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Keep up with NCSF news & events!

Jun 29, 2018

Should ‘Newark Enrolls’ be scrapped?A guide to the debate over Newark’s controversial enrollment sys

News

Now that Newark’s school board has appointed a new school superintendent, both face a fundamental question that has long roiled the district: How should its 51,000 public-school students enroll in school?

Some in the city want to keep the current system, which folds together admissions for district and charter schools, insisting that it reduces the burdens placed on parents. Others want to overhaul or even abolish the system, arguing that it shuts some students out of their top choices and boosts charter-school enrollment at the expense of district schools. It’s a heated debate that’s now coming to a head.

In the not-so-distant past, enrollment meant walking to your neighborhood school to register, or submitting an application directly to one of the city’s many charter schools. But in 2014, the district adopted a radically different system, first called “One Newark” and now known as “Newark Enrolls,” that allows families to apply to almost any public school in the city — traditional, magnet, or charter — using a single online tool.

Newark was one of the first districts in the country to adopt this type of centralized enrollment system, which was designed to make it easier for families to take advantage of the city’s different school options. But its glitchy rollout sparked an uproar among parents, as charter critics attacked it as a ploy to funnel students into the city’s growing charter sector.

Four years and numerous improvements later, many families have grown used to the system, which uses an algorithm to assign students to schools based partly on their preferences. “If they’re able to select their school, and their child is going to their first choice, then there’s not a problem,” said Stacy Raheem, who as a staffer at Unified Vailsburg Services Organization, a West Ward community organization, helped about 40 parents apply to kindergarten for the fall.

And yet, the enrollment system, which was installed by an unpopular state-appointed superintendent, has never recovered from the controversy that marked its origins.

Now, the system’s fate will be decided by the elected school board — which just regained authority over the district this year — with help from the district’s newly selected superintendent, Roger León. As they weigh their options, board members have been hearing from district officials and charter-school leaders, who are scrambling to defend the system. But diehard critics continue to call for its dismantling.

“All you guys will be held accountable,” said Daryn Martin, a parent organizer, during public comments at a board meeting last week where he denounced the enrollment system. “Something’s got to be done about this.”

As Newark’s school-enrollment debate ramps up, here’s a guide to how it works and what could change.

What is Newark Enrolls?

“Newark Enrolls” is the city’s single enrollment system for most charter and district schools. About 12,100 families used it to apply to more than 70 schools this year.

Families can rank up to eight schools on a single application, which most complete online. (Those without online access can fill out paper applications.) Then a computer algorithm matches each student to a school based on the student’s preferences, available space, and rules that give priority to students who live near a school or whose siblings go there.

It costs the district about $1.1 million per year to manage the system.

Which schools are part of it?

Most of the city’s charter, magnet, and traditional schools participate in Newark Enrolls.

Newark is one of just a handful of cities, including Camden, Denver, and Washington, D.C., to feature this kind of “common” or “universal” enrollment system. It’s meant to spare parents from having to submit multiple, time-consuming applications that may have different deadlines — a system that advantaged families with the most time and resources. A centralized process also prevents schools from discouraging high-needs students from applying, an accusation that charter schools often face.

The city’s charter schools, which are independently operated, must agree to let the district manage their admissions. This year, 13 of the city’s 19 charter operators signed on. Charter schools that don’t participate, such as Robert Treat Academy and Discovery, handle their own admissions lotteries.

Students can also apply to the city’s six magnet high schools through Newark Enrolls. But unlike other district or charter schools, magnet schools are allowed to rank applicants based on their grades, test scores, and other factors, before the matching algorithm is run.

How well does it work?

There are different ways to measure that.

One indicator of success is how many families get their desired school. This year, 84 percent of incoming kindergarteners were matched with their top choice, and 94 percent got one of their top three choices. Among rising ninth graders, many of whom were competing for seats at the city’s coveted magnet high schools, only 41 percent got their first choice and 70 percent got one of their top three.

Another metric is parent satisfaction with the process. Among nearly 1,800 people who took a survey after completing an online application this year, 95 percent said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the enrollment process. A similar share said the application was “easy” or “very easy” to navigate.

Yet another yardstick is equity. One stated goal of the universal enrollment system was to ensure that charter schools, which enroll a third of Newark students, serve their fair share of students with disabilities. To achieve that goal, the system’s algorithm gives these students a boost when applying to schools where this population is underrepresented among applicants.

Both charter and magnet schools now serve more special-needs students than they did before Newark Enrolls. The increase was especially dramatic at magnet schools, where the percentage of ninth-graders with disabilities jumped from 5 to 13 percent between 2014 and 2017, according to a recent report by researchers at Columbia University, who note that the changes may have been caused by other policy changes in addition to the new enrollment system.

“This is about equity and access for all families,” said Newark Charter School Fund Executive Director Michele Mason, who is calling on the school board to preserve the universal enrollment system.

Still, the system has not, by itself, erased enrollment disparities.

Traditional high schools continue to serve a far needier population than magnet or charter schools, where the share of ninth-graders with disabilities inched up from 13 to 15 percent over that period. (At traditional high schools, the rate is 22 percent.) Also, the policy that gives priority to students who live near schools effectively walls off popular options from students in other neighborhoods, while magnet schools are essentially allowed to turn away students with low test scores or poor attendance records.

And no matter how well the algorithm works, there are too few high-performing schools to match every student to one who applies. In the most recent admissions cycle, about 1,800 rising ninth-graders listed magnet schools as their top choice — but those schools only had 971 seats to offer.

Why has it been controversial?

The enrollment system’s reputation has never fully recovered from its explosive inception. It was rolled out in late 2013 as part of “One Newark,” a sweeping overhaul that closed, consolidated, or restructured about a quarter of the city’s schools. Unveiled in one fell swoop by former Superintendent Cami Anderson, the plan was met with bitter protests and a federal civil-rights complaint. 

Read more of this article on chalkbeat

Jun 28, 2018

Newark’s Class of 2018: The Return on the Promise, Charters are Changing Lives

News

I love this time of year! I get to cheer on our young people as they embark on the next phase of their lives. From senior signing days to graduations, I recall sitting alongside proud administrators, teachers, and family members hearing amazing success stories of students overcoming considerable obstacles to not only become high school graduates, but for many of them, becoming the first in their families to go to college.

A few weeks ago, I was thrilled to team up with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, along with 200 guests that included parents, teachers, city officials, and community leaders, to celebrate our best and brightest graduates who announced college selections like Yale, Princeton, Rutgers, Clark-Atlanta, and Wesleyan this fall. It was a magnificent way to kickoff graduation season and showcase the resilience of the young people in our city.

In a way, this is the story of Newark—overcoming struggle, obstacles, and setbacks to produce stunning flowers with their full brilliance on display. After all, Newark was once considered the murder capital of the country. The child poverty rate was north of 40 percent, and our schools were so bad that we ceded control of the system to the state. Today, the crime rate has fallen, the economy is improving and we have regained local control of our schools. That’s why I believe it’s fitting that our students will get to write the stories about their futures as they move toward becoming economically-independent adults by pursuing higher education after high school. You could say Newark’s story is still being written as well.

The class of 2018 is living up to the promise we made to them years ago in kindergarten and first grade that if they commit to excellence, worked hard, and got good grades, colleges will be lined up to recruit them for their academic programs.

The seniors at Great Oaks Legacy took that promise to heart. For the second year in a row, 100 percent of them were accepted into a college or university. This year alone, their 52 seniors got into more than 400 colleges and received nearly $4 million in first-year scholarship offers. An outstanding feat for such a small class.

North Star Academy’s seniors are just as impressive with 100 percent of their 119-graduating seniors accepted into 485 colleges including Princeton, Stanford, Yale and Brown, and more. Over the last five years, North Star’s four-year college placement rate ranks the highest among all high schools in the state of New Jersey.

And at KIPP Collegiate Academy, its class of 129 seniors received acceptances to colleges, military, vocational and trade schools all across the country. In fact, KIPP is one of five New Jersey high schools in the 80/80 club where 80 percent of black students go to college, and 80 percent attend 4-year schools. The students there certainly heeded the promise as well.

While we celebrate these schools for the impressive work they did to get our children college-ready, we must remember that behind the numbers is a student, who along with their parents, chose and bought into the school’s mission. Without fully embracing the school’s culture, curriculum and quite frankly, educational process, we wouldn’t have college signing days or graduations to cheer on.

Our scholars are amazing. Their futures are bright, and by extension, Newark’s future is bright as well. The promise will be fulfilled when these graduates return home with their degrees in engineering, education, music and business to invest their hard-earned skills and talents back into the city that invested in them. Then we’ll start the clock all over again.

Congratulations to the Class of 2018!

Read more at the CitizenEd

May 30, 2018

LaPiana: An Interview with Michele Mason, Newark Charter School Fund

News

May 24, 2018

Newark Chooses One of Its Own To Serve As District Super

News

In its first big act after 22 years of state control, the Newark school board last night picked one of the city’s own as the next superintendent.

The board unanimously chose assistant superintendent Roger León for the post, in what turned out to be a two-man race for the opportunity to lead the state’s largest district after it returned to local control last year.

By all accounts, the other leading contender was A. Robert Gregory, also a longtime Newark educator who had been its interim superintendent for the past six months. But Gregory does not have the same deep community and political roots as León, and also served as deputy under the last state-appointed superintendent, Chris Cerf.

Other finalists were superintendents from Nashville and Baltimore, Sito Narcisse and Andres Alonso, respectively. They were both considered long shots in a district that was clearly looking to stay local in this first choice of a new superintendent.

“We had two great candidates, they both were well qualified for the district,” said board chair Josephine Garcia after the vote. “But we felt that Mr. León would lead our district in the best direction going forward.“

Asked León’s strengths, Garcia said: “His experience, his qualifications, everything he has done for this district.”

She said a contract had still to be finalized, including León’s salary.

Popular choice

Indeed, León was a popular candidate inside the community, as evidenced by a big turnout of support at a candidates forum on Friday and again a boisterous backing last night.

A Cuban-American native of Newark and 25-year veteran of the district, León has certainly put in his dues in the city, serving as a teacher, principal, and administrator under more than a half-dozen superintendents, both locally and state-appointed. He may have been best known as the principal of University High School, but it was often remarked how Leon had survived and thrived in a number of jobs through all these years and leadership changes.

Deep fractures

But the same meeting last night also displayed the deep fractures in the community that Leon will face takes the job on July 1.

During a public session preceding the vote, audience members complained about a number of issues that remain unresolved under the city’s newly established control, from ongoing tensions with charter schools to a shortage of textbooks. Midway through, a half-dozen students interrupted the meeting and took the stage with a bullhorn to voice their grievances as well.

“No matter who we picked as superintendent, we are going to have to work together,” said Wilhemina Holder, a longtime parent and community activist. “We have a lot of issues after the state was running things. Now we have one of our own who we should all come to embrace to help move the district forward.”

“No more excuses,” she said.

One of León’s biggest challenges will be in addressing the ongoing tensions over the expanding charter footprint in the city, where close to half of the students attend the alternative schools and to which the district pays close to a third of its budget.

Michele Mason, head of the Newark Charter School Fund, was on hand last night and said she looked forward to working with León. She had exchanged messages with him just before the vote.

“He reassured me that he was focused on students having access to a high-quality school,” Mason said. “I take him for his word, and indeed believe that is what he will do.”

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, a prominent Newark native and an influential legislative leader as chair of the Senate education committee, placed her backing behind León, and last night called him an “American dream story.”

“From Newark, growing up here with government assistance, becoming a teacher and then administrator, “ she said in an interview. “In whatever discipline he served in the district, he excelled.”

Apr 25, 2018

10 years strong; 2 years in. My, how time flies

By Michele Mason
NCSF Executive Director

Two years ago, I walked through the doors of the Newark Charter School Fund on a mission. I was given a formidable task of taking the helm of a ship at a crossroads. Stakeholders were worried. They were unclear about our future or what the path forward should be. Some openly pondered at the prospects that our days were numbered.

So there I was—April 25, 2016—ready to jump head first into turning an organization, founded with great fanfare just eight years prior, into either a continued force for education advocacy for Newark’s children or start winding down with a going out of business sign in the window. Read full story here...

Apr 24, 2018

Positive Community: NCSF Celebrates 10 Years With Pledge to Act Bolder for Newark Families

News

By Michele Mason, NCSF Executive Director
@MMasonmichele

They say when the stars and planets line up just right in the night sky, it’s one of those are celestial events that stops you in your tracks as you take in the majesty of the heavens at work. I experienced one of those majestic moments last month when I looked out into a room filled with educators, students, philanthropists, local leaders and friends at the Newark Museum who came together to mark Newark Charter School Fund’s (NCSF) first decade of service. See the full article here!

Apr 18, 2018

Moving Newark Schools Forward slate sweeps Newark Board of Education election

News

Article originally published on TapInto Newark

The candidates of a slate backed by Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos and charter school advocates were voted in by a wide margin in the Newark school board election on Tuesday, the first ballot contest since the return of local control after more than two decades of state control. 

The Moving Newark Schools Forward ticket, comprised of Yambeli Gomez,  Dawn Haynes, and Asia Norton, swept the three board positions up for grabs. As it has been in previous years, voter turnout was a low 5 percent. The North Ward generated the highest turnout with 5.8 percent while the East Ward generated the lowest at 2.9 percent.

With 99 percent of the vote counted, Haynes, the PTO president of Harriet Tubman Elementary School and an Air Force veteran, was the highest vote getter, garnering nearly 27 percent of the vote. Norton, a kindergarten teacher in Newark who has a master's degree in education from Columbia University, received 21.3 percent of the vote. Gomez, a legislative aide for Newark Municipal Councilman At-Large Eddie Osborne who was previously a labor organizer, received 19.2 percent of the vote.

“Today, Newarkers voted to move our schools forward," said Michele Mason, the executive director of the Newark Charter School Fund, which backed the winning slate. "I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and work with the newest members of the school board to ensure the 55,000 children of our city received the high-quality education they deserve. Again, congratulations to our new school board members.”

This year's school board election is significant because of a major move as to who controls the direction of the Newark school district, which serves 55,000 students. In September, the state Board of Education voted to return local control to the district, which had been state control since 1995. 

The vote came after it was determined that the district had made significant progress and had satisfied the regulatory requirements of QSAC, or Quality Single Accountability Continuum, the state Department of Education's monitoring and district self-evaluation system used for public school districts.

Since the return of local control on Feb. 1, the district has been led by Interim Superintendent Robert Gregory, who was appointed by the school board in January.

Apr 18, 2018

Election made history in Newark, even though the results weren’t a surprise

News

Article originally published on NJ.COM 

 

Tuesday marked a historic day for Newark schools.

For the first time in 22 years, residents voting in the local School Board race were electing candidates who will have actual decision-making power over the district -- like the authority to hire and fire the next schools chief. 

But despite the momentousness, turnout -- as usual -- was dismal. And the likely winners, according to preliminary results, were largely expected. 

With 98 of 110 districts reporting, about 6,700 ballots were cast, appearing to sweep the "Moving Newark Schools Forward," slate into power. Candidates Asia J. Norton, Yambeli Gomez and Dawn Haynes appeared to clinch the majority of the vote among a 13-candidate field, preliminary results from the Essex County Clerk's Office show.

The slate was backed by an alliance (now three years strong) between Mayor Ras Baraka, North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos and charter school advocates.

With the major power players aligned, the election was largely quiet, despite the high stakes facing the district. 

The School Board finally regained control of its schools in February after the state decided the district had made enough gains to end the decades-long takeover. 

"If you think of it from a broad view, this is a real moment -- kind of a historical moment -- this transition process from state control to local control," said Ronald Chaluisan, executive director of the Newark Trust for Education, a nonprofit.

Chaluisan said the city was still in transition and voter turnout may increase over time.

"As people understand how much more relevant it is to their day-to-day, we'll start to see an uptick in participation," he said. 

Participation in school board races tend to be low when they're not tied to a large race. Last year, the Newark Trust found only 5 percent of 139,000 registered voters cast ballots for school board. With 98 of 110 districts reporting about 6,700 ballots were cast out of 143,000 registered voters.

Three seats were up in this year's race, as none of the incumbent board members up for re-election opted to run.

School Board Chairman Marques-Aquil Lewis and board member Dashay Carter both decided not to run; board member Crystal Fonseca is instead running for East Ward Councilwoman in May's municipal elections.

Lewis, Carter and Fonseca were part of the Children First Team in 2015, supported by Baraka. Fonseca is now running on a slate with Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins, who is challenging Baraka for mayor.  

Tuesday's initial results, with 98 of 110 districts reporting, showed the slate dominating the race, by more than 1,000-vote margins. 

Yambeli Gomez received 3,484 votes, preliminary numbers show. She is an aide to At-Large Councilman Eddie Osborne and raised $11,150, campaign finance records show. 

Asia J. Norton is a family engagement coordinator at Liberty Elementary School and received 3,888 votes. Norton raised $8,863, records show.

Dawn Haynes is PTO president at Harriet Tubman Elementary and city employee. She received 4,868 votes, and raised $1,195, records show. 

Among their first task: Selecting a new superintendent. 

The board is searching for a new leader after state-appointed Superintendent Christopher Cerf resigned earlier this year. Under the district's two-year transition plan to local control, a new superintendent will be selected by May 31 and begin July 1. The two-year transition plan sets milestones for the district as it transitions, including a Nov. 6 election that will let residents decide whether they want an elected school board or one appointed by the mayor.

Michele Mason, executive director of the Newark Charter School Fund that helped shape the slate congratulated the new school board members. 

"Today, Newarkers voted to move our schools forward. I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and work with the newest members of the school board - Dawn Haynes, Yambeli Gomez and Asia Norton - to ensure the 55,000 children of our city received the high-quality education they deserve," she said in a statement. 

Here are preliminary results for the remaining candidates:

Marcus Allen: 486 votes
Denise Cole: 929 votes
Che' J. T. Colter: 941 votes
Khalil Hannah: 345 votes
Robert House: 184 votes
Jameel Ibrahim: 942 votes
Yolanda Johnson: 680 votes
Johnnie Lattner: 353 votes
Omayra Molina:822 votes
Barbara Anne Todish: 132 votes

Apr 5, 2018

I’m Celebrating How Newark Took Charter Schools From the Fringe to the Center

Opinion

Op-Ed originally published on Education Post

All parents deserve access to a high-quality school that nurtures and supports their children. But despite best intentions, many Newark parents continue to struggle finding great schools in the neighborhoods where they live. 

Many children fall victim to failing schools simply because of the ZIP codes they call home. Far too often, where children live can either propel them toward their destiny or block their blessings altogether.

My educational journey began with a tough decision that required my parents to make significant sacrifices.

You see, my twin sister and I failed kindergarten. The teachers decided they were going to put us in a pilot program for “special needs” kids. But our parents decided on a different educational path. They enrolled us in Catholic school, and that decision made all the difference—not just in my education, but in my attitudes toward education.

This is why I believe in parent choice.

THE INNOVATORS WENT MAINSTREAM

The charter movement started with education entrepreneurs who desired to start public schools that were innovative and independent, different from traditional public schools.

Like pioneers on the frontier, this goal instilled a can-do attitude and rugged individualism that defied the odds to offer truly great choices to families and children, especially those previously underserved. But, over time, the frontier becomes the heartland, and the charter movement, once on the edges of education reform, is now at its center.

This natural evolution in the movement demands fresh thinking beyond rugged individualism to collective action that benefits all.

This has been our experience in Newark. In 1997, two pioneer schools—Robert Treat Academy and North Star Academy—opened their doors to students. By 2007, 10 charter schools served 9 percent of public school students in the city. That first decade saw limited interaction among charter schools in the city, and even less with the district. The focus was appropriately inward, each school working on its own program.

As more parents turned to charters, school operators, supporters and advocates began to recognize an opportunity beyond individual schools serving discrete Newark neighborhoods. By sharing resources and coordinating activities, the charter movement could accelerate systemic change in Newark’s public schools, ultimately benefitting all.

A BIG BIRTHDAY

In that context, 10 years ago this month the Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF) was conceived as an intermediary to spark collaboration among charters, with advocates and funders—and ultimately with the district—to leverage the charter movement into transformational education reform.

By reframing the charter movement in Newark from isolated innovation to systemic change, the fund itself attracted over $50 million to Newark charter schools. This work set the stage in 2010 for a $200 million investment in both district and charter public schools from Mark Zuckerberg and other matching partners. With these additional resources, the number of charter operators almost doubled in the second decade to 19, and enrollment share more than tripled to nearly a third of all students.

Beyond supporting quality growth, the Newark Charter School Fund became the primary platform to convene charter leaders and connect them to their district counterparts. This led to several joint initiatives which have dramatically improved educational opportunities in Newark.

In 2013, this resulted in a joint district-charter strategy to turn around some of the district’s lowest-performing schools by restarting them under the management of charter operators. As the portfolio of charter and district options grew, NCSF partnered with the district in 2014 to develop a common enrollment system to provide equitable access to all public schools.

Early on, there was considerable resistance among charter operators to join with each other and the district on enrollment. Each charter saw other public schools as competition and did not want to relinquish control to admissions, a key driver of funding and growth.

But the fund helped convince most charters that an enrollment system where parents had to submit separate applications to multiple district and charter schools, particularly as options grew, was neither sustainable nor equitable. Today, common enrollment, in addition to being parent-friendly, represents the largest and most successful collaboration between Newark charter and district schools, with over 95 percent of public education seats in Newark served by the system.

Most recently, the fund has been organizing Newark charter school collaboration toward better serving students with special needs. Early efforts at informal collaboration evolved into the New Jersey Special Education Collaborative, a membership organization that provides support services for schools not only in Newark but across the state.

I hope the Newark experience inspires parents and educators across the nation to find more ways to work together, and with other public education partners, to find innovative solutions that not only help your own school but transform public education system for your city or state as a whole.

Every child can go to a great school, with exceptional leaders and inspiring educators who believe in them and encourage students to dream big.

Apr 2, 2018

Michele Mason: Steady Improvement in the School Enrollment System in Newark (VIDEO)

News

Mar 27, 2018

New Jersey charter schools come together in advocacy for Parent Action Day

News

Article originally published on TapInto Newark

More than 500 charter school parents, educators and advocates from across the state gathered at the Statehouse in Trenton Monday for a CharterStrong Parent Action Day rally to celebrate New Jersey’s 50,000 public charter school children and to raise awareness of the more than 35,000 children that remain on charter school waiting lists.

Organized by a coalition of parents, schools and advocacy organizations including Better Education for Kids (B4KNJKids), the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, JerseyCAN and the Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF), the initiative, now in its third year, was also a way to highlight the contributions of charters throughout the state.

Holding signs and wearing #CharterStrong t-shirts as a student drum line led the group for a short march from the War Memorial to the State Street outside the Statehouse which is undergoing renovations, charter advocates from Newark, Paterson, New Brunswick, Plainfield, Camden, Trenton, Jersey City, Hackensack, Elizabeth, Hoboken and Atlantic City, among others, applauded the many elected officials from across the state who came out to show support for New Jersey's 89 charter schools.

“There are 50,000 kids in charter schools for a reason,” State Senate President Steve Sweeney said at the rally. “We shouldn’t have 35,000 kids on waiting lists. “I want you all to know I'm with you not 100 percent—but 1,000 percent."

State Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, who gave a special shout-out to Newark, noted the need for elected officials to listen to their constituents.

“I’m here to listen to the parents because that’s our job as lawmakers,” said Ruiz, the chair of the Senate Education Committee. “I’m here to support you. We must listen to parents who want a different pathway for their kids. The government must step up to the plate and provide choices.”

Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington County) said he and his brother attended schools of choice "before it became cool to be in charter schools."

"It's not about which education system is better than the other," Singleton said. "It's about making them all better. Together we can make this happen."

Other elected officials in attendance include Sen. Declan O'Scanlon (R-Monmouth) and Assembly Education Committee Chair Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden) and Assembly Budget Committee Chair Eliana Pintor (D-Newark) and Deputy Speaker Gary Schaer (D-Passaic).

Altorice Frazier, a Newark charter parent and advocate and one of the organizers of the event, said the rally was held to bring attention to the growing charter movement and the work that still needs to be done.

“We want our new governor to know that we’re supporting charters and that we are parents who really support this side of education,” he said, noting New Jersey’s 30,000 students on charter school waiting lists. “I’ve been blessed to be a parent in this space and to make sure we have a platform. This is an amazing synergy of energy coming together. It’s an opportunity to show our legislators and policy makers that we are parents who have chosen this kind of education because it’s innovative.”

Verndrey Elliott, whose four children attended Newark’s North Star Academy, said she was in the state's capital to advocate for charters and to be a voice in the ongoing district-charter debate.

“I’m proud of where we’re going right now, but I’m still concerned about some of the myths going around,” she said, noting a divide that still exists among some district and charter parents. “Charters have raised the bar for other schools. We need district schools to be more competitive. We still have parents that need more options.”

Chief Academic Director at Plainfield's Queen City Academy Charter School Danielle West, who spoke at the rally, referred to herself as a "product of choice."

"Fast forward 20 years and here we have strong charter options before us--options of quality," West said.

