'We Compete, They Win'
At Fair, Schools Work to Appeal to Students
Read this article as it originally appeared in Newark Patch
An estimated 180 students and their families attended a charter school fair Saturday, where attendees could learn about a sampling of charter and magnet school experiences offered by the city.
Students were able to select from among academies offering training in the trades to one school that follows a rigorous college preparatory track, vowing to get each of its pupils accepted into an institution of higher learning.
“Charter schools are a new option that gives parents choice,” said Mashea Ashton, the CEO of the nonprofit Newark Charter School Fund. “They offer unique themes, unique models. They give parents the chance to engage in the leadership of the school.”
While students must apply and be accepted at the city's magnet schools, charter school enrollment is by lottery if there are more applicants than places, which is frequently the case.
Charters are designed to give parents more say in the administration of the school and are also meant to increase a school's accountability for performance. Parents help select principals and have a voice in the school's management, Ashton said. Meanwhile, the administration has much more flexibility in assigning teachers and other staff than is the case in a traditional public school, although teachers still enjoy tenure protection in the charter system.
At charters, the administration can opt for longer school days or school years, Ashton said.
The ultimate goal, Ashton said, is to provide parents with more options within a public school system, setting up a "market" where a parent can select the best school for their child. To achieve that goal, schools should compete against one another -- even if there are losers as well as winners, Ashton said.
If a public school is not performing, "we think that school should be closed," Ashton said.
Saturday's event, held at the Camden Street school site, did have the distinct air of a market, with several schools in effect "hawking" their wares for passing parents and students.
"We're interested in showing the kids all their options. I guess we're all jockeying for kids now," said one West Side High School teacher.
Demond Jones, a "qualifying founder" of the Paulo Freire Charter School, which is set to open in September, stated the new ethos succinctly, referring to the new relationship between the schools and the students they serve.
"We compete, they win," he said.