Rosa Branco, First Avenue School
Ms. Rosa Branco was born in Newark. Ms. Branco, while raised in Kearny, spent many of her days at her grandparents’ home in Newark and her parents’ business on Ferry Street. In the fall of 1991, Ms. Branco became the first member of her family to attend a university. She studied and obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Arts Education in January of 1996.
After obtaining her degree in Art Education, in 1997, Ms. Branco became an Art Educator at Roberto Clemente Elementary School in Newark. She later decided to continue her education, matriculating at Kean University in Union New Jersey, where she earned a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration in 2004. In 2004, Ms. Branco assumed her first role as Vice Principal in the Newark Public Schools. She later worked as Vice Principal at Luis Muñoz Marin, Dr. E. A. Flagg, McKinley, Chancellor Avenue and First Avenue Schools, also in Newark. She most recently served as Chief Innovation Officer at First Avenue School.
Ms. Branco and her husband of 22 years are the proud parents of their 14-year-old son.
Akbar Cook, West Side High School
Akbar H. Cook Sr. was born and raised in Newark’s West Ward. He attended Essex Catholic High School, where he excelled as a student and basketball player. Mr. Cook attended college on two basketball scholarships, attending St. Catherine’s College in Kentucky before graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from Florida Atlantic University, a Division I university in Boca Raton, Florida. He went on to receive a Master’s Degree in Administration from St. Peters University in Jersey City in 2006. Mr. Cook’s love for children and basketball led him to Newark Vocational School in 2008, where he became head coach of the Boys’ Basketball Team, and in 2012, he was named Vice Principal of West Side High School. Mr. Cook is well known for having a stern, yet caring presence in the lives of many of Newark’s youth. His desire to uplift and educate children is always at the forefront of his work in Newark Public Schools. Mr. Cook volunteers in food kitchens and participates in Christmas tree and toy drives. He also organizes recreational activities for Newark Public School students and works closely with the Newark Police Department to ensure safe transportation for all students after school functions. In addition to serving as a Vice Principal at West Side High School and head basketball coach, Mr. Cook also serves as co-director of Greater Newark’s LifeCamp, a summer camp for inner city youth.
Mr. Cook and his wife Sheridan, are the proud parents of Yasin Akbar, Jr. and Ahmad.
Sandra Cruz, South Street School
Ms. Cruz exemplifies Newark in her academic life. She was born and raised in Newark and attended grammar school at Oliver Street School, where she later served as the Chief Innovation Officer and Vice Principal, until being named as Principal at South Street School. Ms. Cruz has more than 14 years of experience in teaching, all in Newark. In addition to attending Oliver Street School, Ms. Cruz also graduated from Science High School. She is also a graduate of Rutgers University Newark where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and she received her Master of Arts degree in Administration and Supervision from Saint Peters University. Prior to working at Oliver Street School, Ms. Cruz taught Language Arts at Gladys Hillman Jones. She also worked as a Master Teacher at McKinley School, where she also served as the Literacy Coach from 2012 – 2014. In her latest role at Oliver Street School, Ms. Cruz has been able to positively impact the lives of children sitting in the same seats that she once sat in and it is believed will do the same at South Street School. Ms. Cruz is married and a mother.
Naseed Gifted, Malcolm X Shabazz School
Naseed Gifted is an educator and engineer born and raised in Newark. He is a graduate of George Washington Carver Elementary School and Science High School. Mr. Gifted obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from NJIT in Electrical Engineering and obtained a Master of Arts degree from Saint Peter’s College in Administration and Educational Leadership. He has sixteen years of diverse leadership experience in education/public schools, entertainment and utilities. Mr. Gifted uses his diverse skills to coach teachers, inspire students to pursue S.T.E.M. careers and lead organization staff to define, manage, and control their processes through the use of best practices. His mission is to inspire young people to be science and technology leaders, who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community. Mr. Gifted helped to found and became instructional leader of Central High Schools’ Pre-Engineering Academy. In addition, he served as a Vice Principal for six years, the Robotics Coach for seven years and the basketball coach for two years. Mr. Gifted developed a number of corporate partnerships; including internships for engineering students with major, international construction companies. His students created a housing prototype, titled, “Help in a Hurry” self-sustainable Green Energy, containers that are admired across the U.S.