Ashley Campbell, a charter advocate who sends her daughter to Philip’s Academy Charter School in Paterson, believes that charter schools offer more choices.

“I’m an advocate for my daughter,” she said. “She is what makes me do this. I want her to have the best opportunities. Charters are essential to my daughter’s future.”

Campbell looks to Newark as a model for her mission of uniting Paterson district and charter parents.

“Newark brings their charter and public schools together and I’m trying to do that in Paterson,” she said, noting that many parents in Paterson are unaware of the city's five charter schools as an option. “I’m trying to be an advocate and a voice for the parents.”

Charter school teacher Justine Thimmel, who teaches fourth and fifth grades at Paterson Arts and Science Charter School, was proudly marching among parents and educators, noting her support of the charter mission of educational excellence.

“I’m here advocating for my kids,” she said. “This is a great cause. We’re all coming together to support our kids.”

Newark Charter School Fund Executive Director Michele Mason said the initiative was an opportunity for families to share their stories about the positive impact public charter schools are having for the 50,000 students across the state, including more than 17,000 Newark students, each year.

“Supporting school choice options like charters is key to ensuring quality educational opportunities continue for all of our current students and grow to meet the needs of future generations,” Mason said. “Our goal for all public schools—charter and district—is the same: to provide a high-quality education that meets the needs of all the children they serve.”

Mason cited recent studies out of Newark that have shown the positive impact charter schools have made in the district.

“Charters help all public schools thrive by providing diverse, innovative options for families by raising average student achievement across the city,” she said. “Therefore, it is essential that full resources follow the child to the public school of their choice. We applaud the Governor’s recent budget proposal that gets us closer to this, but more work is needed to ensure full equity for charter and district students. CharterStrong Parent Action Day is a message to legislators that parents should have the power to choose the best school option for their child and they need to support them in their effort.”

Murphy’s recent budget proposal, which includes a new tax rate of 10.75 percent on incomes over $1 million, would serve to boost funding to schools.

B4NJKids Executive Director Shelley Skinner said the support of policymakers is crucial for charters.

“We are committed to making sure every family in New Jersey can access high-quality schools for their children," Skinner said. “In our view, many public charter schools have been providing to achieve that mission. Regretfully, charter schools are often politicized, but the choices our families are making every day are not political ones. They're simply trying to set their children on a path to success in a safe, dynamic learning environment. We hope that decision-makers will see that any changes in charter policy have real, direct impacts on families in these communities and that families are empowered and want to be a part of the conversation.”

New Jersey was the 25th state to enact charter school legislation since the New Jersey Charter School Program Act was passed and signed into law in 1995 under former Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, with the state’s first charter schools opening in 1997.

Charter schools are public schools that operate as their own Local Education Agencies (LEA) under a charter granted by the state’s education commissioner, with the New Jersey Department of Education acting as the sole charter school authorizer in New Jersey.

Mar 23, 2018

Op-Ed: A Monumental Opportunity For Newark’s Education System

Opinion

Originally published in the September 2017 issue of Positive Community

As I enter my 16th year as an educator, I am excited about public education in our city and the continued opportunity to serve Newark’s children and families. The opportunity to advance the cause of our children has never been greater in the city. This spring, the Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF) will celebrate a decade of work. Although, this effort continues to evolve and grow as we respond to the needs and demands of our children and parents, we remain committed to a core set of values:

  • All children deserve GREAT—great schools and great learning opportunities.
  • Parents and families are essential partners in a quality system of education.
  • Great schools are rooted in community.
  • Strong educational opportunities for learning and growth create strong communities.
  • Strong educational opportunities require common accountability with shared responsibility.
  • Effective two-way communication is essential to building a truly outstanding education system. 

These values guide our day-to-day activities at NCSF, which are focused in five key areas: high quality, to ensure our children are well prepared; advocacy, to support the voice of our children and families; collaboration, to broaden our impact; equity, to ensure that all Newark children have opportunity; and sustainability, to ensure the lasting impact of the work we do.

At the start of the school year, Superintendent Chris Cerf and Mayor Ras Baraka modeled the path forward in partnership, highlighting the upward trajectory of Newark’s public schools, both district and charter. Superintendent Cerf underlined the significant progress that has been made over the past several years, citing the rise in graduation rates, from 60 percent in 2011 to 80 percent last year, as well as gains in student test scores that exceeded the state average. Mayor Baraka continues to emphasize the importance of education to the future of our city and how a return to local control will empower Newark to build on the progress occurring in the Newark education ecosystem.

They are right! The academic performance of Newark’s children is improving. Graduation rates are up, reading and math performance are on the rise, and we’ve narrowed the racial and economic achievement gap in our city. This is a marked difference from when NCSF began its work almost a decade ago. Today, we have clear evidence that with appropriate attention and intervention we can better support the aspirations of our children. To advance and accelerate this progress we will have to find new ways to innovate and collaborate so that WE can impact greater numbers of Newark children regardless of where they attend school.

NCSF continues to be a good partner in Newark supporting quality and equity in public charter schools and collaboration with NPS and other key stakeholders in a growing number of areas to ensure that we all more effectively meet the needs of Newark children and families. As a community we are having important and meaningful conversations about our children and their education. The Mayor’s education community conversations last year began an important process of community dialogue about our public education system. This fall the Newark Trust for Education (supported by our Mayor and a coalition of Newark community and education organizations) will coordinate another important step for our community’s education dialogue that aims to ensure broad community input on issues related to our school system’s return to local control. NCSF is committed to supporting this dialogue and the desire to lift up the voices of a broad cross section of Newarkers.

More and more I find myself working collaboratively with Newarkers from all corners of Newark’s education space to nurture the growth and development of our children and expand the impact of the lessons learned over the last decade. As we stand on the threshold of NPS’s return to local control, there is reason for some hard-won optimism as we celebrate the opening of another school year and begin to consider the kind of outstanding public education system that our children need and deserve.

At NCSF, we support a broader dialogue and will continue to help move the education conversation in Newark away from artificial lines drawn in the sand between traditional and charter toward a more inclusive conversation about meeting the needs of Newark’s children and families. A great system of public education in Newark is achievable and will be multifaceted to better meet the diverse needs of Newark’s children. A shared commitment toward increasing student achievement and attaining educational equity are what unites us all across our city.

For example, the two newest charter schools opening in Newark this year are part of blended networks that include both traditional district schools and charter schools. BRICK Achieve Charter School is part of the BRICK network of schools within the South Ward Children’s Alliance. BRICK serves children and families exposed to significant adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress through an evolving comprehensive, interlocking network of education, social services, and community-building programs. LEAD Charter School is part of the Opportunity Youth Network, which is dedicated to serving “opportunity youth”—young people over aged (16 to 24 years old) and disconnected from school and work—in Newark. Both organizations are focused on addressing the needs of targeted student populations in Newark with effective solutions. NCSF is committed to supporting creative solutions that meet the needs of Newark’s children and families.

Imagine the City of Newark with a truly outstanding education system that provides all of its children with great school options and a deep well of supportive learning opportunities. Hold that image in your mind. Consider the work that must be done to achieve such a vision—the needed community conversations, the partnerships that must be forged, the trust that must be built and the needed supporting children and family services. All of this and more are needed to create a responsive and resilient Newark education ecosystem that will effectively support the needs and aspirations of all Newark children and families. NCSF is committed to Newark’s children and families and we are committed to an outstanding system of education in Newark. Working together we can make that happen.

 

Michele Mason is the Executive Director of the Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF). Established in 2008, the NCSF is a non-profit organization whose mission is to support the quality, growth, and sustainability of the charter sector in order to provide all of Newark’s students with access to great schools in collaboration with district efforts to improve the quality of Newark public education. http://ncsfund.org/

Mar 23, 2018

Op-Ed: Great Public School in Newark Lift All of Us Up

Opinion

Originally published in the April 2017 issue of Positive Community.

Every community deserves a great public education system that offers high-quality educational options for all students and families. Whether that’s a great public charter school, traditional public school, magnet school or vocational school, what really matters is that there is a healthy, vibrant and resilient ecosystem that supports and maintains a portfolio of great public school options for parents and children in Newark. 

As a champion of every child across Newark, I’m fighting to ensure all of our children have access to great public schools that nurture their talents and support their growth. The reality is that great public schools that are responsive to the needs of children and families, regardless of their governance, lift all of us up. When the Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF) launched in 2008, the educational landscape in Newark was quite different. The district had been under state control for over a decade, return to local control seemed like a distant dream and high-quality public school options for children were limited. Charter schools were just beginning to make inroads across the city, so our explicit focus was to build capacity and space for high-quality public charter schools in Newark. 

Over the past eight years, NCSF has successfully supported the quality, growth, and sustainability of the Newark public charter school sector. The charter sector in Newark now serves over one- third of all public school students and is recognized as one of the top-achieving sectors in the nation in terms of both reading and math impact. 
As the public charter sector grew, NCSF’s role evolved, transforming into a leading voice for quality public education here in Newark and across the state. We learned that in order to meet the needs of Newark children and families, collaboration and partnership is vital for the success of all Newark children. Over 40 percent of Newark’s charter school parents also have a child in a district school. Doing our work well means building bridges with Newark Public Schools, elected officials, parents and other community- rooted partners.

NCSF has fostered collaboration between charter and district schools, working to break down the “us versus them” mentality. A majority of Newark charter schools joined forces with Newark Public Schools to participate in Newark Enrolls, a common enrollment system that in the four years since its implementation has steadily improved and is now successfully serving the interests of all students and families.

Today’s educational landscape in Newark looks quite different than when we first began our work. The return to local control is imminent, there are more high-quality public school options than ever before and there’s a real willingness across our community to work together to better meet the needs of Newark’s children and families. Within this altered landscape, NCSF is deepening its concentration on high-quality education growth – whether it’s a public charter school or a traditional school (or some other educational option that meets the needs of our children) – to achieve an excellent education system that supports all children and families across our community. NCSF is committed now more than ever to creating great school.

The progress we have made over the last decade shows us that the best way to shape the future is to participate in the present. On April 25th, Newark will hold the School Advisory Board Election. This election presents Newarkers with the first real opportunity to influence the future of Newark Public Schools and, consequently, Newark’s public education landscape. On the eve of the return to local control, the incoming board members will, for the first time in over 20 years, have the opportunity to hire their own superintendent and make decisions that they alone will have to own. 

I urge community members to get involved in Newark’s education conversation and go out and vote in the upcoming school board election. We need a School Advisory Board comprised of diverse voices, who are willing to fight for the interests of all Newark families and who understand that our families deserve access to high-quality educational options for their children. 

The return to local control presents a unique opportunity for meaningful collaboration to forge a great future for our children. I am ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with the school district, parents and other community stakeholders to build on the progress we have made, as we chart our shared pathway forward. United, we can deliver transformational change to our city’s education system and ensure every child has the capacity to achieve greatness when he or she has access to great schools and teachers. 

Michele Mason is the Executive Director of the Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF). 

Mar 23, 2018

Great Public Schools in Newark Lift All of Us Up

Opinion

Mar 23, 2018

Remarkable Newarkers: Michele Mason

News

Michele Mason's impact on education is felt throughout the city.

When Mason took over as head of the Newark Charter School Fund, she stepped right into the middle of a power struggle between supporters allied with the city's traditional district schools and reformers standing with the fast-growing public charter school sector.

Fast forward two years, there is growing peace between the two opposing sides. Mason was one of the key players - along with former Newark Schools Superintendent Chris Cerf and Mayor Ras Baraka - to make that détente happen on behalf of Newark's children. 

"We are in a good place today. Both sectors work more cooperatively than before-there's no us versus them," Mason said. "All of us share the vision that every child in Newark should have access to great schools, mentors, and teachers in their neighborhoods. My role is to ensure high-quality charter schools are an integral part of that vision for thousands of parents and their children across the city." 

Mason was instrumental in forming the last two slates of school board candidates with Baraka and North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr. that ran under the unity ticket. Though candidates had differing views on charter schools, they ran together under the banner that all children in Newark deserve to attend a great school.

Baraka, who called for a charter school moratorium during his mayoral campaign in 2014, no longer aims his fiery rhetoric at charter schools.

"I have a positive relationship with the mayor," Mason said. "I share his concerns for the need to improve quality at schools across our city. He wants residents to be able to move into neighborhoods where their children can attend great schools. I want that, too. And I believe he understands in order for us to make this a reality for all families both sectors must work together."

Mason, who lives in Newark, is a New Jersey native who has spent her career in education. She previously served as deputy director of JerseyCAN, a nonprofit organization that connects education leaders with the information they need to enact policies that will make great schools available to all New Jersey children.

She has also worked for KIPP Academy in the Bronx and Uncommon Schools North Star Academy in Newark and Teach for America - New Jersey. She serves on the boards of the
Newark Education Trust, New Jersey Charter School Association, and NJPAC'S subcommittee on Arts & Education. 

In Newark, Mason has worked behind the scenes to ensure collaboration between district and charter schools. One such effort is a collaboration between Uncommon Schools North Star Academy and the district to share best teaching practices with district teachers.

"I believe this collaborative approach is a genuine one," Mason said. "I want to see more cross-sector partnerships, like this one, that focuses on student success so we use it as a model and scale it up across the city."

When former Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson rolled out a controversial universal enrollment system that allows parents to apply to all district schools and most of the charters with one enrollment application, it was met with lots of challenges and skepticism. Although Mason was not working in Newark during the rollout, over the last two years, she has focused her efforts on improving the system. Today, parents can indicate neighborhood and sibling preferences as well as access a family support portal online.

"We definitely had some challenges when the city launched universal enrollment, but it's a lot better now," Mason said. "I feel like we're leveling the playing field. Now it's much easier for parents to navigate the entire public education system with just one application." 

Critics of charters complain that they do not enroll enough special education students, but Mason said the number of special education students has increased in charter schools overall as a result of universal enrollment.

Mason's impact can also be felt among the parents. She has worked to ensure charter parents have a voice in the ongoing debate over education.

"I find most parents aren't overly concerned about whether their child attends a charter, district or magnet school, they simply want the best school for their kid," Mason said. "That's why I'm so determined to give Newark parents access to quality educational options so they can determine the right fit for their child.  After all, they are just as much a partner in the educational journey of their children as we are."

 

Read this article on TapInto

Mar 23, 2018

Universal Enrollment credited with bringing equity and access to Newark’s school district

News

The City of Newark was launched into a period of conflict after the state seized control in the spring of 1995, when a judge determined that too many of the district's schools were failing.

Determined to regain autonomy, the district set itself on a path to right itself and improve its schools.

Superintendents came and went. There was the closure of schools, a general restructuring of the district and a new enrollment system called One Newark rolled out by former superintendent of schools Cami Anderson, an appointee of former Gov. Chris Christie, who was sent in to take over Newark’s struggling school system in 2011.

Since then, Newark has regained local control. Its schools and students are improving and the district now leads other comparable districts throughout the state and across the country. 

In returning the district to local control, the state board of education cited substantial progress made in recent years. 

Since 2011, the district’s graduation rate has improved nearly 20 percentage points to 78 percent and Newark now outperforms the vast majority of comparable districts in the state in reading and math, moving from the bottom third among comparable districts to outperforming 80 percent of them today.

Universal enrollment system—now rebranded as Newark Enrolls—remains a point of controversy in the district. Just Friday, City Association of Supervisors and Administrators (CASA) Vice President Walter Genuario called for a dismantling of the program.

But studies reveal that its implementation, along with the expansion of high quality schools, has helped move the district forward.

When universal enrollment initially took full effect in 2014, it was intended to provide a system to manage student enrollment across district and charter sectors, give parents access to district, charter and magnet schools and provide a fairer, streamlined process to help determine which students got into which schools.

While many urban districts have had processes for managing choice among district schools they control, universal enrollment for both district and charter schools is a much more recent phenomenon.

Newark Charter School Fund Executive Director Michele Mason noted the equity that universal enrollment has brought to the district.

“Universal enrollment has leveled the playing field for participating district and charter schools to the benefit of parents and students,” Mason said. “This is about equity and access to great schools, regardless of zip code or street address. Your block should not determine your blessings. By having one common application for parents to navigate options across the city, we are meeting the needs of parents.”

Features of the revamped universal enrollment system—which started in December and will end on February 16—include a common timeline across all schools for application submissions, with families submitting one application listing their school preferences for any public charter or district school in the city.

Matches are made through a common process and algorithm agreed upon by the district and participating schools, where students either accept their match or appeal and re-enter the process.

At universal enrollment's inception in 2013, 75 percent of seats at K-8 district elementary schools were assigned based on sibling preference and geography, while the remaining 25 percent were assigned based on random lottery that considered students from both inside and outside the neighborhood on equal footing.

Last year, 100 percent geographic preference was applied, giving students with siblings or those living in the neighborhood priority to a school before others from outside the neighborhood were considered. This policy change led to 98 percent of incoming kindergarten students being matched to the district school of their choice in their own neighborhoods.

Key improvements to Newark Enrolls were announced earlier this year, including more equitable access by providing neighborhood preference for 100 percent of district elementary schools, with students assigned to the highest-ranked school choice available.

Other improvements include increased accessibility of the online application, decreased wait times and better service at the family support center and a new, streamlined timeline that will allow parents to receive school assignments and waitlist results simultaneously.

Large urban districts and charter schools started considering universal enrollment at the beginning of the decade, with notable early adopters of the enrollment system including Denver and New Orleans in 2012 and Washington, D.C. in 2014, with Newark the fourth city to adopt the system that same year.

In Newark, universal enrollment was the centerpiece of Anderson’s One Newark reforms. 

Beginning in mid-2013, Anderson argued the need for universal enrollment, citing several factors including family demand for choice.

This demand was evidenced by response to the district’s rollout of a single enrollment for its own high schools and the high number of students—more than 10,000 at the time—on charter school wait lists.

Charter school growth was also a factor, with charter growth accelerating and market share projected to increase from 21 percent to more than one-third by 2018.

Inequitable distribution of student need was another consideration of Anderson’s, with demographic data indicating that while many charters were serving a proportionate share of high-need students, the charter sector as a whole was not.

Anderson proposed that the solution to these issues would include a single application that served to eliminate barriers to high-quality schools and a family ranking system that gave families an opportunity to list schools in order of personal preference, including factors such as quality, specific student need and supports and geography.

Because charter school laws never anticipated the implementation of a universal enrollment system, participation was never mandated and instead had to be a voluntary partnership with participation determined by each individual “Local Education Agency” (LEA), both charter and district.

In order to achieve this participation, district officials partnered with the Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF) and several key charter representatives to form the Policy Development Committee (PDC), which developed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to detail the universal enrollment system.

“Schools now share a common set of rules, deadlines and processes that are clearly communicated to families,” Mason said. “The distribution of high-needs students has become more equitable and the enrollment process has become more efficient and reliable. Because of these benefits, over 95 percent of available district and charter school seats in Newark are now filled through universal enrollment.”

The original MOU began with seven guiding principles, including transparency, choice, equity, community, access, ease and reliability.

The MOU addressed the need for all participating district and charter LEAs to share a common set of rules and preferences that were clearly communicated to families, that the primary determinant of where students enrolled and what school best met the needs of students should be the family’s choice and that the distribution of high-needs students should be equitable across all LEAs in Newark.

The MOU also offered highest-need students with greater preference to attend a school of their choice and provided students with the option of attending neighborhood schools.

It also addressed the need for one enrollment timeline and application to make the process easier for families. 

While the guiding principles of the MOU have remained the same, there have been key improvements over time that have incorporated community and stakeholder feedback.

Altorice Frazier—a parent advocate, co-founder of Parents Engaging Parents (PEP) and co-chair of the Essex County Council For Young Children—believes that universal enrollment has provided more equitable school options for parents. 

"It's beneficial if it's done right," Frazier said. "It levels the playing field. I really believe that it ensures that kids can get into the schools that are right for them. It eliminates the lottery so now parents have the opportunity to choose the right schools for their children. It needs some improvements but it's doing what it's supposed to do. We now have due process."

But Frazier emphasized the need for parents to take an active role in the process, do their research and make informed choices about specific schools.

"Parents need to be full partners of our children's educational experience," he said. "They need to do their homework."

Mason noted the evolution of the process since its inception.

“Universal Enrollment in Newark is about meeting the needs of parents and creating ease and access to great schools across the city,” Mason said. “Parents are our partners and UE has evolved by responding to parent demand and request in three major areas: neighborhood preference, sibling preference and access to online portal to better navigate options.”

Grade-level participation has now been expanded to include pre-kindergarten and non-Newark residents are now allowed to apply to Newark schools through the UE system and are placed once Newark residents have been matched.

In addition, several enhancements have been made to the ranking and matching algorithm based on family and school feedback, including sibling preference—families can now link siblings who are applying to attend new schools together.

The original high-need cap was also eliminated—if a school’s high-need population exceeds the citywide population, high-need students can still be placed in the school if ranked as part of their list on applications.

“From the beginning, the choices that families make for which schools can best meet their needs was the primary determinant in matching students,” Mason said. “What’s been improved is that now families can indicate if they want siblings to be matched to the same school. The neighborhood preference is also stronger. Now, 100 percent of seats at K-8 schools are reserved for nearby children, so more students are matched to schools close to their home. As a result of all these improvements, now more than 75 percent of families receive one of their top three choices each year.”

Mason also cited increased assistance at the Family Support Center.

Information about the process has also been shared on a number of platforms, such as enrollment events and open houses. A kindergarten enrollment event was recently held for parents to learn about the transition process.

In addition, a Family Enrollment Portal launched in May provides parents with the ability to directly address many of their enrollment needs online and allows families who arrive in Newark after the application period has ended to enroll in a school of their choosing online. Families can also change schools online.

Nearly 2,500 people accessed the portal in the first two weeks alone.

“Universal enrollment was and remains about parents having equitable access to great schools across the city regardless of zip code and is the logical response to the growth of public charter, district, and magnet school options in many cities, including Newark, over the past decade,” Mason said. “Returning to a multitude of separate enrollment systems would be unmanageable, inefficient, and inequitable for families and schools alike. We will continue to work with parents and schools to improve universal enrollment and make it the best it can be.”

Read the article on TapInto

Mar 18, 2018

Steady Improvement in the School Enrollment System in Newark

News

Mar 7, 2018

NCSF Celebrates 10 Years of Promoting High-Quality Education for All City Students

Press Releases

[Newark, NJ—March 7, 2018] — Educators, students, government officials, philanthropists and other local leaders gathered last night to mark the Newark Charter School Fund’s (NCSF) first decade of service. The “Back to the Future!” themed event celebrated an accomplishment-filled past and challenged the charter school community to dream bigger and act bolder for the future of Newark’s students and families.

About 200 persons at the Newark Museum heard Mayor Ras Baraka, State Sen. Teresa Ruiz and other distinguished speakers reflect on the state of educational reform in Newark and the role NSCF has been playing since it was created to address the serious demand for high-quality school options.

Mayor Baraka said, “Focusing on young people is always the best option. I want to congratulate the Newark Charter School Fund on 10 years of success. “

Senator Ruiz added, “It’s not about the adults in the room, it’s about that one child; that one student. It’s about where they are today and where we can take them in the future.”

Keynote speaker Kinyette Henderson shared her inspiring experience from charter school student to teacher. She remembers, as a charter student, “Attending charter school wasn’t just a daily obligation for me. It was four years full of valuable moments. Valuable opportunities. Valuable individuals and valuable lessons.” As a charter teacher, she closed, “I am honored to be a part of this story…. There is no greater way to see a change than being that change.”

The event doubled as the seventh annual signing of the Newark Charter Schools Compact, a statement of common values and commitment by Newark’s charter schools to the city

Interim Newark Interim School Superintendent Robert Gregory noted, “The Newark Charter School Fund has been a collaborative partner of the district in achieving key goals: raising student achievement, increasing equitable access to schools, ensuring funding through residency verification, and improving instruction by sharing best practices. We look forward to continuing to work together to ensure all children in Newark get the education they deserve.”

Established in 2008, the Newark Charter School Fund is a non-profit organization that makes grants to support the quality, growth, and sustainability of Newark’s public charter school sector. The Fund’s mission is to improve education quality and options so that all Newark students can attend great schools in collaboration with the district’s efforts on behalf of public education in the city.

Today, public charter schools across New Jersey provide families from diverse racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds excellent educational opportunities. About 33% of Newark youngsters attend 19 public charters on 46 campuses in the city.

“It’s been 10 years since the founding of the Newark Charter School Fund, and what a remarkable decade it has been,” said Michele Mason, Executive Director of NCSF, summarized the purpose of the event.  Once a set of individual pioneers seeking to provide better options for children, we are now a united movement creating collective impact—and catalyzing systemic change. Student achievement has grown, not only in charters, but across the city. Throughout, we have remained steadfastly committed to the values of quality, access, collaboration, and equity. We all know that our work is not finished until every child has a quality educational option. But our collective progress to date gives me confidence that in the next 10 years this goal can be achieved. So, let’s celebrate our progress so far—and look ‘back to the future.’”

Attendees also viewed a video retrospective on NCSF’s founding, accomplishments, and impact over the past 10 years. It highlighted key grantees, successful advocacy work, and the importance of universal enrollment in promoting excellence and opportunity.

