When she was approached by other parent advocates and community members to run for the open seat of the Newark School Board, she decided to go for it. Securing the support of influential political players, including State Senator M. Teresa Ruiz, and the money that comes with that support, were critical to the success of his campaign.

“I’ve never been a board member, so I don’t know much and I’m going to ask my board members for help,” Williams said. “But I know I want a better quality of life for the kids, and I’m going to keep my promise.”

Catherine Carrera is Chalkbeat Newark’s office manager, covering the city’s K-12 schools with a focus on English language learners. Contact Katherine at ccarrera@chalkbeat.org.

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