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Newark public schools face huge challenges

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NEW JERSEY (MYFOXNY.COM) - Improving education for the children of Newark, N.J., is a problem that has stumped some of the best minds in the country. Now with the election of a new mayor, one thing is crystal clear: a shift in focus is already happening.

As a former high school principal, Mayor-elect Ras Baraka knows the challenges facing children from the inside out. Voter outcry over a wave of education reforms helped him win election. Many residents opposed the Newark one plan to close public schools and send children outside their neighborhoods. With Newark's entrenched gang violence, that can mean life or death for kids.

While former Mayor Cory Booker looked to big-money donors across the country for help, Baraka said he believes Newark already has what it needs to succeed, if focused properly.

He told me he doubts any of that $100 million donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made on national television to Booker and Gov. Chris Christie ever made its way to the children. But he quickly added that wasn't its intent. Reports show at least $50 million was used to settle teacher contracts and pay incentives, and it was split between the city and the state.

The state has had control of Newark public schools for years. The city has some of the most successful charter schools in the country, and its public schools have produced national success stories. But overall performance for most children has been below par.

Baraka said there are positive lessons from charter schools, but that's not his main focus.

Political analyst Steve Adubato predicts there may be fireworks between Christie -- who still has control of Newark schools -- and the new mayor, who is vowing to prove the city can do it on its own.

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