Oct 16, 2017

New Harvard Study Shows Newark Schools on the Right Track

News

Statement by Michele Mason, Executive Director, NCSFund on “Newark School Reform: Within- and Between-School Changes in Achievement Growth”

“The achievements documented in this report show the power of collaboration. Making Newark’s public schools better is a team effort that is paying off for students.

“When families have broad public school choices, their children have the opportunity to excel.

“The encouraging findings make a strong case for keeping Universal Enrollment and continuing to sustain and expand quality, innovative public school options

“It’s great to see Newark setting a strong example for cities around the nation.”

 

Read the report: "Assessing the Impact of the Newark Education Reforms:  The Role of Within-School Improvement vs. Between-School Shifts in Enrollment

Read the white paper: "School District Reform in Newark: Within-and Between-School Changes in Achievement Growth"

Aug 21, 2017

Lifelong Champion of Youth to Open LEAD Charter School

News

The first thing you notice about Robert Clark is his smile, then his energy, as he strides down the halls of LEAD, his new charter high school that will open in September.

The modern LEAD building at 201 Bergen Street is alive with activity, as Clark’s team gets ready to open its doors to 92 students in just a few short weeks.

Clark pokes his head into every classroom to check on the progress—smart boards are being hoisted onto walls, desks are finding their homes and wiring is being installed.

“How’s it going?” he asks a group of guys working in a freshly-painted classroom on the second floor.

All is well, they tell Clark, who smiles and moves on to the next room.

“By Friday, all these desks will be in place,” says Clark.

This is the realization of a dream, a mission of a man who has devoted his years to Newark’s youth.

Clark is known to Newarkers as the founder and executive director of YouthBuild Newark, a youth and community development agency that has served Newark’s disconnected youth for more than 12 years.

At the core of YouthBuild Newark’s philosophy, Clark says, is the belief that when disconnected young people are provided with a nurturing, loving environment, along with a a relevant education and the skills they need, they develop into productive and self-reliant members of the community.

Now Clark, the first YB graduate to establish a YouthBuild program, is taking his more than 22 years of experience in youth development and is opening a school aimed specifically at nontraditional students—the first of its kind in the city.

LEAD Charter School is designed to look, feel and operate radically differently from traditional high schools, and it will stay true to the philosophy upon which YouthBuild was built, Clark says.

The school was established for young people who find themselves on the margins of the traditional system, many of whom share the same experiences—they are traditionally poor, older and male. Drugs, jail and premature death are often part of the equation, Clark says.

The high school will serve students ages 16-20, and up to age 21 for those students with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). Students will be taught core subjects, be provided with individual supports and be set on the path to 21st century careers.

“I’m trying to strategically make a point,” Clark said. “This is the balance that this education reform conversation has been seeking. This is a second-chance school; we’re targeting students who are over age or over credited. These students often feel like a problem to be solved. They lose trust, and that leads to chaos. When you respond with love, young people begin to trust you. We’ve bureaucratized youth development out of education.”

The goal is high school graduation, college and then transitioning to a successful career.

Vocational training in the fields of construction, allied health and culinary arts will ready students for the future, Clark said. In addition, the LEAD arts program will partner students with local artists in the hopes of providing opportunities to pursue real world, hands-on creative expression.

Partners in the LEAD endeavor include the City of Newark, Newark Public Schools, the Office of the Chancellor at Rutgers University and several community-based partners.

Clark’s face lights up when he talks about his faculty, which is made up of about 15 of the best and brightest, culled from a group of outstanding educators and administrators.

“We’ve got some great people,” Clark said. “The talent is here in Newark. We have many talented people and have access to great networks of learning.”

Mark Comesanas, executive director of programs and instruction, comes to LEAD from Uplift Academy in Newark, where he served for several years as the school’s principal.

“I’ve been working with Rob for six or seven years on this,” Comesanas said. “We’re finally seeing it come to fruition. In a very broad sense, I’m hoping to build out a systemic response to what I’ve seen as an educator.”

According to Comesanas, poverty and punishment loom large in educational systems.

“Those are big systems,” he said. “They create negative outcomes. We must create a counter-system.”

At the core of LEAD is providing social, emotional and academic support for young people, Comesanas says.

“This is implementing 40 years of YouthBuild Newark experience,” he says. “We are implementing a youth development model and we are telling youth that they are the greatest asset to change. The model at LEAD will be true to YouthBuild. It’s worked for 40 years; my job is to make sure that model is implemented.”

Setting young people on a successful path to college and career is what it’s all about, Comesanas says.

“The goal is not necessarily to get from chapter one to 15 in a U.S. History class,” notes Comesanas. “The goal is to get you the skills to get to college.”

Juan Acevedo, principal at LEAD, said that the team is ready to set each incoming student on an individualized path to success.

"We at LEAD are looking to provide an opportunity that redefines what success looks like for each of our students," Acevedo said. "We recognize that each young person comes with a unique circumstance and we are ready to meet them at their level and guide them to achieve their goals whether that be post-secondary education or career employment."

Acevedo said that LEAD will be innovative in its approach to ensuring students get the education and skills they need. 

"One of the approaches that LEAD takes with young people is that we are certainly an accelerated high school providing young people the ability to acquire credits at a faster pace," he said. "We will be partnering with the innovative Summit Learning platform this year to ensure our young people are mastering both the academic content and cognitive skills necessary for success."

The school will also provide students with Career Technical Education (CTE) in Construction, where young people can acquire their National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) certification in year one.

LEAD plans to expand its CTE courses in a multitude of fields in years two and three including coding, culinary arts and allied health."

According to Comesanas, each aspect of the program is carefully planned down to the smallest detail, and all based on plenty of research.

“The bulk of academic classes are in the morning, when the brain is most awake,” he said. “In the afternoons, we have the hands-on things, like career and tech education classes.”

LEAD students will also participate in a service learning project, where the high schoolers will choose a specific challenge that faces their community, come up with a plan to solve it and then implement that plan.

“That’s part of our secret sauce,” Comesanas said, noting the leadership qualities that the program fosters.

Michele Mason, Executive Director of the Newark Charter School Fund, said that NCSF is honored to support the opening of LEAD. She said founder Clark has recognized the deep gap in educational services necessary to effectively serve one of the most underserved populations of children in Newark.

"There are almost five million Opportunity Youth—young people in America over-aged and disconnected from school and work," Mason said. "Over 7,000 Opportunity Youth live in Newark. LEAD Charter School is an important component of Newark’s Opportunity Youth Network (OYN), which is a blended model of charter and NPS schools that work together, along with other community partners, to serve Opportunity Youth. NCSF supports Rob Clark and these kinds of creative solutions to meet the needs of Newark’s children and families.”

LEAD is just one option available to over-aged and under-credited students in Newark's Opportunity Youth Network, Clark said.

"This effort aims to create and manage a network of options designed to meet the needs of the city's young people who have left school, are struggling in schools and looking to prepare for the workforce," Clark said. "This is, in fact, a citywide approach to supporting young people. It's not just a school."

Clark maintains that schools like LEAD need to finally become part of the education conversation.

“There’s been the charter-district debate, but no one’s been fighting for this kind of school,” Clark said. “We need to recognize these kinds of young people as the key to survival for any community. These kids will stay here—we’re developing the community by developing these young people. They will be parents, so how do you create parents? We need to create community stewards.”

Clark said he hopes to develop partnerships with other charter schools.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity to build an initiative that really focuses on a student that the city struggles to serve,” he said.

Read the article on TapInto here

Aug 21, 2017

Incoming Newark Second Graders Make Literacy Gains Over The Summer

News

In a few weeks, more than 750 Newark Public School students will be entering second grade better prepared to read proficiently thanks to an innovative program between the district one of the city’s highest performing charter schools.

Over the summer, the students attended the “Rising Second Grade” program, a collaborative effort between NPS and Uncommon Schools’ North Star Academy.

The need for the program came after the district identified a disturbing trend among many of their second graders – they were reading below grade level.

“At the end of kindergarten, it looks like kids are reading well,” said Samantha Messer, special assistant of literacy instruction at Newark Public Schools

“Then something happens between the fall and winter of first grade,” Messer said. “We noticed the decline in January.”

The importance of reading at grade level at an early age cannot be understated.

Children who aren’t reading proficiently by fourth grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school on time.

State District Superintendent of NPS Christopher Cerf said a program like "Rising Second Grade" can set students on the path to success.

“Research shows that if a student is not reading on grade level by the time they reach the third grade, they are far less likely to succeed later in life,” said Cerf. “Therefore, we brought an enhanced focus to this group of students this summer to see if we can employ targeted and specific interventions to get them where they need to be over the next year as a part of a larger strategy to increase literacy in the early years of a child’s development.”

Messner said the inspiration for the “Rising Second Grade” program has been a few years in the making.

After participating in Uncommon School’s “Great Habits, Great Readers” literacy workshop several years ago, Messner said she realized that the program would benefit NPS educators.

“It was the best workshop I’ve ever been to,” Messner said. “Their approach to reading is so systematic and easy to learn.”  

With the help of teachers and literacy coaches from Uncommon Schools, NPS teachers received training and development in phonics, reading, guided reading training and other practical strategies during the “Great Habits, Great Readers” literacy workshop.

NPS teachers also spent three days in professional development that focused on early literacy strategies.

The training was a continuation of an ongoing and collaborative relationship between NPS and Uncommon Schools in the area of literacy.

Over the last two years, the district and the charter have opened up classrooms to each other and shared resources in order to learn from each other’s practices for the benefit of Newark students.

“We appreciate this opportunity to deepen our collaboration with Newark Public Schools,” said Brett Peiser, CEO of Uncommon Schools.

“This partnership underscores Uncommon’s commitment to all of Newark’s children,” Peiser said. “It's up to all of us to ensure every child in Newark - whether at a charter public school or district public school - has a chance to attend college and we are grateful to be able to do this work alongside NPS educators.”

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka lauded the collaborative efforts of both district and charter schools.

“Now that the people of Newark are about to regain control of our schools, it is critical for the parents, students, teachers and administrators of traditional public schools and charters schools to work closely together to assure a world-class education for all of Newark’s children,” Baraka said.

“This kind of collaboration has already begun,” the mayor said. “We saw it in the victories of the Unity Slate in the last two school board elections. We saw in the joint campaign to seek full finding of Newark schools in the state budget. We are seeing it in the sharing of school programs and ideas. And we expect to see it in the coming public meetings and forums to enable community input in the transition process.”

The collaborative effort between the district and Uncommon began in January, after NPS staff used a Diagnostic Reading Assessment to identify first graders below reading level throughout the district.

Once students were identified, NPS reached out to parents to encourage them to enroll in the district’s free Summer Plus program, and parents responded in spades.

About 750 NPS students participated in the program, which was taught by approximately 60 NPS teachers and literacy coaches.

In addition, parents were invited to participate in four separate workshops on how to promote reading in the home.

The workshop shared practical teaching strategies in the area of reading comprehension and is part of a larger effort by the Newark Public Schools to enhance supports for all rising second graders who are not yet reading on grade level.

Simultaneous to recruiting students, NPS handpicked top-notch teachers and literacy coaches from across the district to teach in the revamped month-long summer program.

According to Messner, a specific learning pattern has been identified in kindergarten students entering first grade, and the district will be addressing the issue going forward.

Messner, who was excited to introduce the teaching strategies to NPS teachers, said that the “Rising Second Grade” program is focused on instructional practices and leadership development.

“We’ve been really intentional about how we’ve rolled it out,” Messner noted. “We recruited the best teachers from NPS and put them in front of the kids who needed it. This is the first time we’ve done this kind of thing. It’s been great.”

Students who participated in the “Rising Second Graders” program will take assessments at the end of the summer and throughout the school year to gauge the effectiveness of the program, but positive results are anticipated.

NPS teachers will also be bringing their new strategies into the classroom and will be integrating the new methods into their curricula.

“We will be integrating this into the new school year and we’ll be able to track results throughout the year,” Messner said.

Baraka noted the new era of collaboration, stating that those who have propagated a divisive narrative are slowly losing traction.

“The influence of those who seek to divide parents for their own ideological or political agendas is on the wane,” he said. “The future of our children is too important to let ideological or political differences get in the way.”

 

Read the TapInto article here

Aug 16, 2017

Uncommon Schools Creating Pipeline of Teachers of Color in New Jersey

News

When Michelle Yaruqui arrived at Uncommon Schools’ North Star Academy in sixth grade she could barely write in English. She came to the United States from Ecuador with her family when she was five, and the school she’d attended through fifth grade hadn’t challenged her.

“We would only watch movies for class sometimes, or just sit around and talk,” she said. 

At North Star, the contrast was stark. Expectations were high, and at first she begged her mother to take her out. But her mother wouldn’t, and no matter how hard it was, “there was always a teacher you could turn to,” she said. 

Now, getting ready to head into her senior year at Middlebury College, not only is she grateful for that experience, she’s considering coming back to Newark to teach at North Star, recognizing the enormous influence her teachers had on her and wanting to make the same difference for others. 

Yaruqui is one of 155 rising college seniors who are trying out their teaching skills at Uncommon Schools this summer in various locations, including Newark. Uncommon Schools manages 52 schools in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts and serves 18,000 students — about 5,000 of them in Newark. 

Every year, Uncommon Schools scours the country for students like Yaruqui who are bright, enthusiastic and committed to teaching in urban areas.  A growing percentage of these college students are graduates of Uncommon themselves.

More than 500 college students have already gone through the Uncommon Schools Summer Teaching Fellows program since 2010, and this year’s group was by far the largest at 155 fellows. Of last year’s group, more than half came back to Uncommon to teach as full time teachers after they graduated from college. 

The program is born out of the notion that students benefit from seeing themselves in the teachers at the front of the room. Nearly 80 percent of the Summer Teaching Fellows are college students of color, reflecting Uncommon’s commitment to teacher diversity. 

“The Summer Teaching Fellows program represents a bright spot on the landscape of teacher recruitment,” said Paula White, New Jersey state director of Democrats for Education Reform. 

“With an educator workforce in US public schools that is 82 percent white, teaching remains largely a racially homogenous profession,” said White, who is also the founder of a public charter school in the South Ward and former chief turnaround officer for the New Jersey Department of Education.

“It’s great to see a system of high-quality public schools in New Jersey that is actively working to change this reality,” White said.

At Uncommon, about 50 percent of teachers are people of color, more than double the national average of teachers of color in public school classrooms, and substantially higher than the percentage of public school teachers of color in U.S. urban areas.

According to a study of 100,000 black students by the Institute of Labor Economics released in April, having at least one black teacher in third through fifth grades reduced a black student’s probability of dropping out of school by 29 percent and significantly increased their chance of aspiring to attend a four-year college. For low-income black boys, the results were even greater — their chance of dropping out of school fell 39 percent.

Ixhon Allen, now a math major at Montclair State University and also a North Star graduate, spent the summer teaching math and learning how to become a better teacher. She is seriously considering coming back as a North Star math teacher after she graduates next year.

“Seven years ago I was in ninth grade learning Algebra II, so I let my students know that I understand just what they are going through,” Allen said.

The fellows received training for several weeks in May and June before getting a taste of the teaching profession in Summer Academy at Uncommon’s public college-prep charter schools in Newark, Brooklyn, Troy, Rochester and Boston. 

Adeyemi Oseni, a North Star graduate who is heading into his senior year at Stockton University, spent his time teaching first graders. During a math lesson, he tells the students not to get tricked by a word problem. Though he's only been teaching for a few years, he looks like he's been teaching for years because of the training he's received.

For Allen,Yaruqui and Oseni, the rigorous classes at North Star prepared them for success in college. That’s the drive they bring with them into their own classrooms now. 

“If I didn’t have the opportunity to take AP classes in high school, I wouldn’t have even considered attempting a math major,” Allen said.  “I’m glad that I was challenged in classes where it was safe to make a mistake.”

Her goal is to let her students know that their hard work now will pay off in the long run, just like it did for her.

Read the article on TapInto

Apr 26, 2017

Unity Slate Elected to Newark School Advisory Board

News

Newark Charter School Fund Executive Director Michele Mason issues statement regarding the election of the three newest members of Newark’s School Advisory Board:

“On behalf of the Newark Charter School Fund, I would like to offer my congratulations to this year’s Unity Slate, Flo Johnson, Reginald Bledsoe, and Josephine Garcia, on their election to Newark’s School Advisory Board. NCSF is confident that these newly elected members will provide a strong voice for all Newark families, upholding our core values of transparency and public accountability, while also enhancing collaboration efforts between public charter schools and traditional public schools in order to continue to solve problems and improve upon our city’s entire education system. The return to local control presents a unique opportunity for meaningful collaboration to forge a great future for our children, and we’re excited to work in partnership with the entire Newark School Advisory Board to achieve great public school options for all our children.”

Mar 1, 2017

Newark Charter School Fund Sponsors Newark Families to Attend SHE Wins Inc. Masquerade Balls

Press Releases

[Newark, NJ — March 1, 2017] – The Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF) sponsored tickets for Newark families to attend SHE Wins Inc.’s second annual Mother and Son Masquerade Ball and Father and Daughter Masquerade Ball this weekend. The Fund sponsored 30 pairs of tickets for each dance, which were attended by over 200 families. The events brought together Newark families from both public charter and district schools, where parents and children were able to enjoy masquerade-style dances and celebrate their special family bonds.

“The Newark Charter School Fund was thrilled to give deserving Newark families an opportunity to enjoy these two special events that are organized by SHE Wins,” said Michele Mason, Executive Director of NCSF. “We are proud to support SHE Wins Inc., a transformational organization that is empowering Newark’s young women to be the next generation of leaders in our community.”

The Mother and Son Masquerade Ball was held on Saturday, February 25, followed by the Father and Daughter Masquerade Ball on Sunday, February 26.  Both were held at KIPP New Jersey’s Bold & Thrive Academies.

SHE Wins Inc., founded by A’Dorian Murray-Thomas, is an organization seeking to create a pipeline of college and career-ready young women leaders for girls affected by violence. The organization is focused on empowering girls with the social, emotional, and leadership skills needed to not only excel academically, but to help solve the issues that most affect their lives and communities.

For more information about SHE Wins please visit: http://www.shewins.org/

Jan 5, 2017

Statement Regarding New Public Charter School Regulations Being Discussed

Press Releases

The Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF) issues the following statement regarding the new public charter school regulations being discussed today in Trenton:

“Families across Newark are demanding the highest quality school options for their children at both traditional public and public charter schools across the city and they deserve nothing less.  Newark public charter schools currently educate about one-third of the city’s public school children and are consistently selected as the top choice by parents in the Newark enrollment system. When we look at the facts, Newark public charter schools are successfully educating historically underserved student populations - over 80 percent of Newark public charter school students are African American and over 80 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunch.  The new public charter school regulations being discussed in Trenton today will not only expand high quality educational options for our students and families, but will allow public charter schools to continue to innovate and positively transform our education system to the benefit of all students.  Expanding access to high quality school options is one of the most critical issues as we prepare children to succeed in the 21st century economy, and in Newark, high quality public charter schools are delivering excellent educational options to meet the needs of students and families, serving as a critical component of the Newark educational landscape.”

-Michele Mason, Executive Director, Newark Charter School Fund

 

About the Newark Charter School Fund

Established in 2008, the Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF) is a non-profit organization that makes grants to support the quality, growth, and sustainability of Newark’s public charter school sector. The Fund’s mission is to improve Newark’s public charter schools in order to provide all of Newark’s students with access to great schools in collaboration with district efforts to improve the quality of Newark public education.

Media Contact:

Emily D'Alberto
(908) 548-4442
edalberto@mercuryllc.com

Dec 14, 2016

NCSF Celebrates 20 Years of New Jersey Public Charter Schools at 6th Annual Compact Signing Event

Press Releases

[Newark, NJ – December 14, 2016] - The Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF), a non-profit organization that provides grants to support the quality, growth and sustainability of Newark’s public charter school sector, hosted the 6th annual Newark Charter School Compact Signing Event at the Newark Museum last night. The Newark Charter School Compact, created by NCSF in 2011, provides a framework of common values and principles that guides the long-term work of public charter schools across the city. The Compact Signing Event also celebrated 20 years of New Jersey public charter schools by honoring legendary Newark political and education leader, Stephen N. Adubato, Sr., founder of The North Ward Center and one of the city’s first charter schools, the Robert Treat Academy Charter School.

“As we come together to sign our 6th annual Charter Compact and celebrate 20 years of New Jersey public charter schools, we are more motivated than ever to fight for high quality educational options for all of our children,” said Michele Mason, Executive Director of NCSF. “I am inspired by the collaborative spirit of our school leaders, district leaders, parents and the broader community to achieve educational excellence and equity for all of our children and families. We are grateful to our partners, parents and students for their steadfast commitment to attain the great outcomes that all of Newark’s children deserve.”

18 of Newark’s 21 public charter schools signed this year’s Compact including two new charter schools slated to open next fall. In signing the Compact, Newark public charter schools commit to upholding the highest principles of transparency and public accountability, serving an unmet need in Newark, striving for educational excellence and fulfilling their mission to educate all students in the most equitable manner possible.  The Newark Charter School Compact is believed to be the first urban public charter school compact in the United States.

“It is critically important for educational leaders and parents to remain united in the struggle to achieve full funding for all of Newark’s schools,” said Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka. “The Newark Charter School Compact embraces that principle and represents a commitment from our charter educational leaders to work in partnership with the City and the Newark Public Schools to achieve a world class education for all Newark families, whether in a traditional or charter school.”

The event also celebrated 20 years of New Jersey public charter schools by honoring a distinguished political figure and education advocate, Stephen N. Adubato, Sr., the founder of The North Ward Center, a nationally-recognized non-profit organization that provides high quality educational, healthcare and social services to Newark residents. Through his leadership at The North Ward Center and unwavering commitment to Newark families, Mr. Adubato established the Robert Treat Academy Charter School in 1997, one of the first public charter schools to open in New Jersey and one of the very first charters in Newark. In 2008, Robert Treat Academy was designated by the U.S. Department of Education as a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence for its superior academic performance. Additionally, for four consecutive years, the State of New Jersey has recognized Robert Treat Academy as a Reward School for its consistent academic achievements.

“My father, Stephen N. Adubato, Sr., has spent his entire life fighting to ensure that every child has access to an excellent education and I am thrilled to accept this honor on his behalf,” said Michele Adubato, CEO of The North Ward Center. “He was a pioneer in educational leadership, understanding the importance of placing strong leaders in our schools to open up opportunities for students. He knew that by focusing on high quality instruction, students in Newark would excel both inside and outside the classroom. His deep commitment to serving Newark families, through the creation of The North Ward Center and Robert Treat Academy, has and will continue to bring transformational change to our city.”

The New Jersey Charter School Program Act, which was signed into law by Governor Christine Todd Whitman in January 1996, enabled the first cohort of New Jersey public charter schools to open their doors in 1997. Over the past 20 years, public charter schools have provided New Jersey families with additional high quality public school options and have expanded opportunities for children across New Jersey, growing from 13 public charter schools serving approximately 1,340 students in 1997, to 88 public charter schools serving nearly 50,000 students across the state in 2016.  In Newark, public charter schools currently educate about one-third of the city’s public school children.

“The Compact signing brought together a wide-range of education and political leaders from across our city to reflect on the collective impact the Newark charter sector has had on families and children over the past two decades,” said Dale Anglin, trustee of the NCSF Board. “Our Newark charter sector, under Michele’s skillful leadership, continues to be a shining example of what is possible in urban education and will continue to be a model sector for education advocates across the country.”

Public charter schools across the state provide families from diverse racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds with access to excellent educational opportunities. In communities like Newark, public charter schools are providing high quality school options to traditionally underserved student populations: in Newark, about 83 percent of students are African American and 82 percent are eligible for free or reduced lunch, compared to the New Jersey statewide public school averages of 16 percent and 37 percent, respectively.

“We are pleased to join the Newark Charter School Fund to celebrate 20 years of public charter schools and to honor the contribution these schools have made,” said Newark Public Schools Superintendent Christopher D. Cerf. “The continued collaboration between Newark Public Schools and Newark’s charter sector strengthens all schools across our city, and we look forward to continuing to work together to ensure that every Newark child has access to a high-quality public school.”

The Newark public charter school sector ranks second out of 41 urban districts in reading and math impact, according to a Stanford University Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) 2015 study. Additionally, a 2015 study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) found that a majority of Newark public charter school students are enrolled in schools that significantly outperform other schools throughout New Jersey with similar demographics. Data showed that more than 86 percent of Newark public charter students are enrolled in schools that are considered to be “beating the odds” in math, and 76 percent that are “beating the odds” in reading.  These studies further demonstrate that the Newark public charter school sector has made an undeniable impact on the quality of education in Newark and on the number of high quality educational options available to the city’s families.

“As we celebrate this important milestone for New Jersey public charter schools, I am excited by the extraordinary progress the sector has made over the past two decades,” added Mason. “Thanks to the pioneering leadership and commitment of individuals like Stephen N. Adubato, Sr. and the continued work by our incredible charter school leaders today, public charter schools continue to provide significant opportunities for children across our state, putting more students on the path to and through college.”