Mr. Gifted is also the founder of New Jersey’s very own Black Comic Book Festival “Khem Comic Fest” and travels across the country as a panelist for Full Spectrum: Why Color in Comics Matters and Using Comics to teach STEM. Published works include self-published sci-fi comic book series: P.B.Soldier and Jazen; and Director/Writer: P.B.Soldier “The Awakening” Short Film and P.B. Soldier Animated Short.
Mr. Gifted is the proud father of two children, a son and daughter.
Natasha Pared, Rafael Hernandez School
Mrs. Pared is a graduate of Luis Muñoz Marin Middle School and Barringer High School, where she graduated as the Valedictorian of her class. Mrs. Pared became the first member of her family to attend and graduate from college. She received her Bachelor of Arts and Masters degrees from Montclair State University in Early and Middle Childhood Education in January 2004. She has nearly 15 years of experience working in public schools. She began working in the Newark Public Schools in 2012 as an instructional coach at Chancellor Avenue School.
Mrs. Pared worked to develop the ability of teachers to meet the academic and social/emotional needs of students. During the 2014-2015 school year, she was promoted to Vice Principal at Chancellor Avenue School, where she remained until the 2017-2018 school year before becoming a Vice Principal at First Avenue School.
Mrs. Pared continues to be a proud resident of Newark. She and her husband are the proud parents of 3 children. Her eldest son, Nelson, is a graduate of Science Park High School and is currently attending Rutgers University. Her 2 youngest children, Nathan and Naya, attend Technology High School. She has recently welcomed 2 new members into her family.
Jill Summers-Phillips, John F. Kennedy School
Mrs. Summers-Phillips was surrounded by a family of educators and recreation specialists her entire life, which helped to inform her career working with youth and families. She began working with the Newark Public Schools in 2012, after having worked in the Orange Public School system, as an Inclusion Teacher and Technology Coordinator. At Hawthorne Avenue School in Newark, Mrs. Summers-Phillips served as a Technology Coordinator before focusing on long-term absences of elementary school building administrators. In 2008 Mrs. Summers-Phillips became a Vice Principal at George Washington Carver/Bruce Street School and served faithfully until transferring in 2014 to John F. Kennedy High School, where she most recently served as Vice Principal.
A dynamic leader, Jill Summers-Phillips works diligently to introduce new and innovative ways to move her students and staff towards excellence. She calls herself a bridge builder in education as she creates opportunities for students to be their most independent selves. Using various programs like “The Leader in Me” and “Character Counts,” she is able to show students and staff they are important not only to the school but the greater Newark community and beyond.
Mrs. Summers-Phillips has a Bachelors degree from William Paterson University, a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership from St. Peters College and is currently working on her Educational Doctorate at Seton Hall University. Her mother is a retired Art Teacher of 35 years with Newark Public Schools and her sister is currently an Elementary Teacher with Newark Public Schools. Mrs. Jill Summers-Phillips is committed to the success of all Newark Public Schools students.
Mrs. Summers-Phillips is the proud wife of Matthew, and daughter of James and Elizabeth Summers and sister Jamie Summers-Johnson is an elementary school teacher with NPS.
Michael West, East Side High School
Mr. West has worked for the past twelve years as Vice Principal at East Side High School, where he has served as an administrator for innovative and community programs. As Administrator, Mr. West advanced opportunities of urban students for career and college readiness. At East Side, Mr. West coordinated the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program, Rutgers University- Newark College Preparatory Program, Essex County College ( ECC) Early College Program, ECC Adult School and ESHS Step Up and Peer Group Connection Leadership Programs. In addition, Mr. West developed and supervised the Early College Program for those students who want to pursue and earn an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts from Essex County College, Newark, New Jersey. This innovative program provides East Side High School students an opportunity to graduate from high school with a two-year degree in Liberal Arts and enter a four year college in their junior year. Mr. West’s commitment has led to a large number of students leaving high schools with an Associates Degree.
Mr. West holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Montana, a Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Arizona State University, a Graduate Advanced Certificate in Administration and Supervision from Hunter College- City University New York (CUNY), New York. Additionally, he holds an Education Leadership Certificate from Columbia University-Teachers College, New York.
Michael and his wife Elizabeth Cardoso have one daughter.