Before a packed hall of supporters for the acting superintendent, the Lakewood, NJ, school board voted to hire a Newark educator to replace her last night , triggering howls of protest from a furious crowd and occasional glances from board members to two police officers posted in the corner. Several members hurried from the room afterward, trailed by screaming accusations of injustice and disenfranchisement, after voting 5-3 to appoint Lydia R. Silva, an assistant superintendent for Newark public schools, as Lakewood’s superintendent for the next three years. Her salary has not been determined.
The contract for the current superintendent, Eugenia Lawson’s contract expires July 31.
Lawson, who black and Hispanic, is a Lakewood native and has gained community support in the one year she’s been in the job in a school district where most of the students are minorities. Lydia is Hispanic.
The vote only heightened the tensions between a community that often thinks its voice is not heard by a board where many members are elected with large support from parents of private school students.
“”Everyone is to leave this room with the knowledge of what this board really thinks about you,” Warren Sherard, associate pastor at the New Life Christian Center and former local NAACP president, said front-stage over the gavels and calls for order to the some 80 mostly black and Hispanic attendees.
Leonard Thomas, one of three board members to vote for Lawson, said, “I am more than saddened; I am utterly disgusted.”
Lawson herself, normally reserved, could not hold back feelings of betrayal from a board who “with all smiles” consistently lauded her accomplishments.
The board’s decision yesterday “makes me understand that there is a purpose here and that purpose is not our children,'” she said to bursts of applause. “When you can acknowledge progress like this, I would say there is an intention to basically stall progress.”
Silva was on the short list of four candidates, including Lawson, Assistant Superintendent William Andersen and Art Stellar, a former superintendent outside Boston. She was principal at a New York City public school before taking the administrator post in 1995. Board member Irene Miccio argued that she was the most highly recommended of the candidates.
The first 50 minutes of the meeting began peacefully, with a steady stream of Lawson supporters filing to the microphone to shower praise on the Cuban-born, Lakewood-raised acting superintendent, who took over for Edward Luick when he retired in June 2008.
“The LEA (Lakewood Education Association) believes the success of the district depends on stability of the district,” the teachers union head, Carol Cousins, said. ‘”You have the ability to select a person who knows and is a part of this community.”
Thomas then introduced a motion to make Lawson’s position permanent. The motion was seconded and voted down 4-3, with one abstention.
A silence enveloped the room as the crowd seemed to grapple with the unexpected turn of events. Yet soon rose the spitfire of complaints: “This is injustice, you should be ashamed of yourselves,” one woman shouted.
Board Attorney Michael Inzelbuch left the room. Board Vice President Avraham Ostreicher stepped out of character and screamed “Quiet!” Board President Chet Galdo, pounding his gavel while, yelled, “I will have order here!”
At some point, Galdo, who voted initially for Lawson, put forth a motion to select Silva. Again there was a pause before the eruption, during which someone in the back row asked with honest uncertainty, “Who’s Lydia Silva?”