 

Education Leaders and Advocates Weigh In on 20 Years of Charters

“The children of Newark have unrealized promise and immeasurable potential and over the past 20 years, public charter schools across our great city have succeeded in unleashing that potential for thousands of Newark’s children. Launching the Newark Charter School Fund in 2008 was truly transformative for our city and its students, and over the past eight years the Fund has successfully served Newark’s children with extraordinary results.  I am excited to watch the progress Newark’s public charter schools continue to make as they collaborate with the district to improve the city’s education landscape to more effectively meet the needs of all students, no matter what school they attend.”
-United States Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey

“We want to live by choice, not by chance. As parents we cannot wait idly for our education system to fix itself, and thanks to public charter schools, parents have been empowered to choose a different way forward for our children. The Newark public charter school sector has given thousands of children and families access to excellent educational opportunities. These schools have also invested time and resources in parents, knowing we all must be FULL partners in the development of our young scholars, families and community.”
-Altorice Frazier, a Newark North Star Academy and KIPP Thrive Academy parent.

“It is an undeniable truth that Newark students, if given access to quality educational resources and opportunities, can unleash their potential and excel beyond measure. Public charter schools across our city have proven this over the past 20 years, continuing to be game changers for our community as they bring transformational change into the lives of Newark children.”
-Newark’s North Ward Councilman, Anibal Ramos, Jr.

“The hard work, dedication, and grit displayed by our scholars and parents drives the work we do each and every day to provide an excellent education to every child who walks through our doors. As we move into the next 20 years as a charter sector, we look forward to continuing to fulfill this commitment to our students and families from across this great city, preparing each of our scholars for college and career success.” 
-Jared Taillefer, Executive Director, Great Oaks Legacy Charter School

 

About the Newark Charter School Fund

Established in 2008, the Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF) is a non-profit organization that makes grants to support the quality, growth, and sustainability of Newark’s public charter school sector. The Fund’s mission is to improve Newark’s public charter schools in order to provide all of Newark’s students with access to great schools in collaboration with district efforts to improve the quality of Newark public education. http://ncsfund.org/

Media Contact:

Emily D'Alberto

(908) 548-4442

edalberto@mercuryllc.com

Sep 27, 2016

Newark Charter School Fund Hosts Reception with Executive Director Michele Mason

Press Releases

[Newark, NJ – September 27, 2016] - The Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF), a non-profit organization that provides grants to support the quality, growth and sustainability of Newark’s public charter school sector, hosted a reception with NCSF Executive Director Michele Mason this morning at Panasonic Headquarters in Newark. The event was attended by a variety of education advocates and local community leaders, along with Newark Superintendent Christopher D. Cerf, who participated in the program. 

“I am excited to be leading the Newark Charter School Fund during this momentous time when educators, parents, and community leaders are redefining the educational landscape across our city,” said Michele Mason, Executive Director of NCSF. “We are witnessing academic progress throughout Newark’s public schools, both district and charter, and I look forward to having the opportunity to work with Senator Ruiz, Mayor Baraka, Superintendent Cerf and education leaders throughout our great city to continue to improve educational outcomes for all of Newark’s children.”

Elected officials, business leaders, charter school and foundation leaders, and education advocates from across the city and state of New Jersey were brought together at the event. The reception highlighted the Fund’s commitment to fostering increased collaboration with Newark Public Schools and working in partnership with the broader Newark community in order to continue to produce substantive and transformational change for every child living in the city of Newark.

“Education is the great equalizer in our society; however, for those words to hold true, our children must first be provided with access to an excellent education,” said New Jersey State Senator M. Teresa Ruiz. “Michele is devoted in the fight for educational equity in our community and will continue to be a champion for Newark families as she leads the Newark Charter School Fund forward.”

Over the past several months, Executive Director Mason met with key stakeholders throughout the Newark community, including local leaders, educators and parents, allowing her to gather valuable feedback on their priorities and develop a better understanding of the significant progress the Fund has made over the past eight years and how it can continue to be a leader and partner to promote educational equity and excellence across the city. Moving forward, the Fund remains committed to four central themes: quality growth, access and equity, collaboration, and advocacy, while also spurring innovation.

“I look forward to working with Michele Mason in her role as a leader of the growing coalition dedicated to ensuring quality education for all of Newark’s children, whether in charter schools or our traditional public schools,” said Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka. “She is the right person at the right time to lead the Newark Charter School Fund."

Since its launch, NCSF has supported numerous efforts to foster collaboration between Newark’s district and charter schools. NCSF has been a significant partner in the citywide Newark Enrolls initiative, helping to bring the charter sector together to robustly participate in the program and support family engagement efforts.

“Collaboration across our city is vital for the success of our students and our community,” said Superintendent Christopher D. Cerf. “Newark leaders, educators, and families all embrace the idea of high-quality public schools, which is why partnerships are so powerful in our community. Michele understands that the success of our students depends on our ability to work together and I value the opportunity to work alongside her to make this a reality.”

The Newark charter sector ranks second out of 41 urban districts in reading and math impact, according to a Stanford University Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) 2015 study. Additionally, a 2015 study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) found that a majority of Newark charter school students are enrolled in schools that significantly outperform other schools throughout New Jersey with similar demographics. Data showed that more than 86 percent of Newark charter students are enrolled in schools that are considered to be “beating the odds” in math, and 76 percent that are “beating the odds” in reading.  These studies further demonstrate that the Newark charter sector has made an undeniable impact on the quality of education in Newark and on the number of high-quality options available to the city’s families.

“On behalf of the Newark Charter School Fund board, I am thrilled to have Michele leading our organization forward as we continue to strengthen high-quality public school options for Newark families,” said Julia Bator, chair of the NCSF Board. “I am confident that Michele will build on the Fund’s progress, promoting the growth and stability of quality schools across this city in partnership with the district.”

“Today was a great opportunity for the Newark community to come together and begin an active dialogue on ways to work collectively to ensure all of Newark’s children and families have access to high-quality educational options,” Mason added.

Michele Mason began serving as the Executive Director of NCSF on April 25, 2016. She previously served as the deputy director of JerseyCAN, a nonprofit education research and advocacy organization that advocates for excellent education opportunities for all students, regardless of their zip code.

 

About the Newark Charter School Fund

Established in 2008, the Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF) is a non-profit organization that makes grants to support the quality, growth, and sustainability of Newark’s public charter school sector. The Fund’s mission is to improve Newark’s public charter schools in order to provide all of Newark’s students with access to great schools in collaboration with district efforts to improve the quality of Newark public education.

 

Media Contact:

Emily D'Alberto
(908) 548-4442
edalberto@mercuryllc.com

Jun 22, 2016

NCSF Seeks VP of Advocacy

Job Postings

The Newark Charter School Fund is currently seeking a Vice President of Advocacy. Please see the job description below for more information:

Vice President of Advocacy

About NCSF

Established in April of 2008, the Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF) works to support the quality, growth, and sustainability of the charter sector, in order to provide all of Newark’s students with access to great schools in collaboration with district efforts to improve the quality of Newark public education.

About the Position

The Vice President of Advocacy will play a major role in advancing NCSF’s mission through advocacy, collaboration and communications.  The VP of Advocacy is primarily responsible for convening key local and state stakeholders to collectively advocate for policy decisions that improve the quality and sustainability of Newark’s charters and the city’s system of public schools.  Reporting to the Executive Director, and responsible for managing one staff position, the VP of Advocacy will establish and maintain effective partnerships with key constituents, and convene key stakeholders in Newark’s charter and public education reform movement.

Responsibilities

Advocacy:

  • Oversee and coordinate a coalition of advocates on efforts, priorities, meetings and events
  • Work in partnership with coalition partners to ensure strong collaboration and coordination of advocacy issues such as public funding, charter facilities, and charter growth
  • Manage NCSF-driven collaboration events within charter sector and with other partners
  • Oversee facilities programmatic and advocacy projects

Collaboration:

  • Spearhead charter and district collaboration policy and program initiatives (i.e., Universal Enrollment), serving as NCSF’s representative and point of contact
  • Represent NCSF at Newark Public Schools’ Policy Design Committee meetings and facilitate strong collaboration, transparency, and communication
  • Organize monthly NCSF-led Community Advisory Group meetings
  • Coordinate annual charter sector-wide celebration event

Communication:

  • Manage communications efforts for NCSF, including drafting of external messaging
  • Manage external communications firm’s work product (press statements, op-eds, videos, social media, website, etc.) for NCSF and coalition of partners, as needed

Related Program Grants Management:

  • Create overarching grant strategy for both advocacy and collaboration
  • Manage drafting of investment analyses for submission and presentation to NCSF board
  • Oversee execution of grantee deliverables
  • Manage grantee relationships

Qualifications

  • Demonstrated commitment to and passion for NCSF’s mission
  • A minimum of 3-5 years experience working in an advocacy context (government, politics, policy, parent or community mobilization, community relations) in an urban setting is required
  • Experience facilitating, motivating and influencing groups, building and maintaining coalitions or collaborative initiatives, or effectively managing teams toward ambitious goals
  • Exemplary skills in building and maintaining external relationships with a wide range of constituents and stakeholders
  • Ability to navigate and strategically plan outcomes within a local political context
  • Strong communication and presentation skills, including communications-related writing, verbal communications, and experience or ability to serve as an external spokesperson
  • Ability to understand and distill complex policy issues for internal and external communications as well as programmatic review and recommendation
  • Experience working in a district or government agency preferred
  • Bachelor’s degree is required; Advanced degree is preferred

Salary & Benefits

Competitive salary commensurate with experience and complete benefits package including health, life, dental and disability insurance

To Apply

Interested candidates should submit a resume and cover letter detailing their experience and interest in NCSF’s mission to: http://axistalentpartners.applytojob.com/apply

Newark Charter School Fund is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, gender, handicap, age, religion, sexual orientation, national or ethnic origin.

Jun 22, 2016

NCSF Seeks VP of Advocacy

Job Postings

The Newark Charter School Fund is currently seeking a Vice President of Advocacy. Please see the job description below for more information.

Vice President of Advocacy

About NCSF

Established in April of 2008, the Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF) works to support the quality, growth, and sustainability of the charter sector, in order to provide all of Newark’s students with access to great schools in collaboration with district efforts to improve the quality of Newark public education.

About the Position

The Vice President of Advocacy will play a major role in advancing NCSF’s mission through advocacy, collaboration and communications.  The VP of Advocacy is primarily responsible for convening key local and state stakeholders to collectively advocate for policy decisions that improve the quality and sustainability of Newark’s charters and the city’s system of public schools.  Reporting to the Executive Director, and responsible for managing one staff position, the VP of Advocacy will establish and maintain effective partnerships with key constituents, and convene key stakeholders in Newark’s charter and public education reform movement.

Responsibilities

Advocacy:

  • Oversee and coordinate a coalition of advocates on efforts, priorities, meetings and events
  • Work in partnership with coalition partners to ensure strong collaboration and coordination of advocacy issues such as public funding, charter facilities, and charter growth
  • Manage NCSF-driven collaboration events within charter sector and with other partners
  • Oversee facilities programmatic and advocacy projects

Collaboration:

  • Spearhead charter and district collaboration policy and program initiatives (i.e., Universal Enrollment), serving as NCSF’s representative and point of contact
  • Represent NCSF at Newark Public Schools’ Policy Design Committee meetings and facilitate strong collaboration, transparency, and communication
  • Organize monthly NCSF-led Community Advisory Group meetings
  • Coordinate annual charter sector-wide celebration event

Communication:

  • Manage communications efforts for NCSF, including drafting of external messaging
  • Manage external communications firm’s work product (press statements, op-eds, videos, social media, website, etc.) for NCSF and coalition of partners, as needed

Related Program Grants Management:

  • Create overarching grant strategy for both advocacy and collaboration
  • Manage drafting of investment analyses for submission and presentation to NCSF board
  • Oversee execution of grantee deliverables
  • Manage grantee relationships

Qualifications

  • Demonstrated commitment to and passion for NCSF’s mission
  • A minimum of 3-5 years experience working in an advocacy context (government, politics, policy, parent or community mobilization, community relations) in an urban setting is required
  • Experience facilitating, motivating and influencing groups, building and maintaining coalitions or collaborative initiatives, or effectively managing teams toward ambitious goals
  • Exemplary skills in building and maintaining external relationships with a wide range of constituents and stakeholders
  • Ability to navigate and strategically plan outcomes within a local political context
  • Strong communication and presentation skills, including communications-related writing, verbal communications, and experience or ability to serve as an external spokesperson
  • Ability to understand and distill complex policy issues for internal and external communications as well as programmatic review and recommendation
  • Experience working in a district or government agency preferred
  • Bachelor’s degree is required; Advanced degree is preferred

Salary & Benefits

Competitive salary commensurate with experience and complete benefits package including health, life, dental and disability insurance

To Apply

Interested candidates should submit a resume and cover letter detailing their experience and interest in NCSF’s mission to: http://axistalentpartners.applytojob.com/apply

Newark Charter School Fund is an equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, gender, handicap, age, religion, sexual orientation, national or ethnic origin.

Apr 28, 2016

Newark Charter School Fund Outlines 4 Areas to Lift City’s Education

News

Perhaps the most important measure of a great city is the way it prepares its children for the future through education. Over the last few decades in Newark's history, efforts to strengthen the public school system have been difficult, and at times contentious.

But recent years have seen demonstrable changes in the status quo. As the Newark Charter School Fund looks back over the first two phases of its impact and prepares for leadership transition, we set out to understand what has worked, and what will work for the future, as we continue to focus our attention on making sure all of Newark's students are getting the education they need to get enrolled in college.

In a new report, "Better Options, Better Futures: Eight Years of the Newark Charter School Fund," the Fund proposes that the blueprint for success is founded on a commitment to doing what's best for students — not adults — and encompasses four main themes: quality growth of public school options, access and equity, collaboration, and advocacy.

The public charter school sector in Newark has grown tremendously since 2008, and now serves roughly one in three students in the city. The sector has worked hard to do so in a way that preserves and strengthens quality along the way.

There's clear evidence of this quality growth — despite quadrupling the number of students served since 2008, multiple studies have confirmed that Newark's public charter schools are succeeding on a national stage, including Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes, which ranked Newark's charter sector second in the nation out of 41 urban districts in both reading and math achievement impact.

A 2015 study by the Center on Reinventing Public Education found that more than 86 percent of Newark charter school students are enrolled in schools considered to be "beating the odds" in math, and 76 percent are enrolled in schools considered to be "beating the odds" in reading.

A strong education system serves all students well, including its highest need  student populations. On this front, Newark's charter sector has made solid strides. The percentage of students with special needs in Newark charter schools substantially increased from 6 percent in 2008 to 10 percent in 2014. While there is still room for improvement, this upward trend has continued: about 15 percent of incoming ninth graders who were matched to a charter school for the 2015-2016 school year had special needs. The sector also serves a high percentage of children at or near poverty levels, with 82 percent of charter students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

As the sector continues to grow, the Fund must — and will — continue to ensure that the charter sector is striving to reach all students, so that high-need students are offered the same educational options as all other students.

Collaboration plays a critical role in assuring that the goals remain achievable. Through partnerships with families and other community stakeholders, the Newark public school system and city leadership, and other local partners, we can collectively strive towards system-wide equity, transparency and accountability. The partnership between Newark Public Schools and the charter sector to implement an innovative universal enrollment system has made it easier for parents to access the array of educational options in the city ­— just one example of the power of collaboration.

Yet collaboration always presents challenges, and chief among them is making sure that all stakeholders have a voice in the process. If Newark is to succeed in expanding access to a high-quality education for all students in the city, it will be through collaboration that prioritizes children's needs. Everyone involved in the process — from administrators and policymakers to educators, parents and even students — must unite across the district and charter sectors around a vision for education that prepares all students for college and a career.

That is why one of the most important lessons of all, is ensuring that parents are part of the conversation.

The families of Newark have the most at stake in the decisions that are being made, but city and charter leaders have not always sufficiently engaged them in the process. Continuing to strengthen parent engagement and parents' voice in advocating for quality schools will help make certain that they have options that will give their children an excellent education.

As we pursue greater levels of access to educational opportunity across Newark, we must prioritize quality growth, access and equity, collaboration, and effective advocacy. These are the keys to a future that is even brighter than our past. 

Read more at the Star-Ledger…

Apr 21, 2016

Better Options, Better Futures: Eight Years of the Newark Charter School Fund

News

In Better Options, Better Futures: Eight Years of the Newark Charter School Fund, the Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF) looks back over the first two phases of its impact to understand what has worked, and what will work for the future, as it continues to focus attention on making sure all of Newark’s students have access to a high-quality education. In the report, NCSF proposes that the blueprint for success is founded on a commitment to doing what’s best for students and encompasses four main themes: quality growth of public school options, access and equity, collaboration, and advocacy.

See outgoing CEO Mashea Ashton's op-ed on this report in the Star-Ledger.

Download the Full Report

Mar 28, 2016

Newark Charter School Fund Welcomes New Executive Director Michele Mason

News

The Newark Charter School Fund, a nonprofit organization that supports the quality, growth and sustainability of Newark’s public charter schools, today announced that Michele Mason will serve as the Fund’s next executive director, effective April 25, 2016.

“On behalf of the entire NCSF board, I’m excited to welcome Michele back to Newark and look forward to her leadership over the Fund’s next phase of operations and impact,” said Julia Bator, chair of the NCSF board. “After a long and extensive selection process which included a strong bench of candidates, the board is confident that Michele is the best person for the job.”  

“Her proven ability to foster collaboration and build effective advocacy for quality schools, as well as her direct experience working in charters, will be crucial to fulfilling the Fund’s broader mission of ensuring all students in the city have access to high-quality schools in partnership with the district,” said Shané Harris, executive director at The Prudential Foundation and a member of the NCSF board hiring committee.

“We’re so grateful to Mashea Ashton for her seven remarkable years of service as the CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund “ added Julia Bator. “Under her leadership, the charter sector in Newark has grown to serve roughly one in three students in the city, while maintaining and strengthening high standards of quality, accountability, equity and fostering collaboration with the school district. We’re confident that Michele will continue to build on that momentum in the years to come.”

A New Jersey native, Mason is a longtime advocate for high-quality education options throughout the state. Most recently, she has served as the deputy director of JerseyCAN, a nonprofit education research and advocacy organization that advocates for high-quality education for students regardless of zip code.

In 2002, Mason became the first director of college placement at the KIPP Academy in the Bronx, NY. She spent the next 10 years supporting first-generation college-bound students at KIPP and other institutions, including two years as the director of college access and success at Newark’s North Star Academy. She also spent two years leading the alumni affairs team at Teach for America—N.J., where she was charged to motivate and inspired almost 1,000 TFA alumni across the state.

Mason received her bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary, an advanced certificate in nonprofit business management from Washington University-St. Louis, and a master’s degree in education policy and management from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education.

What Others Are Saying About Michele Mason

"The Newark Charter School Fund had been an important collaborator with Newark Public Schools in recent years as we work together to increase opportunities and strengthen outcomes for our students. While we've made great progress, our work is far from over. Michele shares our commitment to doing what's best for Newark students, and I look forward to continuing that strong relationship with the Fund under Michele's leadership."

—Christopher Cerf
State District Superintendent

“I enthusiastically welcome all that Michele Mason brings as the new NCSF executive director. Her work both in and out of the classroom coupled with her advocacy and leadership are what we need for a time such as this in Newark. I look forward to supporting and working with her to move the needle for innovative charter schools and quality education for all of Newark’s children.”

—Dr. Karen Thomas
CEO, Marion P. Thomas Charter School

“Michele has spent her career committed to creating better options for kids and fighting for them to get to college. She’s a trusted partner with deep roots working in charters, and I’m delighted to work alongside Michele as the Fund’s new leader.”

—Ryan Hill
CEO and Founder, KIPP-NJ

“I am excited to hear about the selection of Michele Mason to lead the Newark Charter School Fund. Michele has been a dedicated partner in our work to expand educational opportunities in Camden, and I am confident she’ll continue to work tirelessly on behalf of children and families in Newark.”

—Paymon Rouhanifard
Superintendent, Camden City School District

"The children of Newark will benefit from Michele’s extraordinary commitment to high-quality schools. We’re happy to see Michele return to Newark at this important time and we know that she will serve schools and families with great intellect, compassion, and urgency.”

—Brett Peiser
CEO, Uncommon Schools

“It takes someone special to be an educator. It takes someone exceptional to be an educational advocate. Michele Mason possesses both of these characteristics. It is great to have someone who believes in you and encourages you to believe in yourself. She has been instrumental in ensuring that I would become the first college graduate in my family. Her constant support and understanding character speak volumes of what true advocates look like.”

—Maniyah Levant
Graduate of North Star Academy

“Since her days in my Education Policy 101 class at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Michele has demonstrated a unique passion and drive to transform the educational landscape and improve outcomes for students from all walks of life. I have absolute confidence that she will make fabulous things happen in Newark.”

—Jal Mehta
Associate Professor in Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education

“We’re looking forward to working with Michele in her new role as executive director of the Newark Charter School Fund. Michele’s passion for Newark’s students, her support for high-quality schools and her unyielding commitment to ALL of the kids in Newark make her a great pick to lead NCSF in its next chapter.”

—Michael Ambriz
COO, North Star Academy

“It has been a pleasure to work with Michele during her time at JerseyCAN. Michele has a clear understanding of the challenges faced by students coming from working-class and low-income communities throughout New Jersey. As Michele transitions to executive director of the Newark Charter School Fund, I’m confident that her experience and expertise will help the Fund continue its mission of supporting high quality educational options for students in Newark. The collaborative approach of the Fund has been important to the overall educational landscape in Newark. NJ BAEO looks forward to working with Michele to continue the great work that has been accomplished thus far.”

—Lavar Young
Newark City Director, Black Alliance for Educational Options

“Michele Mason's new role as the executive director for the Newark Charter School Fund will lead to further progress for Newark families and students and we congratulate Michele, NCSF, and all of their partners on this leadership transition. Among the many skills and experiences Michele brings to this role, two of the most important are her deep commitment to listening to the community and her commitment to serving all students across Newark – regardless of which type of school they attend. Michele has been a leader in our work in Camden and will now work tirelessly to expand high-quality school options for families across Newark.”

—Janellen Duffy
Executive Director, JerseyCAN

“Michele Mason's prior experiences and involvement in the City of Newark and the State of New Jersey have prepared her for this new position. Not being a stranger to the public and private sectors, she is ready to listen, facilitate and advocate on behalf of the children in Newark.”

—Anzella King-Nelms
Independent Educational Consultant

“I had the privilege of working alongside Michele when she was the director of college access and success for one of Newark's most celebrated charter schools, North Star Academy College Preparatory High School. Michele's unwavering commitment to educational reform and long-standing passion for social justice in Newark and other underserved urban school districts are reasons why I am excited to welcome Michele back to Newark to lead the organization that is so critical for the continued evolution of public education in our city. Newark students will undoubtedly continue to make strides toward college completion under Michele's leadership! I look forward to working with Michele once again to ensure that the deserving students of Newark are able to receive a world class education!”

—Patrick Rametti
Director of College Counseling, North Star Academy

"The Fund has made an excellent choice by hiring Michele. But the real winners here are the students of Newark who need great schools and need them today. Michele's academic, professional, personal, and organizing experience will make sure the work of growing great charter schools in Newark does not slow. And for the sake of all of Newark's children, that is as it must be."

—Derrell Bradford
Executive Director, NYCAN

“I am excited for the children of Newark that my highly competent and inspiring colleague Michele Mason will soon be leading the Newark Charter School Fund. Michele has a phenomenal combination of passion and humility and the drive to collaborate in the service of improving educational opportunities for children from low-income households. The forces for race equity and strong public education in Newark are getting a great ally in Michele Mason.”

—Jason Botel
Executive Director, MarylandCAN

“Michele Mason is a fearless advocate for children. Throughout her career she has worked hard to ensure young people have the tools needed to achieve the goal of a college education and a successful future. Congratulations to Ms. Mason and the children of Newark. I believe their future will be even brighter with her leadership and commitment to ensuring they receive a high quality education.”

—LaToya W. Harrison, Ed.D.
Founder, SOAR Education Inc.

“Michele has been a fierce advocate for great schools in Camden, and it’s exciting to think about how she can significantly increase equity and achievement in Newark.”

—Neerav Kingsland
Senior Education Fellow, Laura and John Arnold Foundation

“Michele Mason is one of the most compassionate and intelligent people that I know her grasp of the relevant issues impacting the American education system and in particular the urban American education system is unparalleled in allowing her to craft comprehensive strategies that can improve not only the outcomes for children but the ability of parents to lead that change. I've enjoyed our partnership to move the needle for kids in Camden and I congratulate and wish her well as she continues to fight for kids in Newark.”

—Bryan Morton
Executive Director, Parents for Great Camden Schools

I'm thrilled about Michele Mason's incoming leadership of the Newark Charter School Fund. She is a thoughtful, committed, and engaging leader who understands that we are all stronger when working together for the best outcomes for Newark's students. She will be a unifier among advocates and in the community, and she will be a relentless champion of Newark's families. I cannot wait to partner with her in this new role.

