Marion Bolden, the longtime and occasionally controversial superintendent of New Jersey’s largest school district, announced that she would resign the post at the end of the current school year. Bolden made the announcement at a press conference on Saturday at the Newark school headquarters. Bolden has led the state-run Newark school system, with more than 70 schools and 42,000 students, for nearly eight years.

New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine announced the formation of a 17-member search committee to find a replacement for Bolden. The panel will be headed by Rutgers University professor Clement Price and will begin immediately.

“There is no doubt that Marion Bolden will be a tough act to follow,” Corzine said. “We owe it to her legacy and the strong foundation she has built here to ensure that the next phase of leadership continues the momentum.”

Bolden’s departure comes at a critical time for the district. A number of positive changes and not-so-positive changes are impacting the educational system in the Garden State’s biggest city.

Bolden said the Newark school district is in transition.

“The school board is on the brink of going back to local controlled,” she said. “This is about more than just a new search for a new superintendent.”

Newark Mayor Cory Booker has been instrumental in implementing the much-heralded Safe School Initiative since taking office nearly two years ago. The program targets more than a dozen designated high-crime areas throughout the city.

“Our program has reduced the incidence of crimes in our designated safety zones,” Booker said earlier this year. “Our efforts to protect our children as they commute to and from school have played a vital role in ensuring our children can learn in a safe and secure environment.”

Also, it’s been nearly 20 years since the New Jersey Supreme Court lambasted the poor education system in the city of Newark and several other urban schools throughout the state. In 1990, the court ordered the state of New Jersey to provide comprehensive remedies to address the vast inadequacies it found in the Newark public school system. The court mandated increased state funding, supplemental K-12 programs and vast school facilities improvements. The court also grouped the troubled school districts together as the Abbot School District and placed the schools under state control. Under the court ruling, the construction of new and technology advanced educational facilities were ordered.

“Our city has witnessed the construction of only one new school since being designated as an Abbott School District,” Booker said. “In a city where the average age of our school buildings is 85 years old, I call upon the legislature to take immediate action to fund new schools within Newark.”

During her tenure, Bolden has been the face of the educational system in Newark through some of its most difficult times and embarrassing times. From the outrage and anger over her decision to remove a controversial yearbook photo of two gay African-American men kissing, to her comments regarding the horrific murders of three college students on school grounds in August, Bolden has weathered a swarm of controversy.

Officials expect the process to replace her to last through March. It is unclear if Bolden will be involved in the selection process or if she will remain an employee of the school district in some capacity after she resigns in June.