More than four decades in the East Orange School District

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EAST ORANGE, NJ — “It’s just my calling, my gift from God,” said mathematics instructional coach Robin Lewis as she reflected on more than four decades working as an educator. With just over 44 years in the district, that’s a whopping 16,070 days, 385,680 hours and 23,140,800 minutes of Lewis instructing East Orange’s youth. But who’s counting?

Having recently announced her retirement, Lewis was hired by the district in 1978. 

“I have been here longer than I’ve not been here,” Lewis said. “I can’t explain it — I love the kids and I’ve always had a positive relationship with the people who work here. I’ve never had a reason to leave. Teaching is a calling — not everyone can do it.”

A graduate of Orange High School, Lewis was very active in extracurricular school activities, including cheerleading captain, homecoming queen and president of the Futures Teachers Club. Then, on the heels of graduating from Rutgers University with a double major in sociology and elementary education, Lewis was being recruited by school superintendents from both Newark and East Orange. 

“Actually, the whole story is that they asked me ‘what grade do you want to teach?’ I said that I wanted to teach either fifth or sixth grades because I did my teaching internship in a sixth-grade classroom at Camden Middle School. East Orange didn’t have any openings for these grade levels, though Superintendent (Kenneth) King said he had an opening at Vernon L. Davey/Cicely Tyson for grade seven,” Lewis said. “He told me that the next opening at the elementary school level would be mine. I accepted. I started working at VLD/CT, and by December he told me there was an opening at the elementary school.” 

But Lewis’ plans changed. 

“I just loved the kids,” she said. “I just loved the kids and I also liked the staff and the building. I was content with staying at VLD/CT and have been here for 44 years. I am happy I did.” 

Although Lewis holds a principal certification — she has worked with seven principals over the course of her career — and holds two master’s degrees, including in math pedagogy from Montclair State University, and in supervision and educational administration from Kean University, she has been committed to staying on the front lines. 

“I was a teacher for 28 years and a coach for the past 14 years. I’ve never aspired to be an administrator,” she said, adding that she even volunteered her time as the adviser for the school’s Community Service Club. “I was the first class adviser since forever.” 

Also, until recently, Lewis was the graduation coordinator for both the Cicely Tyson high school and middle school. And she played a role in the name changing committee to change the name of the school from Vernon L. Davey to Cicely L. Tyson. Her role as a liaison between Tyson and the school is also noteworthy. 

“I assisted Ms. Tyson with her community service efforts. Every thanksgiving and Christmas eve, since I can remember, I would go to New York and pick her up. She would have restaurants give us food, which we would disseminate to churches and other organizations, like homeless shelters and churches,” Lewis said. “She would also get clothes from Macy’s for distribution. We made sure Tyson students got coats and gloves, including at the elementary school level. She was really big with community service.”

For Lewis, her career has always been about the children. 

“They know I love them. I persevere with them. If they don’t get it, I persevere; I differentiate the work until they get it. I was consistent. I used groupings, stations, and all the best practices. I’ve always focused on research-based best practices. That’s what I brought to the teachers, too. I practiced what I preached,” she said.

As the year winds down, Lewis still contemplates the focus of her next chapter. 

“I don’t have any set ideas of what I want to do, but I know I will continue to be involved with community organizations. I do a lot of community work,” she said. Lewis is involved with The Links Inc., The Society Inc., AAngelsNJ, NAACP and Dufferettes.

“I also plan to travel to places,” she said. “I will travel to wherever the wind takes me, anywhere and wherever.” 

Lewis added that she may even become a Zumba instructor, since she already holds the certification. 

“She’s a piece of the Tyson family that is irreplaceable,” Tyson Principal John English said. “She mentored me as an educator every step of the way, from my first day as a teacher inside the classroom to an instructional coach, to an assistant principal to a principal. She’s been a tremendous part of my growth as an educator. Her experience is something that I’ve leaned on and valued. I will continue to lean on her even though she won’t be here.

“Congratulations on a phenomenal career,” he concluded. “You’ll definitely be missed.”

Photos and Text Courtesy of Mirvetk Tonuzi