—Kathleen Nugent Hughes
Chief of Staff and New Jersey State Director, Democrats for Education Reform

Jan 26, 2015

Celebrating the 5th Annual National School Choice Week

News

As the fifth annual School Choice Week kicks off across the nation this week, we must tirelessly strive to give families real choices by working together to provide a broad range of educational options that best suit the needs of their individual communities. School Choice Week is a great opportunity to focus on how different players can work together to expand the definition of choice and improve education opportunities for everyone.

School choice should not be a divisive issue. Every district is unique, and it’s important that educational options work for the parents and students most impacted by the lack of access to quality education by finding a good blend of effective, longstanding policies and innovative initiatives. 

Dec 17, 2014

Remembering Dr. Clem Price

News

Dr. Clement Price, a distinguished professor at Rutgers University-Newark and longtime resident of Newark, New Jersey, passed away November 5, 2014. Dr. Price was a teacher, husband, friend, mentor, historian, patron of the arts and humanities, public servant, civil rights and school reform activist, and all-around supporter of Newark and its people. He will be sorely missed.

“Every city needs their champion. He was not only our local historian for the city, he was really a champion for the whole city.”
–Dale Anglin, Senior program officer, Victoria Foundation

“There was no one who believe and loved Newark more than Dr. Price”
–Mashea Ashton, CEO of Newark Charter School Fund

“Dr. Price was just an incredible resource here in the city of Newark.”
–Karen Thomas, CEO and Superintendent of Marion P. Thomas Charter School

Dr. Price was a tireless champion for Newark

Dec 16, 2014

Newark Charter School Fund Hosts 4th Annual Charter School Compact Signing

Press Releases

The Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF), a nonprofit organization that makes grants to support the quality growth and sustainability of Newark public charter schools, will host the 4th annual Newark Charter School Compact signing event. Seventeen of Newark’s 20 public charter schools will sign the Compact.

In signing the Compact, charter schools commit to upholding the highest principles of transparency and public accountability, serving an unmet need in Newark, striving for educational excellence and fulfilling their mission to educate all students in the most equitable manner possible. The Compact was developed in 2011 and is believed to be the first urban charter school compact in the United States.

The Compact-signing event will also feature a conversation with Robert Curvin, one of New Jersey’s most respected civil rights leaders and an expert on Newark’s history, present and future. The author of the new book, “Inside Newark: Decline, Rebellion, and the Search for Transformation,” Curvin is a visiting scholar at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 – 6:00 p.m.

Newark Museum
49 Washington Street
Newark, N.J. 07102

Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund
Robert Curvin, author of “Inside Newark”
Various Newark clergy, elected officials and charter school funders
Representatives from 17 Newark public charter schools:

Discovery Charter School
Great Oaks Charter School
Lady Liberty Academy Charter School
Link Community Charter School
Marion P. Thomas Charter School
Merit Prep Charter School
Newark Educators Community Charter
Newark Legacy
Newark Preparatory Charter School
North Star Charter School
Paulo Freire Charter School
People’s Preparatory Charter School
Philips Academy Charter School
Robert Treat Academy Charter Schools
Roseville Community Charter School
TEAM Academy Charter School
University Heights Charter School

Aug 7, 2014

Funding Disparity Highlights Inequality Between District, Charter Students

News

Funding disparities between district and charter schools are growing, fueling inequality among public schools that must be addressed if all U.S. students are to be competitive in the global economy. There's a prevailing perception that public charter schools are better funded than district schools. In fact, research shows that the opposite is true, and the myths about charter school resources distract from fruitful discussions on how to achieve resource equity in terms of both funding and facilities. Any discussion of inequity should focus on ensuring that all public school students, whether they attend a district or charter school, have access to the same resources.

Charter school students are public school students who deserve access to the same funding and facilities as students in district schools. In practice, however, only a portion of the money that would fund a student's district-school education follows the student to a public charter school.

An April report from the University of Arkansas details the funding disparity between district and charter schools in 30 states where charters have a big presence and the District of Columbia. On average, charters received $3,814 less per student from state, federal and private funders than district schools received in the 2011 fiscal year, the most recent data the study examined.

In many major cities, the gap was even larger. In Newark, N.J., charter schools faced a disparity of $11,602 per student, one of the largest disparities in the nation. In Trenton, N.J., the disparity was $15,229. New York City's gap was $7,623; in D.C., $12,736; in Detroit, $6,964. District schools even received more private, philanthropic funding than charter schools did, with district schools receiving an average of $571 per pupil, while charters received $552.

 

Read more at the Huffington Post...

May 21, 2014

Charter Schools Need to be Part of Newark Reform

News

Newark Mayor-elect Ras Baraka made education one of the central issues of his campaign. Now that the often-contentious campaigning is over, Baraka will need to work with all the key stakeholders in the community — from the district and charter sectors to parents and community leaders — to pursue workable reforms that will expand access to high-quality public education options for Newark students.

Though the mayoral race inflamed passions on both sides, education reform has been a major source of contention in Newark for a long time, and progress has suffered as a result. Real, lasting reform requires engagement at every level in our community. In Newark, where public charter schools are a significant part of the public school landscape, charter schools must also be part of that engagement.

Baraka met with leaders in the charter school community in recent months, acknowledging that charters are part of the overall solution for public-school students in Newark. In fact, most Newarkers support charter schools; a Newark Charter School Fund poll found that 71 percent of residents support expanding the charter sector.

It is critical that all of us, including the incoming Baraka administration, as well as Newark Public Schools, engage the community around decision-making that impacts the city’s schoolchildren. This effort is already under way, as leaders across the board have worked hard to foster a spirit of cooperation between the district and public charters. Though it’s not always easy or pretty, that spirit is guiding us through some difficult decisions as we try to get the system back on track.

Efforts like the recently launched Compact for Newark’s Students try to end the conflict and put the rhetoric aside to move forward on the thorny issues. The compact recognizes that all stakeholders — district and charter schools alike, as well as parents and the students themselves — are critical to finding equitable solutions.

Read more on the Star-Ledger ...

Apr 10, 2014

Support Newark Students - Sign the Petition!

News

If you believe every student deserves equal access to quality and safe schools in their neighborhood, let your voice be heard by sign the Compact for Newark's Students. Like and Share so we can reach educators and parents across Newark!

Sign the Petition

Mar 18, 2014

Is 2014 the Year of Teacher Tenure Reform?

News

NCSF CEO Mashea Ashton writes on the Huffington Post:

Every child deserves great teachers. Unfortunately, making sure we keep the best educators in our nation's classrooms is an ongoing battle, as states continue to hash out teacher retention policies in light of budget constraints. Personnel decisions should always be based on a number of factors, including performance, student achievement and experience level. Yet in about a dozen states, these decisions are still based solely on the number of years a teacher has spent in the classroom.

Retention policies based on seniority are known as LIFO -- "last in, first out." Around the country, they are getting a needed second look. Nine students in California aresuing the state's school system over rules that require layoff decisions to be based solely on seniority. In Newark, New Jersey, School Superintendent Cami Anderson has asked the state's Department of Education to allow teacher evaluation to be considered along with tenure in personnel decisions.

Many school districts nationwide are facing teacher layoffs due to budget shortfalls and cuts. Last summer the Philadelphia school district laid off 676 teachers. Chicago laid off 1,036. Newark may have to lay off 1,000 teachers over the next three years, and Kentucky may have to let go 1,500 - 2,000 educators.

Educators with more years in the classroom will usually be among the best qualified to teach, and tenure should be one of the factors in making these tough decisions. But strict LIFO-only policies risk forcing out high-performing teachers who have a passion for educating students and bring fresh, innovative ideas to the classroom. This punishes children by depriving them of the most talented teaching force they deserve. One study found that only 13 - 16 percent of teachers who are laid off under LIFO policies would actually be terminated if they were rated on their effectiveness in the classroom.

Read more on The Huffington Post ...

Feb 25, 2014

NCSF Launches Television Ad to Educate City Parents on Public Charter Schools

Press Releases

As part of ongoing public awareness campaign, NCSF’s new 30-second TV ad highlights accessibility of tuition-free, public charter school sector for all Newark families and students.

Newark, N.J.—February 25, 2014—The Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF), a non-profit organization that makes grants to support the quality growth and sustainability of Newark’s public charter school sector, today unveiled a 30-second television ad that highlights charters as tuition-free, public schools that are open to all students. The ad, which will air in Newark on 10 cable stations for 10 weeks beginning today, illustrates how charters are part of the high-quality public school options in Newark that prepare students for college and a successful career.

“Charters are tuition-free, public schools that are open to all children, regardless of past academic performance or special needs,” said Mashea Ashton, CEO of NCSF. “This new television ad takes that information to families right in their homes. We’re sending a clear message about what charter schools are and the important role they play in ensuring every child in Newark has access to a high-quality education that prepares them for college and a career.”

The television ad is part of a $100,000 awareness campaign that began February 3 and will run through the spring with newspaper ads, bus ads and billboards. The ad features Marshae’ Newkirk, school director of Roseville Community Charter School, as well as a charter school parent, student and alumna, sharing from their personal experiences in Newark’s public charter school sector.

In a survey of Newark residents conducted last year, nearly half of respondents incorrectly characterized charter schools as private schools. NCSF’s goal for the campaign is to inform and raise awareness among Newark residents of the mission and accessibility of the city’s public charter schools, as well as the sector’s partnership with the district to ensure that every child has access to a great public school.

About Newark Charter School Fund

Established in April of 2008, the Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF) works to develop and support high quality charter schools in Newark, and is dedicated to create a thriving public school system that prepares all Newark public school students for college and career.  NCSF fulfills its mission by advocating for high‐impact education policy changes, making grants to improve the effectiveness of local charter schools, and by providing support for new startup charter schools. NCSF is embarking on the next phase of its development with the goal of expanding the number and quality of charter school seats, while promoting a strong partnership between charter and district schools.

Newark Charter School TV Ad

Feb 18, 2014

NYC Mayor’s Rent-charging Plan Threatens Equal Access for Students

News

NCSF CEO Mashea Ashton writes on The Huffington Post:

New York City's new mayor Bill de Blasio has been making headlines recently with his plans to roll back city support for students who attend the city's public charter schools. In doing so, Mayor de Blasio is sending exactly the wrong message to a key segment of public school students and parents who are just as deserving of public school facilities as those in district-run schools.

Let's be clear: charter schools are public schools. They are tuition-free. Charters don't require admissions tests, and many are now pursuing innovative solutions that would increase access for students with special needs. Students attending charters are public school students who, like district school students, deserve a space in public buildings. However, while charter schools receive local funding for operations, they do not get school building funding for facilities, the way traditional public schools do.

To support access to public resources in New York City, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg allowed charters to share unused space with district schools. Today, 114 of the city's 183 charters are sharing space with district schools across the city. Mayor de Blasio has announced his intention to put a moratorium on new co-locations and suggested he might take the enormously disruptive step of rescinding existing co-locations. He also wants to start charging charter schools rent, a move that would hurt more than 70,000 students currently enrolled in city charter schools. Having to reallocate funds to cover rent could force some charters to shut down, and will almost certainly slash important programs to enable charter schools to keep roofs over their kids' heads.

The rent-charging plan could reverse 12 years of incredible progress and support for expanding strong public school options in New York City and pressure other cities and states around the country to follow a similar destructive path. When Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002, there were only 17 charters in the city. Now, thanks to his efforts and incredible support for education reform, there are 183, with nearly 50,000 kids on waiting lists to get into charters. Test results clearly show that charters play a valuable role in New York City and are giving parents more choices. The New York City Charter School Center found that 79 percent of charter schools had higher proficiency in math and 54 percent had higher proficiency in reading than their district school counterparts.

Read more on The Huffington Post ...

Feb 3, 2014

NCSF Launches Ad Campaign to Raise Awareness of Public School Options

Press Releases

First print placement runs on Super Bowl Sunday, highlighting how Newark’s public charter school sector offers all children access to high-quality, tuition-free education.

Newark, N.J.—February 3, 2014—The Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF), a non-profit organization that makes grants to support the quality growth and sustainability of Newark’s public charter school sector, today announced the launch of an ad campaign to build awareness of the value charter schools provide to our communities. The ads, which began running on Sunday, highlight the pivotal role charters play in the citywide effort to prepare students for college and a career.

“Newark’s charter schools provide parents and students with an option for a high-quality, tuition-free, public education,” said Mashea Ashton, CEO of NCSF. “Charters play an increasingly important role in the citywide effort to ensure that every child, regardless of their past academic performance or unique learning needs, has access to an education that prepares them for college. It’s critical that parents and students in Newark know what choices are available to them when it comes to education, and these ads send a clear message about what charter schools are and the opportunities they create for all of our kids.”

The $100,000 campaign includes newspaper and bus ads, billboards, and a 30-second television spot. The first newspaper ad ran Sunday, Feb. 2, in The Star Ledger. Bus ads and a billboard in the South Ward will go up the week of Feb. 3, with the television ad debuting later in February. NCSF’s goal for the campaign is to raise awareness among Newark residents of the mission and accessibility of the city’s public charter schools, as well as the sector’s partnership with the district to ensure that every child has access to a high-quality education.

In a survey conducted last year, nearly half of Newark respondents incorrectly characterized charter schools as private schools. The NCSF ad campaign is aimed at informing residents that tuition-free charter schools are a critical part of providing quality public school options for families in Newark. Admission does not depend on grades or test scores, and enrollment is open to everyone, including students with special needs.

“With the launch this year of the One Newark Enrolls citywide enrollment system, it’s important for parents considering their options to know what public charter schools are and how they can serve their students,” Ashton said. “Charters prepare students for college and career, offering every child the chance of a promising future, and One Newark Enrolls provides a simpler way for parents to decide which school will put their children on the right path.”

 

About Newark Charter School Fund

Established in April of 2008, the Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF) works to develop and support high quality charter schools in Newark, and is dedicated to create a thriving public school system that prepares all Newark public school students for college and career.  NCSF fulfills its mission by advocating for high‐impact education policy changes, making grants to improve the effectiveness of local charter schools, and by providing support for new startup charter schools. NCSF is embarking on the next phase of its development with the goal of expanding the number and quality of charter school seats, while promoting a strong partnership between charter and district schools. 

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Jan 31, 2014

One Newark Enrolls

News

One Newark Enrolls is a universal enrollment system of true choice where all families can access great schools—whether district or charter—for their children.

Families in transitional grades, entering school for the first time, or looking to change schools benefit from:

  • Ease: One application for both district and charter schools and one timeline to manage.
  • Choice: Families’ school choices are most important
  • Community: Families have options near their homes
  • Access: Students will have increased choice

Learn more about One Newark Enrolls »
Apply online for One Newark Enrolls »

One Newark Enrolls Participating Newark Charter Schools

Download a list of participating schools

Elementary and Middle Schools (K-8)

PK4 = Pre-K 4 year olds

School Name Grades Address Phone Wards Website
Great Oaks 6-8 24 Maiden Lane 973-565-9170 Central Visit website
Greater Newark K-8       Visit website
Elementary/Middle School K-1, 5 118 7th Ave. 973-482-8200 Central  
Middle School 6-8 72 Central Ave. 973-242-3543 Central  
Lady Liberty Academy K-8 746 Sanford Ave. 973-623-9005 West Visit website
Marion P. Thomas PK4-8       Visit website
Elementary School PK4-4 370 S. 7th St. 973-621-0060 West  
Middle School 5-8 308 S. 9th St. 973-792-0060 West  
Merit Preparatory 6-8 909 Broad St., 3rd Floor 973-642-4400 Central Visit website
Newark Educators K-5 9-11 Hill St. 973-732-3848 Central Visit website
Newark Legacy School K-5       Visit website
Elementary School K-2 460 Lyons Ave. 973-642-7000 South  
Elementary School 3-5 823 S. 16th St. 973-374-7000 South  
North Star Academy K-8       Visit website
Elementary School 4 K-1 108 South 9th St. 973-474-5250 West  
Fairmount Elementary School K-1 108 South 9th St. 973-854-1760 West  
Vailsburg Elementary School K-4 108 South 9th St., 3rd Fl. 973-373-8150 West  
West Side Park Elementary School K-3 557 15th Ave. 973-286-6942 West  
Clinton Hill Middle School 5-8 600 Clinton Ave. 973-484-2221 South  
Downtown Middle School 5-8 10 Washington Place 973-642-0101 Central  
Vailsburg Middle School 5-8 24 Hazelwood Ave. 973-286-6940 West  
West Side Park Middle School 5-8 557 15th Ave. 973-474-5260 West  
Phillip's Academy K-8 342 Central Ave. 973-624-0644 Central Visit website
Roseville K-4 540 Orange St. 973-483-4400 Central Visit website
TEAM Academy K-8       Visit website
Seek Academy K 100 Aldine St. 973-481-7583 South  
THRIVE Academy K-1 100 Aldine St. 973-273-7272 South  
Spark Academy K-4 230 Halsey St. 973-481-0327 Central  
Rise Academy 5-8 21 Ashland St. 973-242-7473 South  
TEAM Academy 5-8 85 Custer Ave. 973-705-8326 South  
University Heights PK4-8 75 Hartford St. 973-623-0965 Central Visit website

High Schools (9-12)

School Name Grades Address Phone Wards Website
Great Oaks 9-10 9-11 Hill St. 973-732-3848 x131 Central Visit website
Newark Preparatory 9-11 570 Broad St. 973-307-7010 Central Visit website
North Star Academy College Preparatory 9-12 13 Central Ave. 973-286-6390 Central Visit website
People's Preparatory 9-12 321 Bergen St., 2nd Fl. 973-622-1790 South Visit website
TEAM Academy Newark 9-12 18 Norfolk St. 973-624-1622 Central Visit website
The Paulo Freire School 9-11 28 Burnet St. 973-733-9393 Central Visit website
Visions Academy 9-12 88-108 Shipman St. 973-230-0605 South Visit website

Jan 6, 2014

Innovative Enrollment Initiative Gives Students Real Choice

News

NCSF CEO Mashea Ashton writes on The Huffington Post:

If we're serious about reforming public education in our nation, we have to ensure all our kids have access to high-quality schools. Newark, New Jersey, is launching an innovative new universal enrollment program this week aimed at achieving that goal as well as promoting equity and transparency, but federal regulations may stand in the way of full implementation. The federal government needs to loosen the reins and let cities and school districts do what's best for their students.

Newark's universal enrollment program, part of the district superintendent's One Newark initiative, is representative of a promising trend emerging in a handful of school districts across the United States. Under universal enrollment, parents will simply fill out a single application to rank their top public district or charter school choices. This streamlined process will ease the burden for parents who will no longer need to go door to door to find out the options, timelines and enrollment requirements of their local schools.

The program, which went live Jan. 6, is a groundbreaking collaboration between the Newark public school district and the city's robust charter school sector. As of now, more than three quarters -- 16 of the city's 21 public charter schools -- are on board to participate. They should be commended for their willingness to step up and be part of the solution for better schools in Newark.

Public charter schools are often accused of "cherry picking" their students, avoiding special needs or high-risk students. A universal enrollment system will alleviate those concerns. Parents can list their top eight public district or charter school choices in order of preference, and the district will place students according to availability. Newark's universal enrollment initiative is bolder than others in its efforts to best serve students with the greatest needs. The system will give greater preference to students with special education needs, students who are eligible for free lunch, and students who want to attend a school in the community where they live.

Read more on The Huffington Post ...

Dec 5, 2013

NJ Spotlight: Newark and Charters Set Up Universal Enrollment System

News

NCSF CEO Mashea Ashton Cited in NJ Spotlight

What it is: The 11-page memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the Newark Public Schools and 16 charters -- 76 percent of the city’s total -- sets up a central enrollment system for both district schools and participating charters for the 2014-2015 school year.

What it means: Called “One Newark” and first announced last spring, the enrollment system administered by the district will essentially allow families a one-stop location to pick their preferences for schools, whether they're in the neighborhood, across town, or an independent charter. The MOU wrapped up in the past two weeks is notable for the preferences it gives to high-needs students -- special education, limited English skills, and other disadvantages.

Quote: “At its core this amazing achievement represents a very simple goal -- to ensure that all students in Newark can attend an excellent school,” said Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson, the architect of the plan. “Together, public and charters, have done something that no other city in the country could agree to -- to move beyond individual priorities and create a customized plan that serves all of our families.”

Read more at NJ Spotlight ...

Dec 4, 2013

Common Core: 2014 a Pivotal Year for Needed Reform

News

NCSF CEO Mashea Ashton writes on The Huffington Post:

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan ruffled feathers in November with his commentsabout people who oppose the Common Core State Standards. He said a lot of the pushback on Common Core has come from "white suburban moms" who are upset that their children aren't "as brilliant as they thought they were" and their schools aren't "quite as good as they thought they were." Perhaps the remarks were insensitive, but his analysis was spot-on. Common Core is forcing us to realize that education reform isn't just needed to transform our urban schools -- it's desperately needed across the United States. To realize our children's full potential as well as make our schools globally competitive, we have to act now to raise the bar for all students.

At present, too many of our students are graduating from high school not ready for college-level work. Nearly 50 percent of students entering two-year colleges take remedial courses, while 20 percent of students in four-year colleges have to start by making up what they didn't learn in high school. This is unacceptable. Our schools should be preparing students for the rigors of college and career, and too many of them fail to do so.

Equally, if not more troubling, is that our children are falling further behind their global counterparts. Students in the United States are scoring well below the world's best schools in math, reading and science. This isn't restricted to students in poverty, either; middle class students are also lagging behind, as new data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) found. In the United States, teenage students ranked behind their counterparts in 23 countries in science and 30 countries in math.

Meanwhile, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released its 2013 report card for the nation in November, showing only slight gains in math and reading for students. Even with growth in charter schools and other reform measures nationwide, it's clear we need more rigorous standards across the board. Our students can't wait: the time for reform is now.

Read more on The Huffington Post ...

Nov 13, 2013

‘NJ Spotlight’ Profiles NCSF CEO Mashea Ashton

News

Name: Mashea Ashton

Job: Chief Executive Officer, Newark Charter School Fund, 2009-present

Birthplace: Willingboro, NJ, where she was an All-American high school soccer player

What she does: With a staff of seven and commitments of almost $30 million in grants and programs over the past five years, Ashton has become a central player in the city’s nationally recognized charter school movement. Schools operate separately, but the fund provides advocacy and support for staff training, recruitment, and other improvements. It is also a key partner with the Newark public schools in developing the city’s fledgling universal enrollment system.

How big is Newark charter community? Twenty-two schools and growing, serving some 10,000 students, close to a quarter of the overall public school enrollment in the city. Newark’s charters also account for more than a quarter of all charters in New Jersey.

Where it gets its money: The fund is built on donations from several prominent national foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as local ones like the Prudential Foundation and the Victoria Foundation. A main contributor in the latest round of support is the Foundation for Newark’s Future, the organization funded through the $100 million donation to the city by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Read more at NJSpotlight.com ...

Nov 5, 2013

Moody’s Report on Charter Schools Misses the Real Problem

News

NCSF CEO Mashea Ashton on The Huffington Post

Moody's Investors Service recently released a report claiming the rise in enrollment in public charter schools could pose a dangerous financial risk for traditional public schools, especially in urban areas with weak economies. Yet blaming charter schools for financial woes in the school district is unfair, and it drives a poisonous wedge between administrators, educators and the broader community, who should be working together to provide kids with access to high-quality education.

Public charter schools have long been the scapegoat for traditional public schools' woes. Moody's report follows the usual line of reasoning: charter schools have seen increasing enrollment, which means students are leaving traditional public schools. Because the students are leaving, those schools are losing funding, and they are struggling to stay open.

It's easy to blame schools' problems on a lack of funding. But that twists the issue. Basic fairness dictates that public funds should follow the students to the schools that are best able to provide a quality education, whether they are traditional public schools or public charter schools. (And in practice, charter schools are the ones getting the shorter end of the stick, on average receiving 70 percent of the per-pupil funding expended by district schools.)

The Moody's report highlights a couple of school districts with serious financial health issues predating charters that are struggling to adapt, but essentially ignores the many other urban districts where public charters and the district are able to grow together and thrive in fine financial health. The simple truth is that the schools that are failing are failing for other reasons, such as counterproductive policies, entrenched bureaucracy and a refusal by stakeholders to work together to find solutions that result in the best education for kids.

Read more on The Huffington Post ...

Oct 24, 2013

Newark Mayoral Candidates to Debate Education Issues Tonight

News

NCSF CEO Mashea Ashton Cited in the Star-Ledger

They won't have any authority over the city's schools, but the four men vying to become the next mayor of Newark have a lot of ideas on education.

South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka is principal of Central High School. Shavar Jeffries and North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos are former school board members. Along with Central Ward Councilman Darrin Sharif, the four mayoral candidates will discuss their ideas on Newark's public schools during a debate that begins at 6 tonight at Science Park High School.

The debate will be hosted by the Newark Education Trust, a non-profit advocacy group led by Ross Danis.

"Our families, students and teachers deserve a rigorous conversation focused on students and solutions," Newark superintendent Cami Anderson said in a statement. "I look forward to listening to the candidate’s ideas and working in partnership with our next Mayor to ensure every single student in Newark is in an excellent school."

Anticipating a central issue in the debate, Newark Charter School Fund CEO Mashea Ashton published an op-ed piece in The Star-Ledger today saying the next Newark mayor has to back charter schools.

"The winner of next May's mayoral election should continue (Cory) Booker's legacy of supporting a comprehensive, portfolio approach to education that includes strong backing for high-quality public charter schools," Ashton wrote.

Oct 24, 2013

Newark Needs Next Mayor to Back Charter Schools

News

Guest Column by NCSF CEO Mashea Ashton in the Star-Ledger

Last week, Newark Mayor Cory Booker won the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s passing in June. Booker’s replacement in City Hall faces significant challenges on a number of issues, but the people of Newark have made one thing clear: They overwhelmingly support expanding the public charter school sector.

The winner of next May’s mayoral election should continue Booker’s legacy of supporting a comprehensive, portfolio approach to education that includes strong backing for high-quality public charter schools.

Newark’s schools face continued challenges, from improved but still-too-low graduation rates to a $57 million budget shortfall. Residents will have a chance to hear from four mayoral candidates during this evening’s education-focused forum at Science Park High School, sponsored by the Newark Trust for Education.

The forum presents an opportunity for residents to hear where candidates stand on issues confronting the school system, including ending performance-blind dismissal policies; closing failing or underperforming schools so resources can be allocated to schools that are performing well; and combining schools in shared facilities.

Chief among the next mayor’s educational priorities, however, should be continuing to strengthen the spirit of cooperation that Booker worked hard to foster between the district and public charters.

Oct 7, 2013

Newark Charter School Fund Launches Education Campaign

Press Releases

(NEWARK, N.J.) – October 7, 2013 – The Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF), a nonprofit organization that makes grants to support the quality growth and sustainability of Newark public charter schools, today released an educational video about the success of Newark’s public charter school sector.

According to a recent NCSF survey, a majority of Newark residents initially thought charters schools were private schools funded with public money. Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that any child is eligible to attend.

“Newark residents overwhelmingly support public charter schools and the role they play in providing access to a high-quality education, but many do not know how charters actually operate,” said Mashea Ashton, CEO of NCSF. “This video and the corresponding educational campaign will help raise awareness about the options public charter schools provide and drive vital parental engagement in Newark’s education system.”

Participants in the video include Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund; Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark; Jared Taillefer, Executive Director of Great Oaks Charter School; Marshae’ Newkirk, School Director of Roseville Community Charter School; Melanie Hinds, 2nd-grade Teacher at University Heights Charter School; Dana Murray, TEAM Charter School garent; A’Dorian Murray, TEAM Charter School graduate; and current Newark charter school students.

Aug 5, 2013

Most Newark Residents Want More Charter Schools, Poll Reveals

News

Survey also found confusion among residents about what a charter school is.

By Paul Milo

Nearly three-fourths of city residents responding to an April poll support expanding the city’s network of public charter schools, the nonprofit Newark Charter Schools Fund announced recently.

Respondents, however, only rated the alternatives to the district’s schools as “fair," giving the approximately two dozen charter schools a quality rating of 6.9 on a 1 to 10 scale. That rating, however, was still higher than for Newark’s traditional public schools, and was even higher among respondents whose children attend charters. That group rated Newark's charter schools 8.1 out of 10.

“This survey illustrates what we have seen firsthand for some time: that parents like having more high-quality public school choices for their children’s education,” Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund, said in a statement. “When parents understand what charter schools are and how charters are equipped to benefit all Newark students, they support expanding options.”

The poll, conducted between April 18 and April 23 by theGallowglass Group of Wood-Ridge and commissioned by the Newark Charter School Fund, queried 500 residents split evenly among the city’s five wards. Respondents were selected from among registered voters who took part in at least two of the last four general elections.

Nearly half of respondents, 43 percent, had children or grandchildren in a Newark public school. Seventy-one percent of respondents said they supported an expansion of the charter school system.

Along with broad support for charter schools, the survey also found that:

Support for charters was weakest in the East Ward, where there are only private and district public schools

Several respondents were confused about the nature of charter schools, often believing them to be private schools receiving public funding. Charter schools are actually a part of the city’s public school system, although each operates independently of the administration that oversees the city’s traditional district public schools

The most common reason respondents gave for supporting charters was the quality of education they offered; 42 percent of respondents answered in this fashion

Many respondents were skeptical of the idea of a charter and a traditional public school sharing the same facilities

- See more at: http://www.ncsfund.org/newsroom.html#sthash.yaDBBc3c.dpuf

Jul 31, 2013

7 in 10 Newark Residents Support More Charter Schools, Newark Charter School Fund Survey Finds

News

From the Center for Education Reform

A recently released survey from the Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF) found that a resounding 71 percent of voters in Newark, NJ support the expansion of the city’s charter school sector, according to a the poll.

The NCSF poll – conducted in April 2013 – sampled 500 Newark voters, who by and large supported charter school expansion. Furthermore, Newark residents gave a higher rating to charter schools when given more information on how public charter schools actually function.

The phenomenon of presenting people with information about charter schools and then hearing they support them is nothing new. A poll conducted in 2005 found that seven in ten New Jersey residents expressed support for charters after being given a factual description of what charter schools actually are.

http://www.edreform.com/2013/07/7-in-10-newark-residents-support-more-charter-schools-newark-charter-school-fund-survey-finds/

Jul 23, 2013

Parents of charter school students rate the sector 8.1 on a scale of 10

Press Releases

Seventy-one percent of Newark, N.J., residents support expanding the city’s charter school sector, according to a survey released today by the Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF), a nonprofit organization that makes grants to support the quality growth and sustainability of Newark public charter schools.

“This survey illustrates what we have seen firsthand for some time: that parents like having more high-quality public school choices for their children’s education,” said Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund. “When parents understand what charter schools are and how charters are equipped to benefit all Newark students, they support expanding options.”

Parents whose children attend charter schools rated the sector very highly at 8.1 out of 10. Newark residents as a whole rated charter schools at 6 on a scale of 10 points. This rating rose to 6.9 when residents were told that charter schools are free public schools that operate independently of the local school district; are more accountable for improving student achievement and partnerships among parents, teachers and students; and give parents more options for free public schools. 

The survey polled 500 Newark residents – 100 each from the North, South, East, West and Central Wards – between April 18 and April 23, 2013. The survey was conducted by the Wood-Ridge, N.J.-based Gallowglass Group. 

Most respondents in favor of expanding the charter school sector believe charters offer students a better education overall (41.6 percent). Other reasons for supporting more charter schools included more involvement by all stakeholders (18.7 percent), better teacher/staff care (6.5 percent) and newer schools (5.3 percent). Of the respondents who opposed expanding the charter sector, most (36 percent) said they believed district public schools were better.

“While the survey showed overwhelming support for charter schools among parents who understand what charter schools are, it also illustrated that there is work to be done to educate residents about all of their public school options,” Ashton said. “We look forward to continuing to partner with district leaders to engage parents in the public school system and ensure that all Newark kids have access to a high-quality school.”

Nearly half of those polled incorrectly characterized charter schools as private schools using public funding, while only 35 percent correctly characterized charters as public schools using public funding and 16 percent didn’t know.

Other key findings of the survey include:

  • 43 percent of respondents reported having children or grandchildren who attend elementary, middle or high school in Newark.
  • 59.4 percent of respondents reported being aware of a charter school in their neighborhood.
  • Respondents rated their knowledge of district public schools 5.44 out of 10, and their knowledge of charter schools 4.6 out of 10. 

About Newark Charter School Fund

Established in April of 2008, the Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF) works to develop and support high quality charter schools in Newark, and is dedicated to create a thriving public school system that prepares all Newark public school students for college and career. NCSF fulfills its mission by advocating for high‐impact education policy changes, making grants to improve the effectiveness of local charter schools, and by providing support for new startup charter schools. With a waiting list for charter schools in Newark of over 10,000 students, NCSF is embarking on the next phase of its development with the goal of expanding the number and quality of charter school seats, while promoting a strong partnership between charter and district schools.  

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Rianna Felder
703-297-4898
felder@pinkstongroup.com

Jun 12, 2013

By The Company It Keeps: Mashea Ashton

News

By Andy Smarick

I’ve known Mashea Ashton on and off for almost a decade. We’ve done charter school stuff together and crossed paths in various other pursuits. I always liked and respected her a great deal. In my mind she was good people.

But through a fellowship program, I got to know Mashea even better. And for that I’m eternally grateful. Seldom will you come across someone with so much ability and yet so much humility. She is reflective and kind to the core, and she does this work with a quiet passion.

As you’ll see in the questions, Mashea has just about done it all. She’s worked for some of the most influential ed-reform organizations, and she’s currently leading a major effort in one of America’s most prominent ed-reform cities.

But you’ll also see in her answers how she manages to avoid the limelight: by simply being decent and modest and giving others credit.

And that is why I love doing these interviews: to show why our movement is so strong and to draw attention to those who so richly deserve it.

Ladies and gentlemen: the wonderful Mashea Ashton.

What makes you most proud of the Newark Charter School Fund?
I’m most proud of the ability the charter sector and our partners in the district have shown to put aside our differences and commit to the shared goal of creating a system of great schools. Both the charter school sector and the district have worked hard to put aside the “us vs. them” mentality that plagues many other systems and create a truly collaborative environment. While we may have our differences from time to time, our end goal is the same: to ensure that every child in every ward in Newark has access to a high-quality school that prepares them for college and the competitive world beyond.

The CREDO report on New Jersey charters said Newark has one of the highest-performing charter sectors of any city that organization has studied. What did Newark, the state, funders, and operators do right?
The first thing we did right was make clear our relentless focus on quality.  You have to start with the question. “Would I want my child or my best friend’s child to attend this school?” Second, I think the collaborative spirit we share with the district goes a long way toward ensuring that public charter schools exist in an environment where they can thrive. The public charter sector has also committed to accountability and transparency, which goes a long way toward building trust and engagement with parents.

One area of simmering tension in the charter movement is the CMO vs. “Mom-and-Pop” debate. It contains the challenging issues of race, class, philanthropy, politics, policy, and more. Do you have any particular thoughts on this matter?
Our main goal, in collaboration with the district schools, is to expand students’ access to high-quality schools, whether they’re district schools or public charter schools. The portfolio approach we use in Newark means we have both CMO and unaffiliated public charter schools. Public charter schools come in all shapes and sizes, and there are definitely benefits to both models. Parents want a school that respects them, their children, and the community. As long as they’re serving students and families well, we’re happy.

What’s it like working in a town with a rock-star famous mayor, a hard-charging superintendent, and the shadow of the $100 million Zuckerberg donation? I could imagine feeling exhilarated and claustrophobic all at once.
That’s a good way to put it! It is exciting to see such strong growth of the public charter sector in Newark, and such fantastic support from all fronts. Mayor Booker has been a great supporter, as has Gov. Christie, and we’re grateful to have a partner in Superintendent Anderson, who shares our commitment to strengthening all schools in Newark so we can improve access to high-quality education for all students.

Not to make you blush, but you have a really impressive résumé. In addition to leading NCSF, you’ve been an executive with KIPP, New Leaders, and theNYCDOE. You’ve also been a board member of leading organizations, including BAEO and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Where is your professional path leading you?
I’ve seen a lot in my years in the education-reform movement and the charter school sector, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited about the work than I am here in Newark. But while we’re seeing truly great progress in supporting the quality growth of the public charter school sector, there’s still a lot of work to be done here in Newark.

If you could talk to the twenty-somethings now cutting their teeth in education reform who will someday lead this work, what would you tell them?
The kind of partisanship that seems so popular in Washington does not work in the real world. Get it out of your heads now. If you’re going to be successful, you’ve got to work together.

I’m told that you really like to buy books for people you care about. What books have influenced you the most? Which books do you most like to give as gifts and why?
The two books I give away the most are probably Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen, and The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter, by Michael Watkins. I have also personally enjoyed Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America, by Paul Tough, and Master of the Senate, Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson.

You’re a twin AND you’re the mother of twins. How have those experiences formed you? How do you balance being an organizational executive and a mom of double toddlers?
Being a twin taught me firsthand how to collaborate and work as a team to achieve more. My sister was my first teammate. In addition, especially for those of us in the field of education, children put why we do what we do in perspective. Becoming a mom has helped motivate me to be unapologetic about the children-first approach we’re taking in Newark. I think all parents feel the same way I do: that our children are more important than politics, more important than one person’s profile or legacy, more important than unions or special interests. If we’re going to make real progress in providing children with access to high-quality education, we have to put those things aside and commit to doing whatever it takes.

I’m told that you’re a huge fan of Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Now, I’m of the mind that the finest professional moment of each actually occurs in the same song: 2003’s “Crazy In Love.” It won a bunch of Grammys, VH1 named it the best song of the 2000s, and—my Lord!—in Jay’s verse, he name-checks Tony Soprano, Ringo Starr, Nick Van Exel, and a chinchilla! Are you with me, or do you think they have better songs?
I love every Beyoncé and Jay-Z song out there, so you can’t make me pick one! Don’t get me started!

Jun 6, 2013

Newark Charter School Fund donates $10 million to bolster city schools

News

By David Giambusso

NEWARK — The Newark Charter School Fund will put $10 million toward "quality growth" of charter schools in the 2013 - 2014 school year, according to a release issued by the fundraising entity this morning.

“Recent research has shown tremendous results for students attending Newark’s public charter schools, highlighting the important role charters play in the district-wide efforts to provide all Newark kids with access to a high-quality education,” said Mashea Ashton, CEO of the fund. “This new round of funding will help us continue to grow and improve the charter schools in Newark and offer parents and students more and better education choices.”

In an interview Ashton said the money represents a partnership geared towards expanding charters and their effectiveness and bolstering collaboration between charters and district schools.

Roughly $3.8 million is coming from long time charter funders including the Walton Family Foundation, The Doris and Donald Fisher Fund and The Robertson Foundation. Another approximately $1.2 million is coming from the New School Venture Fund and other donors.

That will be matched by roughly $5 million from the Foundation for Newark's Future, the non-profit set up to match and distribute $100 million donated to Newark schools by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Ashton said.

"We have all come together with one plan in mind," Ashton said, citing the need to support high quality charters as well as improve collaboration with district schools.

"It’s a really a commitment to this next year with (those) two specific goals in mind," she said.

http://www.nj.com/essex/index.ssf/2013/05/newark_charter_school_fund_rai.html

Jun 6, 2013

Charters aren’t causing Newark’s school budget woes

Opinion

By Mashea M. Ashton

In recent weeks, Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson has come under fire over a $57 million budget shortfall, projected for the school district next year. The blame should not rest on Anderson. Outdated state policies make it challenging for her to enact real reform that would solve the troubled school district’s systemic problems.

Newark’s charter sector is expected to see an increase of 2,200 students next year. Funding for these students accounts for an estimated $33.6 million, or nearly 60 percent of the shortfall. Characterizing this funding shift — from district schools to public charter schools — as a “loss” is inaccurate. The fact is that allocating funds so they follow students to the educational option of their choice is not only fair, it’s working.

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that provide many low-income and working-class parents with the freedom to choose a school that offers an education that best serves their students’ needs, regardless of where they live or their income level. Charters schools are nonselective and accept students through a random lottery. Recent reports by Newark Public Schools and CREDO/Stanford make clear Newark’s charter schools are producing significant achievement gains for students. It’s not surprising that families are demanding more charter schools, with 10,000 students already on wait lists.

Charters should not become the scapegoat for challenges in Newark and other urban districts. Charter schools are a part of a comprehensive solution, not the problem, and money and resources should follow students to the schools that are serving them best.

Instead of demonizing charters, quality-school advocates should pursue reforms in teacher hiring, such as last-in-first-out, or LIFO, and other performance-blind dismissal practices that prevent the district from putting student needs first.

LIFO cost Newark $8.5 million last year, and indirectly cost tens of millions more by tying the district’s hands on hiring and firing decisions. Under current law, when district schools face under-enrollment, they must lay off newer teachers first, regardless of performance. Meanwhile, poor performers with tenure can’t be fired. New Jersey is one of only 11 states to maintain the outdated LIFO policy.

While the new teacher contract spearheaded last year by Anderson, Mayor Cory Booker and Gov. Chris Christie is a strong step in the right direction, there are still improvements to be made.

Another real solution is to close failing and underperforming schools, whether they are charters or district-run.

Charter schools in Newark have gone above and beyond to show what’s possible, including leading the way by building excellent schools and working with the district to develop initiatives such as the Newark Charter School Compact, which promotes transparency and accountability. Several local and national funders, the New Jersey Department of Education charter authorizer and 17 of 22 Newark charter schools have already signed the compact.

In addition, national foundations supporting Newark’s charters have pledged up to $10 million for the next year to support quality growth and district/charter collaborations.

Much of that philanthropic investment will go toward assuring that charter schools are serving Newark’s neediest students. We need to make charter school growth and improvement a priority, giving more high-quality school options to Newark families.

If we’re serious about ensuring excellence for future generations of Newark students, we should not doom them to failing or mediocre schools so that we can avoid making the difficult decisions that come along with budget cuts.

The facts cannot be ignored. Public schools need the support of political leaders and the community to address failed policies. Great schools need access to space and talent. And families need school choices that meet the needs of their children. Our students deserve nothing less.

Mashea M. Ashton is chief executive officer of the Newark Charter School Fund.

http://blog.nj.com/njv_guest_blog/2013/05/charters_arent_causing_newarks.html

Jun 6, 2013

Newark Charter Schools Receive $10 Million

News

A large and growing share of Newark students being educated in alternative public schools.

Newark’s network of charter schools are getting a $10 million boost from the schools’ fundraising arm, the agency announced in a statement.

“Recent research has shown tremendous results for students attending Newark’s public charter schools, highlighting the important role charters play in the district-wide efforts to provide all Newark kids with access to a high-quality education,” said Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund. “This new round of funding will help us continue to grow and improve the charter schools in Newark and offer parents and students more and better education choices.”

The money has been awarded by national foundations that have supported the city’s charter schools since 2008, including the Walton Family Foundation, The Doris and Donald Fisher Fund and The Robertson Foundation. Nearly half will come from funders of the Foundation for Newark’s Future, and the remainder will come from New Schools Venture Fund and from other entities.

About a fifth of Newark’s school children, approximately 10,000 students, are enrolled in charter schools, and an additional 10,000 are on waiting lists, according to the NCSF.

http://newarknj.patch.com/articles/newark-charter-schools-getting-10-million

- See more at: http://www.ncsfund.org/newsroom.html#sthash.m8Y5eGYM.dpuf

May 7, 2013

State Closing Newark School For Poor Performance, Mismanagement

News

Charter for 100 Legacy being pulled less than a year after it opened

Citing problems ranging from financial mismanagement to poor academic instruction, the state Department of Eduction is shutting down a city charter school serving grades 6 to 8 less than a year after it was founded.

The charter for the 100 Legacy Academy Charter School is being revoked effective June 28, the state told the school’s board of trustees in an April 11 letter.

The school's management can appeal the decision in court.

100 Legacy and other charter schools are an alternate to the traditional public school system, free from some administrative requirements seen in district public schools, thereby permitting innovative methods intended to boost student performance. In Newark and across the state charter schools are part of the public school system.

The state began receiving complaints from parents about 100 Legacy, which was founded in August 2012, shortly after the school opened the doors at its Morton Street campus. The school serves students from Newark and Irvington.

In response to those complaints, the school was placed on probation Jan. 25 and ordered to come up with a remediation plan. But inspectors conducting site visits in February and March still found the institution lacking.

“Students were observed with their heads down” on their desks and were “frequently disengaged and disruptive”, while “lessons lacked rigor and measurable outcomes,” Evo Popoff wrote to Michael Clarke, the president of the school’s board of trustees.

State inspectors also said special education students were being underserved and that conditions overall had actually gotten worse since the school was placed on probation in January.

"While we at the Newark Charter School Fund are disappointed to see any school fail, we also believe it's important to close failing schools, whether they are charter or district schools,” said Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund. “This commitment to excellence is an integral element of our partnership with the district, and helps ensure we are fulfilling our shared mission to provide all Newark children with access to high-quality education.”

In the 2011-12 school year, 15 percent of Newark schoolchildren were being educated in charter schools, according to the Newark Charter School Fund. There are currently 22 charter schools serving Newark students, about a quarter of New Jersey’s total.

http://newarknj.patch.com/articles/citing-problems-state-dissolving-newark-charter-school

May 7, 2013

Education Week: Q&A with Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund

News

Charter school advocates are promoting their cause through National Charter School Week over the coming days. 

I recently spoke with Mashea Ashton, a longtime charter school advocate who has worked to create and support charter schools since their inception. Starting as the national director of recruitment and selection for the Knowledge is Power Program, Ashton next moved to the New York City Department of Education where she oversaw the charter school program, helping to open nearly 50 charter schools as part of the city's effort to create 200 small schools.

Ashton also served as the executive director of the New York program and senior advisor for charter school policy at New Leaders for New Schools, and most recently, she is the chief executive officer of theNewark Charter School Fund.

She and I spoke about charter schools in New Jersey, what challenges charter schools face, and how to strengthen the relationship between charter and regular public schools. Questions and answers have been edited for space and clarity.

Please explain the role of the Newark Charter School Fund in helping to improve charter schools in New Jersey.

Ashton: The Newark Charter School Fund was started in April of 2008 with the primary goal of supporting the quality growth and sustainability of Newark's charter schools. We primarily educate key stakeholders including parents and policymakers around what charter schools are and the role that they have in the overall effort to create quality school options. We advocate for high-impact policy changes, making sure that the environment both at the Newark and the state level really supports the growth of quality charter schools. And the third [aspect of what we do is] we are a private foundation, so we provide grants to improve individual schools' effectiveness in a startup phase or even for schools that have been up and running for a number of years. We build the capacity to move from good to great by strengthening their leadership or teacher pipelines or board member capacity. And the last thing that we're really taking an active role in the past two and a half years is supporting a positive collaboration between district schools and charter schools which we have launched as part of our Newark Charter Compact.

How, if at all, has your experience working with charter schools in New Jersey differed from your experiences working with charter schools in New York? What did you learn from your experiences in New York that have helped inform your work in New Jersey?

Ashton: Particularly in my role in New York, one thing that is absolutely critical is the authorizing. The role that the charter authorizer plays in both approving, supporting, and holding schools accountable is absolutely critical in New York. There were multiple authorizers which I actually think really pushed the standard around quality. Fortunately when I was in New York, there was a lot of synergy around the authorizers. We collaborated and spoke with all of them, which creates a healthy, competitive environment. In New Jersey, there's one authorizer, and we've been fortunate because in the over five years that I've been in Newark, we've had a pretty favorable authorizer, and an office that really did focus on quality and making sure that throughout the various stages, there is a relentless focus on quality.

[A similarity between New York and New Jersey] is the leadership. The schools as well as elected leadership has been aligned in both New Jersey and New York. You have a governor, mayor, commissioner that supports quality growth and taken action in different ways, passing policies and incentives so that charter schools were welcome. ... It sends the public message that charter schools are going to be part of the reform movement, and it raises the standards in terms of quality. That clear alignment around quality really forces the traditional public schools as well as the charter schools to be accountable.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing charter schools today? What would you like to see happen to address some of those challenges?

Ashton: One is a need for an education campaign on charter school 101. A lot of parents, a lot of key stakeholders don't understand that charters are free, public schools. There are misconceptions about charter schools about whether there's an election process, who they serve, and that's something we're really working on—eliminating the us vs. them mentality. When you talk to parents, they don't care what the name of the school is. They just want a great school for their kids.

The second issue is that we've been pretty fortunate for charter schools in Newark and New Jersey that there's been a relentless focus on quality and making sure that the ... authorizers provide that autonomy to provide the accountability. We don't want to be the system that we're trying to be better than in some ways.

And then the last challenge is that almost 20 years into chartering, equal access to funding and facilities is still a major barrier for quality charter school growth. We've got to continue to fight even in this kind of economic environment for equal funding and equal access to facility funding. It definitely has an impact on the quality of charters.

What role do you think policymakers can play in helping to ensure high-quality charter schools? What policies do you think best support charters' ability to innovate while still holding charter schools accountable for student achievement?

Ashton: There are policy changes at the federal, state, and local level that can positively provide charter schools equal access, whether it's through funding or facilities. The second is really thinking through how we provide greater incentives. Our Newark Charter Compact is creating the right incentives for our charter school community to commit to our four principles—data transparency and accountability, sharing best practices, innovating to serve the neediest students, and eliminating the us vs. them [mentality].

And there has been a commitment to closing low-performing schools on the charter and district side. How as a charter sector do we really have the right resources to serve the neediest students? That is the last critical element of our compact. If you don't commit to those principles, you don't get access to resources. If you do commit to those, there are financial incentives by being part of a network that's committed to those. At the federal, state, and local level, how could they provide policy changes and incentives for all schools to be committed to those four principles?

Do you think regular public schools have been able to learn from charter schools and implement strategies to better serve students? If yes, please give examples of how this has happened, and if not, how might charter and regular schools strengthen their relationship?

Ashton: This is a huge priority going forward. [In Newark,] we're working on creating a centralized enrollment system for both the charter and traditional public school sector. We're learning from our peers in New Orleans and Denver and Philadelphia—the idea being that parents right now have to go door-to-door to see what options exists, but if there was one system where all the information was housed, they could apply, and there would be a random lottery, and parents would have greater access to all of the resources.

The challenge is we need to provide more quality schools. This system is not a cure-all, but we think that it will centralize the process and force charter schools and traditional public schools to be quality and compete.

Charter schools are supposed to innovate and share best practices and that hasn't been done. I think there are best practices that the charter school sector has helped shape and form across the traditional public schools—ideas around governance, autonomy, and accountability—but this is where we've got to build bridges. There are innovations and best practices that are happening in the traditional public schools, and it needs to go both ways.

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/charterschoice/2013/05/qa_with_mashea_ashton_ceo_of_the_newark_charter_school_fund.html

Apr 10, 2013

Newark Charter School Fund Hires Two Vice Presidents, Chief of Staff, Program Associate

Press Releases

The Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF) today announced the hirings of four new staff members whose experience and expertise will contribute to the Fund’s mission of developing and supporting high quality charter schools in Newark. The new staff members are Rana Khan, vice president of policy and new schools; Lisa Keise Miller, vice president of quality schools; Aileen Philbrick, chief of staff; and Akua Hill, program associate for new schools and policy.

“Rana, Lisa, Aileen and Akua all bring unique perspectives and experiences that will strengthen the Newark Charter School Fund family,” said Mashea Ashton, CEO of NCSF. “Their contributions will help us meet our goal that all Newark kids should have access to high-quality schools, regardless of economic status.”

Rana Khan is the former chief of staff to the executive director of office of space planning at the New York City Department of Education, where she managed special citywide initiatives and projects as they related to space planning within both instructional and administration sites. She currently serves as a founding board member of Great Oaks Charter schools in Newark, which is currently in co-located district space.

Lisa Keise Miller brings more than 10 years of experience in education reform and private mission-driven enterprises, most recently as the New York/New Jersey regional vice president for Revolution Foods, a national provider of nutritious meals for schools through the National School Lunch Program. She is a former New Jersey public high school science teacher.

Aileen Philbrick joins NCSF after 14 years at EdisonLearning Inc., a leading international educational solutions provider, where she served in various capacities and leadership roles, most recently as vice president of business systems. She was part of the EdisonLearning team behind launching the diverse provider model in the School District of Philadelphia in 2002.

Akua Hill has a background in youth and community engagement, including serving on the Child and Youth Master Plan Task Force to organize key community members and non-profit executives in creating a comprehensive plan for Nashville, Tenn. Her international experience, including service in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, will bring a fresh perspective to NCSFs efforts to attain strategic goals with a focus on research and due diligence. Hill will report to Vice President of Policy and New Schools Rana Khan.

Feb 19, 2013

NCSF Statement on Kimberly McLain’s Appointment as Interim CEO of FNF

Press Releases

Mashea Ashton, the CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund, issued the following statement on the appointment of Kimberly McLain as interim CEO of the Foundation for Newark's Future, replacing Greg Taylor.

"While Greg's departure is a loss for Newark, Kim's interim leadership will ensure continuity in the work of the Foundation for Newark's Future."

"Kim brings a strong commitment to ensuring every child in Newark has access to a quality public school. Having worked closely with Kim during her tenure as the Newark Charter School Fund's vice president of finance and operations, I can testify to her unrelenting focus on advancing the educational achievement of all students."

"Kim is an excellent leader, adviser and advocate for the 40,000 students in Newark's public schools - charter and district. I look forward to our continued partnership to ensure Newark is the first city in America to provide every child access to an excellent public school."

Dec 12, 2012

Newark Charter Schools Demonstrate Strong Results

Press Releases

More Work Needed to Expand High Quality Public School Options for All Students

Mashea Ashton, the CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund, said the results of a data analysis released today by Newark Public Schools shows that charter schools in the city are producing significant gains for students.

"The NPS analysis released today, as well as the recent CREDO study, show that Newark charter schools are producing significant gains for Newark students," Ashton said. "The results produced by Newark charter schools highlighted in recent studies can't be explained away by simply saying charter schools are serving a different population. When both the NPS analysis and the CREDO analysis controlled for students served, charters still perform strongly.

The recent study by the Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that charter school students overall in New Jersey, and in Newark in particular, made larger learning gains than their peers in traditional schools on state tests from 2007-2011.

"As the NPS analysis shows, in each need group, there are schools -disproportionately charters - that far outperform the average in their group," Ashton said. "We at NCSF are committed to collaborating with NPS and the state to identify these leaders and ensure similar schools can learn from their high performing peers to improve student outcomes."

Charters are public schools each governed by an independent board. More than 10,000 students are currently on waiting lists to attend charter schools in Newark.

Ashton further said NCSF and most of the Newark charters have already recognized the importance of data transparency.

"Last year, we developed the first-in-the-nation charter school compact requiring charters to provide transparent data. The Newark charters participation in the data dashboard initiative is a testament to the growing collaboration between the charters and district schools," Ashton said.

"As a part of the Newark Charter Compact, we have also acknowledged that more can and should be done to ensure charters in Newark are serving all students. Charter schools that have signed the compact have committed themselves to removing any obstacles to admission and engaging in outreach to underserved and at-risk students, those with special needs and English language learners," Ashton said.

NCSF has been working to make sure every family in Newark is aware of their charter school options. NCSF has held two charter school fairs this year and sent out more than 20,000 mailers to the lowest-income neighborhoods in Newark.

"The NCSF is committed to supporting and growing high quality public school options," Ashton said. "NCSF looks forward to partnering with NPS on additional outreach activities and other collaboration to ensure that high quality charters are helping to meet the unmet needs of Newark students and families."

- See more at: http://www.ncsfund.org/newsroom/press-releases/item/newark-charter-schools-demonstrate-strong-results.html#sthash.bEscYtw2.dpuf

Dec 11, 2012

Families From Across Newark Learned About Their Public School Options at Fair

News

Read this article as it originally appeared on LocalTalkNews.com

Families from across Newark had the opportunity to learn more about the city's public charter schools and enroll on the spot at the first Newark Public School Options fair.

"This fair provided Newark school children and their families an opportunity to explore their public school options," said Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund CEO, which sponsored the fair.

"One of key goals at the fund is to ensure that every family in Newark is aware of their options and the openings that exist at public schools across the city," Ashton said.

The Dec. 1 fair showcased the city's charter elementary and middle schools, which are all holding open enrollments in the upcoming weeks. Ten charter schools and the Newark Public Schools Office of Early Childhood attended the fair. Each had their own table filled with colorful literature and applications.

In order to ensure that families were aware of the fair, NCSF mailed nearly 20,000 flyers to the lowest income neighborhoods in Newark prior to the event. In addition, flyers were distributed to preschools, child care centers and elementary schools throughout the city as well as advertisements in local media and Facebook.

Ashton said it was important to get the message out that charter schools are open to all students, including those with special education needs and English Language Learners.

"At the fair, families and students learned how each school can meet their needs and about the programs and services offered," Ashton said.

Charter schools are tuition-free public schools that are governed by a board of trustees independent of the local school district. Though they follow state testing, graduation and health and safety requirements, charter schools are free to innovate. Many of Newark's charter schools have longer school days, longer school years and Saturday instruction as well as after school enrichment programs.

Newark's charter schools were the first in the nation to sign a groundbreaking agreement to ensure they are upholding the highest principles of transparency and public accountability, serving an unmet need in Newark, striving for educational excellence, and fulfilling their missions to educate all students in the most equitable manner possible. This agreement, known as the Newark Charter School Compact, also includes a commitment to collaborating across the charter sector and with traditional public schools.

Schools attending the fair held at the Great Oaks Charter School were: Roseville Community, Lady Liberty Academy, 100 Legacy, North Star, Newark Legacy,

Merit Prep, University Heights, Great Oaks, Robert Treat Academy and Marion P Thomas. As noted above, the Newark Public Schools Office of Early Childhood Education also participated.

The fair was is the second such event sponsored by NCSF. In April, NCSF hosted the city's first-ever public high school options fair attended by hundreds of parents and students. The high school fair brought together both charter high schools and traditional public high schools, and they provided information and applications to parents and students.

NCSF's mission is to provide access to quality public schools for all children in the city. To ensure students graduate ready for college, NCSF strives to increase the number of high-quality charter seats and accelerate district reform. NCSF partners with Newark Public Schools to ensure that college-readiness is the standard for all public school students.

Nov 28, 2012

NJ Charter School Students Learn More Than Their Peers, Says New Report

News

Read this article as it originally appeared in njspotlight.com

New Jersey's ongoing debate about whether traditional public schools or charters do a better job educating students got some provocative new data yesterday, courtesy of a study from Stanford University that came down on the side of the charters -- particularly in Newark's embattled school district.

According to Stanford's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), charter school students overall made larger learning gains than their peers in traditional schools on state tests from 2007-2011.

What's more, a third of the charters showed higher achievement levels than the other public schools in their districts, with a fifth doing significantly worse, the report said.

But the details of the long-awaited report also present a more nuanced picture of charter schools in the state, indicating that they are almost as varied as the traditional public schools to which they serve as alternatives.

For instance, Newark's ever-expanding charter school network exhibited some of the highest achievement gains in the country, the report stated.

Specifically, students enrolled in charters in the state-run district made learning gains, on average, almost twice those of their peers in conventional public schools. That finding, the report explains, is the equivalent of gaining an additional seven to nine months of learning each year.

"Charter schools in New Jersey, specifically in Newark, have some of the largest learning gains we have seen to date," wrote Margaret Raymond, director of CREDO, which has conducted charter school research in more than a dozen states.

But those gains were not replicated by charters in other New Jersey cities -- namely Camden, Jersey City, Trenton, and Paterson -- where the CREDO report said charters had not outperformed traditional schools at all.

"Grouping the other four major cities in New Jersey," the report read, "charter students in these areas learn significantly less than their [traditional school] peers in reading. There are no differences in learning gains between charter students in the four other major cities and their virtual counterparts in math."

In fact, outside of Newark, the comparisons statewide were more closely in line with district peers, the report said. Newark charter students represent about a quarter of all charters statewide.

Either way, every charter report comes its own debate, and this one did not disappoint. The stakes are high, as Senate and Assembly leaders continue to work on new legislation to replace the state's 15-year-old charter law with an eye on adding both flexibility and accountability to the state's oversight.

The Christie administration seized on the CREDO report's overall findings, so much so that they will now stand as state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf's own long-promised evaluation of the state's charter network, his office said.

"The rigorous, independent analysis of the achievement results of charter schools in New Jersey shows that the results are clear -- on the whole, New Jersey charter school students make larger learning gains in both reading and math than their traditional public school peers," read a statement from Cerf.

The report also won plaudits from charter school organizations, including the Newark Charter School Fund, which has served as a strong funding and advocacy source for the city's charter community.

"Are all charter schools great? No, but many of the best in Newark are having a transformative impact on the students they are serving," said Mashea Ashton, the CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund.

"The CREDO report bears that out. Newark has some of the most established and well-run charter schools in the state," she said. "I've visited all of Newark's charter schools and I can tell you the best ones share similar traits, including a longer school day, a longer school year, Saturday classes, more time on task for learning, data-driven instruction, a focus on results, and an emphasis on recruiting, training, and retaining the best teachers and school leaders." But critics of charters -- or at least the state's oversight of them – have argued that they serve a more selective student population, and they were hardly assuaged yesterday.

Much of their focus was on the report's methodology and continued difficulty in comparing students in charters and traditional schools.

"Any time that children are doing well in school, that's good news," said Steve Baker, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union.

"But when you look behind the overall numbers, it's hard to draw clear policy conclusions, because you don't really have apples-to-apples outcomes as to what is causing the higher achievement."

Bruce Baker, an education policy researcher at Rutgers University, has been a leading critic of the differing populations in charters and traditional schools. And within a couple of hours of the CREDO release, Baker had posted a lengthy analysis on his blog, School Finance 101, that delved into the details.

He did not discount the CREDO methodology overall, but he raised familiar concerns about comparing students where everything from poverty levels, special education needs, to even the gender makeup of their schools varied.

"We simply don't know what component of the effect has to do with school quality issues that might be replicated, and what component has to do with clustering kids together in a more advantaged peer group," Baker wrote.

Nov 27, 2012

Newark Charter School Students Leading the Way in Reading and Math, Report Shows

Press Releases

A new report out of Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) shows students in New Jersey charter public schools—especially those in Newark—making significant learning gains in both reading and mathematics.

"It is exciting to see this independent analysis from CREDO confirm that Newark charters are producing positive and meaningful results for their students. This is consistent with what we see and support in classrooms across the city," said Mashea Ashton, the CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund.

"These results also emphasize the need to ensure that charters are offering these opportunities to all students in Newark and redoubling their efforts to collaborate with traditional public schools. Working in partnership with Superintendent Anderson and armed with these new findings, NCSF will continue to support reforms that ensure all students in Newark succeed regardless of the type of school they attend."

Click here to download the report.

Oct 2, 2012

Newark parochial school is first to use N.J. law to become charter school

News

Read this article as it originally appeared in The Star-Ledger

An Episcopal day school serving students in Newark will become the first in New Jersey to take advantage of a law allowing parochial schools to convert to charter schools, officials from the state Department of Education announced today.

Starting next fall, a school that has been known for 30 years as St. Philip's Academy will open its doors as Philips Academy Charter School — one of two charter school applicants to win approval from the Christie Administration this cycle.

International Academy of Camden Charter School's application also earned approval from a pool of at least a dozen applicants.

"We are deeply committed to ensuring that every student in New Jersey has access to a high-quality public school that is a good fit for them, and we strongly support charter schools as one public school option for underserved students,” said Education Commissioner Chris Cerf.

Gov. Chris Christie signed the law allowing parochial schools to become privately run, publicly funded charter schools in November 2011 with bi-partisan support from the legislature. He did not, however, have the blessings of the state's Catholic church leaders.

A spokesmen from the Archdiocese of Newark has said he opposes the law because it would force religious schools to strip all references to God and faith from their curriculum, their walls and their names.

The name of Philip's Academy Charter School no longer reference's a saint, for example. An official from St. Philip's Academy could not immediately be reached for comment about the conversion that will take place over the next school year.

This charter school application cycle is also notable because of how few new schools were green-lighted to open. In January 2011, for example, the Christie Administration cleared the way for 23 new charter schools to open their doors.

The shift from almost two dozen approvals at once to two may mean the state is applying greater scrutiny to each applicant as a means to control quality. Some of the applicants approved early last year have not yet opened their doors because of state education officials' concerns about their readiness to serve kids.

“By holding a high bar for any new school we approve, we are following through on our commitment to ensuring that we not only provide options for students, but that we provide high-quality options for students," Cerf said in a statement.

- See more at: http://www.ncsfund.org/newsroom/in-the-news/item/newark-parochial-school-is-first-to-use-nj-law-to-become-charter-school.html#sthash.8biImXKt.dpuf

Sep 25, 2012

TEAM Charter Schools Celebrates Opening of Permanent Home for Newark Collegiate Academy

News

Read this article as it originally appeared on Newark Patch

TEAM Charter Schools marked the opening of a new state-of-the art building for its high school, Newark Collegiate Academy, with a ceremonial ribbon cutting today.

The 62,500-square foot building located on Norfolk Street in Newark's Central Ward is home to more than 500 students in grades 9-12. Newark Collegiate, which opened in August 2007, was previously located in a converted office building on Broad Street.

"We are excited to bring another new state-of-the-art school to Newark as we continue to work to provide more world-class educational opportunities to families in the city," said TEAM Charter Schools Executive Director Ryan Hill.

Students and their families, faculty and a host of dignitaries and supporters, including Newark Mayor Cory Booker and state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, were on hand to celebrate the opening of the school.

Booker acknowledged the enormous pains that came with designing and constructing the $22 million building, calling school leaders "courageous, noble soldiers." He also praised the school donors, who have endless places in which to give their money, but have chosen to invest in the students at TEAM.

"This is a remarkable achievement," the mayor said. "Throughout the entire U.S., I see communities who would give all they had for a school like this. 'Newark' as the first name on this school is a source of pride."

Booker said the new school is opening arteries, "like an underground railroad moving kids to freedom." He added the ultimate goal is for every student in Newark to have a variety of quality schools from which to chose.

Cerf, who served on the TEAM board, has followed the development of the school since its inception seven years ago. Schools like the Newark Collegiate Academy, the commissioner said, offer an equal opportunity for quality public education and "are a catalyst for all children to have an equal shot at life."

After two weeks of summer school and orientation, students started the school year on Sept. 4 in the new building, which boasts two computer labs, three science labs, performing arts studio, a gym with two full basketball courts and acts as a cafeteria and auditorium that can fit up to 500 guests in the bleachers, and a suite for college advisory services and alumni support team.

"I'm really happy to be a part of the first graduating class from this new building" said Tieyana Samuels, a senior at Newark Collegiate Academy, who cut the ribbon at the ceremony. Samuels has transitioned through three separate buildings in her time as a student at Newark Collegiate Academy. "This new home is really beautiful," she said.

"It's hard to believe that a building can make such a difference, but overall, the feel of the school day is remarkably different," said Faith Blasi, a founding teacher at Newark Collegiate Academy. "Even students have expressed to me that everyone seems more positive and productive."

Newark Collegiate Academy is one of five schools in Newark in the TEAM network. TEAM has grown from 80 founding students at its flagship middle school, TEAM Academy, in 2002 to more than 1,800 students in elementary, middle and high school. TEAM is part of the nationally acclaimed Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) network.

Recognized at the event were TEAM Schools' partners, friends, and community leaders who made the construction and financing of the high school possible.

Sep 11, 2012

A New Charter School In Newark Faces Growing Pains

News

Read this story as it originally appeared in New Jersey Monthly

Just before eight on a bright spring morning, 95 ninth-graders in blue polo shirts and khakis line up outside a three-story brick building in Newark located between a bail bondsman's office and a block of homes with barred windows. The building, long a neighborhood middle school, in August 2011 became home to People's Preparatory Charter School, a fledgling charter high school that completed its first year in June.

As students file in, school leader Jess Rooney—she has the duties of executive director and principal—stands squarely in the entrance greeting them. Each child shakes her hand, as expected. Baseball caps don't get past her. Neither does chewing gum. Spotting some stragglers, Rooney cries, "You should be running!" The laggards pick up their pace to avoid demerits for lateness.

Inside, the staff is finishing its morning warm-up. They cheer a new teacher, telling him he "killed it" on his third day in the classroom. The school social worker wins applause when he announces the first practice of the school's long-awaited basketball team. The teachers, all under age 30, lean in for a huddle. "People's Prep!" they shout, and disappear up the stairwell to start their day.

"The work we do is hard," says assistant school leader Monica Villafuerte. "When we start off the day encouraging each other and laughing, it lifts our spirits, it helps us feel like a team. And we model that for our students."

People's Prep is not school as usual. The school day and the school year are longer. Students have to wear uniforms, take double periods of math and English, and turn in daily homework directly to school leaders. For those needing extra help, there are mandatory Saturday classes. Parents must come to school to collect report cards.

The school opened last fall with every ninth-grade slot taken and 35 names on the waiting list. By April, all spots in the 2012-2013 freshman class were filled, with more than 100 kids left on the waiting list.

People's Prep wrestles with some of the same issues that confront other Newark schools, public or charter. Many of its students come from single-parent households, and more than 90 percent of the students live below federal poverty levels. Academically, the initial group of 95—all ninth-graders—were performing two or three years behind grade level. When the school first assessed them, the results were bleak: 18, lacking fundamental math skills, struggled to add, subtract, multiply and divide. One sudent's reading skills were at a second-grade level, while others tested at a fourth-grade level.

Then there were social issues. By the time the school year ended, two Prep students were pregnant and two boys had fathered children. One teen struggled to cope with the murder of her 17-year-old brother followed by the death of her father. Another girl, whose grades had fluctuated wildly, turned out to be living most of the time with her 17-year-old brother.

But the inaugural year produced success stories, too. There is Finesse Jeffers, a tall, willowy teen who emerged from detention one day to find she had earned the school's highest grade in physics. And 15-year-old Shante Smith, who had a baby in March but was back in class a month later, determined to make it through high school and college.

"The teachers are strict, but it's for a good cause," says Jeffers. "I know they want me to be the best I can be." She learned about the school when a staff member visited her neighborhood. Now she wants to major in physics in college. "I want to go to an Ivy League school, and [People's Prep] is how I'll get there."

Indeed, the school's mission is to send students to college. The initial freshman class is known as the class of 2019, not for the year they are expected to graduate from People's Prep, but for the year they would earn their bachelor's degrees. Overall in Newark, where more than half of entering high school students fail to pass state-mandated math and English tests, the odds are against a student finishing high school, let alone college. The most recent statistics show that only 62 percent of ninth-graders ever graduate. People's Prep—like the city's other charters—aims to dramatically improve those odds.

One way it does that is with a strict code of rules meant to prevent disruptions in learning. On any given day, up to half the student body are given lunch detention—during which they are confined to a classroom and eat lunch under the supervision of a teacher—for things like speaking out of turn in class, lateness, inattentiveness, rudeness and other infractions. Teachers do all they can to help kids overcome obstacles such as lateness, whether it means buying a bus pass for one student or making a wake-up call every morning to another.

"This is the toughest thing I'd ever thought I'd do. When challenges have been addressed, new ones arise," said Rooney in May, reflecting on the school's first year. "But kids leaving [for summer vacation] this year can tell you what their academic goals are, can calculate their GPAs, can talk to you at length about the books they read in independent reading and tell you 12 different ways to use a comma. And they are thinking about their future. But it will take four years—eight really—to see if we fulfill our mission."

Newark is fertile ground for the charter-school movement. Mayor Cory Booker views charters as one way to improve education in his city. His zeal for reform, coupled with backing from Governor Chris Christie, attracted the attention of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who in 2010 offered the city $100 million to overhaul Newark's schools. Some of that money is funding People's Prep, which in its first school year had a $2.4 million operating budget.

The city is also home to the Newark Charter School Fund, dedicated to opening quality charters. It was established in 2008 with $18 million from national foundations aiming to provide more high-quality options for students. An estimated 10,000 Newark kids out of a total of 38,000 district students are on waiting lists for specific charter schools—most of them elementary schools. The state approved two more charter high schools to open in Newark later this school year, adding to the existing four.

Rooney was selected by the fund in the summer of 2010 and trained for a year to lead what would become People's Prep. A graduate of Smith College, Rooney had previously taught on the Lower East side. At 28, she was awarded a residency in educational leadership by the national, nonprofit New Leaders for New Schools. As part of her year-long residency, she worked as a principal-in-residence in a high school in the Bronx.

Petite, with dark, chin-length hair and a tattooed wrist, Rooney, now 31, looks more like a student than like an administrator. But her ability to take charge is unmistakable. Shortly after she began her training with the fund, New Jersey failed to qualify for $14 million in federal grants aimed at starting charter schools. Although she'd never written a grant before, Rooney prepared a 250-page application and took the unusual step of submitting it directly to the federal government. People's Prep was one of just 12 schools nationwide chosen by the feds for the grant—$600,000 over three years.

Rooney's search for students to fill the new school—a stand-alone, unaffiliated with any charter-school management organization—stretched from January through July 2011. The Newark district resisted her efforts to recruit in its schools. Instead, she spent Saturdays that summer knocking on doors, visiting churches, laundromats, summer camps, hair salons and fast-food joints, wherever there were kids. Rooney says the school didn't handpick students; the seats were filled on a first-come, first-served basis. "I never even saw grades," she says. By August 2011, more than 90 kids from 23 different middle schools had signed on.

Hazima Washington enrolled her son, Justice Gallette. She was impressed that teachers had not only come to her house over the summer, they had videotaped Justice to help acquaint the staff with him. She decided People's Prep would provide more structure than the Christian prep school Justice had been attending. She thought that would improve his grades. Like other parents, she was eager to commit to the school's rigorous college-prep program and its focus on character development.

So was Tanasia Davis's mother, Inas Bilal. Her daughter was frequently in trouble in middle school and was earning dismal grades ranging from Cs to Fs. At that school, Bilal saw kids screaming and cursing in the hallways. She wanted more for Tanasia. Someone at the middle school mentioned People's Prep. Bilal quickly got the application and sent it in. Tanasia became one of the 95. Two weeks before the rest of Newark went back to school, People's Prep opened its doors to its first freshman class.

The former Camden Street School stands on Bergen Street, just blocks from the University of Medicine and Dentistry and not far from the Fifth Precinct police station. Sirens wail all day long. Newark had closed Camden as part of a plan to consolidate underperforming schools. Now the building houses three high schools—People's Prep and two nontraditional public high schools, Bridges High and Bard High School Early College.

Even with three schools within its walls, the big building is not full. Rooms are spacious and bright; sunlight streams through banks of windows. In his People's Prep classroom, English teacher Nathan Patton has taped to the walls inspirational quotes from Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela and Harriet Tubman. One of the school's more experienced teachers, Patton started his career with Teach for America. He came to People's Prep from TEAM Academy Charter Middle School in Newark, bringing a colleague from his Teach for America days, math instructor Keith Robinson.

On a breezy October day, eight weeks into the school year, 21 kids are at their desks as Patton reads a passage from "Briefcase," a short story by National Book Award winner and Jersey City resident Walter Dean Myers.

It's a tale of a black bicycle messenger in New York who feels inferior. Myers's story—he often tackles issues of race and class—captures the attention of students, as Patton anticipated. Patton chose it in part because of its similarities to the next piece the kids will read, James Joyce's "Counterparts," from Dubliners. He wants them to see the parallels between the modern-day tale and a story written a century ago.

As Patton leans on the corner of an empty desk, reading aloud, the students are alert and engaged. No one misbehaves. They offer quick responses to questions designed to help them think critically about why the protagonist lashes out at people.

Patton reads a section in which the bicycle messenger spies a man in a suit and tie on a train. The bicyclist shows disdain, convinced the man isn't what he seems—a well-dressed businessman—but rather someone who is pretending, whose briefcase is filled, not with important paperwork, but old newspapers.

"So do you think the guy really is a fake businessman, or is he going to work?" Patton asks. "Why would he get dressed up in a charcoal-grey suit if he doesn't really work in an office? Why does the narrator say he's faking it?"

Finesse Jeffers, wearing a bright-pink sweater, suggests the messenger doesn't believe the man is a businessman because he is black. The messenger, by contrast, has a low-paying job, no education and no prospects of seeing his life improve. He is jealous.

Justice Gallette says the messenger denigrates others to feel better about himself. "He is ashamed. He thinks people are laughing at him because of what he does. He's doubting himself."

"I agree with that 100 percent," says Patton.

Patton wants the students to reflect on the connections between the story and their own lives, to understand that the character is resentful and angry because he feels powerless. "My goal is to point that out, to say, 'Do you know people like this, or are you a person like this?'" he says. "I want them to think compassionately and critically about the people around them." Today he is pleased. The students get it.

Now it's January, and an English class has hit a milestone: 60 percent of the kids have completed all their homework. Rooney is elated. Homework had been a nagging problem throughout the school. In the Fall, on an average day, just 10 to 15 percent of students were turning in completed assignments. Rooney has e-mailed her staff about the issue, calling for "ice," a sports metaphor for a way to heal a wound.

She considers whether the assignments are too difficult, but decides against making the work easier. "We will not lower our expectations," she says. "Show me a college that would do that."

Instead, a public homework tracking board is hung in the hallway. Students who completed their homework in all six subjects get an "X" by their name. In the early going, the board had more blanks than Xs. Slowly that begins to change.

Later in the year, the staff launches a weekly competition. Each teacher leads a council comprised of 11 kids they mentor. As part of the competition, a weekly Council Cup is awarded to the group racking up the most points from completed homework, daily attendance, proper uniform and good grades.

Teaching kids to treat others with compassion and respect is another crucial part of the People's Prep mission, as embodied in its motto: "Intellect, empathy and action.'' In March, when two girls settle an after-school disagreement with their fists and three of their classmates videotape the fight, the motto takes what seems a devastating blow.

Teachers are appalled when they watch the video. But to Rooney, it appears that the girls didn't want to fight but were egged on by students gathered around them. About 20 of the students who had fanned the flames are suspended. Suspensions are staggered to prevent the students from hanging out together as if on vacation.

To Rooney's surprise, parents are angry. Fighting, they say, is something that happens in Newark; kids have to stand up for themselves.

"They normalized the experience as if it's part of growing up," Rooney says. "Or they said, 'That's just Newark, that's what we do here.' It was their way of saying, 'You can't change it.' I said, 'If that's the case, this school would not be here.' This was not just about changing behaviors, but changing beliefs."

Following the incident, the school set up a peer-mediation program, in which students on either side of a conflict sit down with a teacher to help them reach a resolution. Parents are given a book called Parenting Teens with Love and Logic, on how to raise responsible kids.

The two fighters, who could have been expelled, are allowed to remain at People's Prep. But for several weeks they are tutored after everyone else's classes are over. "At the end of the day, no matter how they damaged our school culture, we wanted them to stay," Rooney explains. "This is the best place for them."

On May 14, the first Council Cup winner is announced. Surprisingly, it goes to the all-female Hillsdale council, a group that had been lagging behind in the competition. First-year teacher Jenni Waller rallied the girls by challenging them to work together. She posted daily tallies of their progress.

As news of their victory spreads, Hillsdale's students applaud and cheer. The girl who had been living with her teenage brother—and whose grades and attendance had fluctuated up and down—hoists the trophy in the air. For their efforts, the council members get a week of extra privileges, such as being able to wear street clothes instead of uniforms on spirit days. Hillsdale goes on to win two more times.

Since there are no state tests for ninth-graders, there was no data to gauge how well the first group of People's Prep freshmen did in comparison to kids at other city schools. But the school had its its own benchmarks. Teachers issued assessments in math and English at six intervals during the school year. In the final assessment, gains were seen in all subjects, including physics, civics, math and English, according to Rooney.

Preliminary results of the Explore college-readiness tests—an exam administered by ACT, a college admissions testing service—also were positive. In English and language arts, for instance, 70 percent of students had scored in the bottom quartile compared to other students nationally when school started. By June, only 35 percent remained in the bottom quartile.

The staff also saw progress that couldn't be measured by grades.

Finesse Jeffers—who at first barely shook Rooney's hand at morning greeting and would arrive cursing and grumbling that she hated school—improved her grades and met a homework benchmark. She was awarded a fleece jacket emblazoned with the school logo and, for good behavior, an e-reader. She was proud of her accomplishments.

Sharod Neal, whose 25-year-old sister had become a surrogate parent to him after his mother died, emerged as a student leader. He wants to attend the University of Florida, like Robinson, his council mentor.

Tanasia Davis, whose brother was shot dead a few years ago and whose mother is raising six children alone, earned As and Bs.

And young mother Shante Smith chose to return to People's Prep although she could have switched to Central High, which has on-site day care.

"I thought about it," says Shante, a sweet-faced 15-year-old. "Then I looked at my report card, and I've been doing better here than at any other school. I'm motivated. And the teachers work with me."

On June 29, the last day of school, the staff take the students to Philadelphia to tour the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University. In July, about 50 students return to their desks for two weeks of summer school to catch up on their classwork and ensure they will be ready for 10th grade. At the close of summer school, all but three students are able to move to the next grade.

For Rooney, possibly the best validation is that all parents but two have decided to re-enroll their children at People's Prep this fall. "Our students have made significant academic gains," she says. "They've developed parts of their character that will serve them well and ultimately get them through college. It's still a struggle, but we're accomplishing what we set out to do."

Bev McCarron is a freelance writer and a former education reporter for the Star-Ledger.

**********************

SIDEBAR: More Charters For Newark

More Charters For Newark

Four new charter schools will open this month in Newark, bringing the city's total number of charters to 22. In all, 86 charter schools will be operating throughout New Jersey as of this month.

The charter-school movement's focus on college preparation puts the schools in strong demand in Newark and elsewhere. Waiting lists for admission are the norm.

Ben Cope, spokesman for TEAM Academy Charter Schools, said there are more than 6,000 students on a waiting list for the group's five schools, which serve kindergarten through 12th grade. The TEAM schools were established in Newark 10 years ago as part of the KIPP Academy charter-school network.

With two elementary school, two middle schools and a high school, TEAM has seats for 1,800. At Newark Collegiate Academy, the TEAM high school, 83 percent of students go on to higher education, according to school officials. "We have had a lot of success preparing and sending our kids off to college," says Cope.

In addition to TEAM Academy, Newark's charter high schools are North Star Academy, Visions Academy and People's Preparatory Charter School.

The new charter schools slated to open in Newark this month are:

• 100 Legacy Middle and High School. The school will start with grades 6 through 8; it will eventually grow to grades 6 through 12 at full enrollment.

• Merit Prep Middle and High School. Merit Prep will start with grade 6 and grow to grades 6 through 12 at full enrollment.

• Newark Prep Charter School will start with grade 9 and expand to grades 9 through 12.

• The Paulo Freire School will also start at grade 9 and expand to grades 9 through 12.

- See more at: http://www.ncsfund.org/newsroom/in-the-news/item/a-new-charter-school-in-newark-faces-growing-pains.html#sthash.YqbdcXyw.dpuf

Sep 4, 2012

Robert Treat Teacher Receives Axelrod Award

News

Read this article as it originally appeared on Newark Patch

Robert Treat Academy teacher Patricia Roemer was presented with the Axelrod Award, recognizing her for her outstanding work in teaching the Holocaust, genocide, and the importance of tolerance to students at the Newark charter school.

The award was presented to Roemer by Susan Aguado Axelrod, daughter of Honey and Maurice Axelrod, during morning exercises at the school on Aug. 16. Also on hand was Holocaust survivor Gina Lanceter who has visited the school many times, sharing with students how she survived the Holocaust.

"We want to award teachers who teach brotherhood and don't forget the past, because unfortunately if you forget the past, you repeat it in the future," Axelrod said. "Mrs. Roemer is one of these marvelous teachers who set up an unbelievable program to explain all things that can happen in the world when people hate others for being different and to help you all to become upstanding citizens."

The Honey and Maurice Axelrod award was established more than 20 years ago by the Axelrod family and provides rewards to educators who have demonstrated outstanding efforts in teaching the Holocaust and genocide in their classroom, as well as others who are continuing their education in the field of bias, bigotry, and prejudice. The award is presented through an endowment to the Anti-Defamation League, in cooperation with the New Jersey Commission of Holocaust Education.

During the morning exercises, four students also gave speeches on the importance of tolerance and understanding of different cultures.

"We're looking for you students to go on and really fight against these horrible things that can happen in the world," Axelrod said. "I'd like to thank Mrs. Roemer for all the work that she does and will continue to do."

Robert Treat Principal Theresa Adubato said the entire school takes pride that Roemer was recognized.

"Mrs. Roemer raised the bar on teaching about the Holocaust and genocide," Adubato said. "Our students have a better understanding of this difficult topic because of the care and thought that Mrs. Roemer puts into her instruction."

Adrianne Davis, the vice president of the Robert Treat Board of Trustees, said Roemer exemplifies the type of teacher that makes the school a special place.

"All too often we focus on test scores, but teaching about tolerance is equally as important, if not more so," Davis said.

Roemer said she feels that it is imperative for the students to celebrate the diversity in their school and in the world. By beginning this journey in the sixth grade through examining the Holocaust, the students have the opportunity to see how destructive hatred can be. Roemer and her students spend the entire school year discovering about tolerance, avoiding hatred and celebrating the cultural diversity of their classroom.

"The students are facing a global experience during their lifetime," Roemer said. "They need to see that the world is made of many cultures that should be enjoyed. We need to see each other as an opportunity of broadening our world by understanding and learning from other cultures."

Aug 15, 2012

Interactive Map: Spending on Textbooks and Supplies: Charter Schools

News

An interactive map by NJSpotlight outlines spending on textbooks and supplies:

Learn more here.

Aug 15, 2012

Why the Performance Framework Is Good for New Jersey Families

Opinion

By Greg Richmond

Under the leadership of Commissioner Christopher Cerf, the New Jersey Department of Education has taken critical steps to advance the quality of public charter schools across the state. In closing five failing charters, instituting rigorous oversight, and making well-considered, thoughtful approval decisions to open nine new schools, the department is demonstrating a commitment to the premise we believe to be fundamental to successful chartering: charter schools can demonstrably improve public education, but only if they are excellent.

As recent performance data demonstrates, New Jersey's charter schools are largely on the right track. In the five largest urban school districts in New Jersey, a higher percentage of students in charter schools are demonstrating proficiency or higher when compared to students in their respective urban school districts. In Newark, for example, charter schools performed 25 percentage points higher than district schools in math and 21 percentage points higher in language arts in 2010 - 2011.

Even as nine new public charter schools prepare to open in September to serve families in predominantly low-income communities, there continues to be overwhelming demand for charter schools. Indeed, 20,000 New Jersey students are still on waiting lists for public charter schools. These students -- and every student across the state -- deserve access to high-quality public school options of all types.

We believe that the Department is working towards this goal by implementing a rigorous new charter authorizing process rooted in national best practices that will directly facilitate the growth of high quality-charter schools in New Jersey. Working with us at the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the Department has created a new performance framework for evaluating charter schools. This sets the academic, organizational, and fiscal standards by which all New Jersey public charter schools will be evaluated and measures all charter schools by the same standards year after year. By utilizing this framework in the charter approval and renewal process, New Jersey officials have expanded the stringent standards by which each and every public charter school will be evaluated, ensuring that they are all high-quality and meeting their mission.

The framework will also allow the Department to release an annual report on the status of charter schools, giving current charter school parents an ability to better track their child's school's performance, while providing prospective charter school parents with comprehensive information about public school options. An annual report will require more transparency, ensuring that all New Jersey education stakeholders -- parents, teachers, school leaders and the public charter school authorizer -- will be able to make informed decisions when evaluating school quality.

Over the past 18 months the department has adopted many other practices that support quality in all new and existing public charter schools. Of all these new practices, the most important is that public charter schools will now be evaluated based on academic outcomes, not on inputs -- an approach that we believe should be adopted by authorizers across the country.

Strong authorizing practices lead to better public charter schools, which is in turn is better for New Jersey communities, families and students. The Department's new practices and performance frameworks are important advancements to improve education and opportunity for all of New Jersey's children.

Greg Richmond is President and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

Jul 23, 2012

Fine Print: Charter School Performance Framework

News

What it is: The state Department of Education last week released a 23-page checklist for all new charter covering academic, financial and other operations. The framework sets standards on everything from how well students must fare on state tests to financial data on how much debt a school is carrying.

What it means: The Christie administration has continued to revise its accountability standards for charter schools as it faced increasing pressure from critics and local school districts. The new framework was announced at the same time that the administration cleared the way for another nine charter schools to open in the fall, including two that will provide a mix of online and in-person instruction.

Where it came from: The standards were developed in conjunction with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, an increasingly influential organization working with the state in not just setting policy but reviewing applications and renewals.

Whom it applies to: For now, the new framework only applies to new charter schools, starting with the nine announced last week. A similar framework will apply to existing charter schools, but is still in development and will not be released until the end of the summer, officials said.

The quote: "Charter schools are granted autonomy in exchange for accountability, and we at the state level will continue to hold all charter schools accountable for results to ensure that they offer all students a high-quality education and an equality of opportunity," said acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf.

Tough standards: The framework requires that the new charters not just match student achievement in their host districts but exceed it. For instance, a charter school will only meet standards in math when it exceeds district averages by at least 10 percent.

Who's in school?: Admissions and enrollment policies for charter schools continue to be their biggest target, with critics contending that some charter schools serve students who are not representative of the school districts they draw from. The new framework does require charter schools to monitor enrollment numbers and check for high attrition rates of English language learners, and to at least have a plan to address them. It does not have a specific policy for low-income students, and largely keeps to the law in terms of what is required for students with disabilities.

The consequences: Not everyone is pleased, with critics questioning who will do the evaluations and what the consequences will be. Some called the checklist "toothless" and meant to subvert legislative efforts to put more accountability in the schools. "The new performance framework points out more problems that it can solve," said Deborah Cornavaca, an organizer with Save Our Schools NJ. "If this framework, as reported, is to be self-administered by charter schools we cannot expect a thorough and objective evaluation. And there is no indication of repercussions or corrective action on the part of the DOE."

Always about capacity: The state's monitoring will always come down to the extent it can itself monitor the schools, an issue faced with district schools as well. The state's charter school office has doubled in size since Cerf came into office, but no further expansion is in the state budget for next year, while the interest in charter schools and their needs for oversight only continue to grow.

Jul 22, 2012

New Jersey makes careful progress on charter schools

News

Read this editorial as it orignally appeared in The Star-Ledger.

It's good news for the charter school movement that acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf has taken a smart, careful approach to expansion.

Many of these alternative public schools are making huge strides. But others are still failing.

So the challenge is to make sure we get this right, to choose only the very best charter schools, to nurture them and make sure that they're shielded from political brush fires.

Cerf seems to understand that. His latest list of newly approved charters is, once again, a short one.

Of 32 applications, Cerf chose only nine. All but one will be in urban districts. Focusing on growing charter schools where they're most desperately needed makes sense.

First, the politics. The big threat to the charter movement comes from legislators in the suburbs, where several proposed charter schools have provoked strong opposition. Some legislators want to require voter approval for each new charter that wants to open, an easy way for the teachers' unions or other well-organized groups to stick a knife into the movement in low-turnout school elections.

Our view is that charters could help underserved kids, even in successful districts, and that the claims that these schools drain money from conventional schools is overblown. The money follows the kid, and the funding formula short-changes charter schools more than conventional schools.

But since expanding the movement in failing districts is more important, it is wise for Cerf to sidestep the political fires in the suburbs by focusing on failing urban districts, as he has with this round of approvals. In the same vein, he has put off a decision on two online-only schools, part of a class of charter schools that has also proved a lightning rod for critics.

In an ideal world, politics would play no role in these selections. And perhaps it's only a lucky coincidence.

But this roster of approvals helps protect the movement where it is needed most.

Cerf also was right to confront the anti-charter backlash in Newark. When the school advisory committee refused to lease empty space to five charter schools, despite the fact that 10,000 children are on waiting lists for charter schools, Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson vetoed the board's resolution and Cerf supported her.

The board's vote was a head-scratcher. Leasing the empty space will not only help the families on the waiting list, it will bring the districts $500,000 a year in rent. And some of the schools that will expand are top performers. One of them, Team Academy, has made admirable efforts to draw low-performing students into its ranks, which many charters do not. That has to be encouraged.

By and large, charter schools in New Jersey have outperformed their district counterparts, according to a study by the state Department of Education last year. But the record is uneven, and the movement needs to expand to meet the need. Cerf's approach should help on both fronts.

Jul 17, 2012

Four New Charter Schools to Open in Newark

News

Read this article as it originally appeared in The Patch.

Nine charter schools, including four in Newark, received final approval Monday by the state Department of Education to open in September.

Paulo Freire Charter School, 100 Legacy and virtual charter schools Merit Preparatory of Newark and Newark Prep will open their doors this upcoming school year, bringing the total number of charters in the state to 86 and joining nearly two dozen already existing schools in the city.

The just-approved schools, as well as existing ones, will be measured against new Performance Frameworks designed to improve oversight and accountability for the schools by setting clear expectations, DOE said in a press release. The schools will be evaluated in three comprehensive areas: Academic, organizational and financial performances.

"Charter schools are granted autonomy in exchange for accountability, and we at the state level will continue to hold all charter schools accountable for results to ensure that they offer all students a high-quality education and an equality of opportunity," said Acting Commissioner Chris Cerf in a statement.

Two Newark charters, NJ Virtual Academy Charter School and Forest Hill Charter School, were granted a planning year which they will use for continued academic and operational development.
Meanwhile, three Newark charters, Lillie Mae Jenkins, New Day Charter High School and Spirit Prep, were denied approval by the state because "they failed to demonstrate sufficient progress towards readiness," according to the press release.

Mashea Ashton, chief executive officer of Newark Charter School Fund, a nonprofit foundation that supports city charters through grants, welcomed the four new schools to Newark's "thriving public school community."

"Each one of these schools approved by the state offers Newark families public school options that were previously unavailable in the city," said Ashton in a statement. "As part of our mission, we will work to ensure these schools have the resources to provide a high-quality education to Newark's children."

Each year, the DOE conducts a preparedness review to assess whether a charter applicant, approved in a previous round, are academically and operationally capable of providing a strong educational program. This year, applicants were required to submit documentation of compliance with state regulations to the DOE by June 30, at which point the staff conducted a site visit of the school facility. The information is then reviewed for approval by Cerf and DOE officials.

NJ Virtual Academy and Newark Prep, as well as Spirit Prep, are managed by K12 Inc., an online education contractor, with NJ Virtual Academy having started enrolling students in April. Students at Spirit Prep and Newark Prep will take classes in a brick-and-mortar settings as well as online under the schools' "blended learning" model, NJ Spotlight reported. Newark Prep will be placed in the historic former First State National Bank building at 570 Broad St. in downtown Newark.

The state's approval comes on the heels of the Newark Schools Advisory Board vote earlier this month to overwhelmingly deny leases to four of five charter schools. One day later, state-appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson overruled the board's vote, approving the short- and long-term leases for Newark Legacy, North Star Academy, 100 Legacy and Team Academy Charter School, as well as Paulo Friere Charter School, the only contract approved by the board.

Several board members at the time lambasted Anderson's decision as being "disrespectful" to community stakeholders and the board as elected officials. Members said they were in discussion to see what, if any, legal action the nine-member advisory board could take against the veto.

Come September, Newark Legacy will occupy space within Madison Avenue School, North Star Academy within Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School, 100 Legacy within West Side NAF and Team Academy within 18th Avenue School. Paulo Friere will share space with existing Great Oaks Charter School at Burnet Street School.

Jul 16, 2012

NCSF Welcomes New Charter Schools to Newark

Press Releases

Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund, released the following statement today after the state Department of Education announced final approval to four new charter schools serving students in Newark.

"We at the Newark Charter School Fund are looking forward to working with the dedicated and innovative educators who will now join our thriving public school community in the city. Each one of these schools approved by the state offers Newark families public school options that were previously unavailable in the city. As part of our mission, we will work to ensure these schools have the resources to provide a high-quality education to Newark's children."

Jul 10, 2012

Cami Anderson opens door for Newark charter schools

News

Read this article as it originally appeared in The Star-Ledger.

The school board in Newark has only advisory powers, which came as a relief last week when it voted to block five charter schools from using empty space in district buildings.

Superintendent Cami Anderson overruled the board, and now hundreds of kids who are stuck on waiting lists at top charter schools like North Star and Team Academy will have a chance to enroll.

Why did the board vote against these leases? You hear a lot of smoke about no-bid contracts, which isn’t true, and about the threat of private firms using the schools to turn a big profit, which is just nuts.

The real reason, sadly, is that the board is threatened by the charter movement, and sees it somehow as the enemy. Never mind that 8,000 kids are enrolled in charters, and an even larger number are on waiting lists. This is about adults and their turf.

The board president, Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, explains the vote on the leases this way:

"The responsibility of the Newark Public School Advisory Board is the Newark public schools. Charter school boards are responsible for charter schools...I am very clear what I’m responsible for.”

Leave aside that charters are public schools. What’s really offensive about this reasoning is that it skips past the question of what is best for the families in Newark who are voting with their feet in droves as they fight for a spot in the best charter schools.

“The reason there’s a waiting list, I believe, is because resources are not being put into the public schools,” Baskerville-Richardson says.

Newark spent about $22,000 per student last year, according to the Department of Education. Charter schools get much less in operating funds, and zero in capital funds. Newark’s spending is also much higher than the state average of $17,500.

But that’s her story, and she’s sticking to it. Which is why Newark families should be glad that Anderson has veto power.

Jul 9, 2012

The Newark advisory board’s irrational vote on charter schools

News

Read this op-ed as it originally appeared in The Star-Ledger

The Newark school system once served more than twice as many kids as it does today, but it still has almost as many schools. So it’s full of empty space, with more than 8,000 vacant seats at last count. That’s an expensive albatross.

The city is also home to a thriving charter school movement that is bursting at the seams. The best charter organizations, such as North Star and Team Academies, are showing remarkable results and have waiting lists that stretch into the thousands. They want to expand.

The rational policy here is obvious: Allow the charter schools to rent some of the empty space in conventional schools, or even entire schools. They could serve more kids and the district could earn rental income.

As a bonus, the leases would give the district leverage to insist that the charter schools make their best effort to enroll low-performing students and to share data and promising practices with the conventional schools.

But this is Newark, where politics often veer into the absurd. So the Newark school board, after a raucous meeting on Monday, voted against a series of leases — including those sought by North Star and Team.

And now Cami Anderson, the superintendent, has vetoed the board’s vote and signed the leases. At least someone in power is looking after the interests of the kids in Newark first.

Despite that ending, this is not a happy story by any stretch. Yes, Anderson has the power to get her way in the end, because Newark schools are controlled by the state and the board’s powers are advisory. But this irrational vote shows that the board is determined to stir opposition at every turn.

The board chair, Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, is simply unable to articulate clear reasons why the majority opposed the leases. She seems to regard the charter movement as an alien invasion, saying the board is responsible only for those students who choose conventional schools.

What she is clear about is that she wants local control back, treating Anderson’s veto an assault on democratic rule.

But it’s not that simple. Anderson’s reforms have support in town. What about the families of the 8,000 kids enrolled in charters, or the even larger number on waiting lists? What about Mayor Cory Booker, who got many more votes than any board member and supports Anderson’s veto? What about the families that are lined up to enroll in the alternative schools that Anderson established last year?

There is more to this story than the wishes of a backward board elected in a vote with only 7 percent turnout, dominated by the political boss Steve Adubato, a make-believe school reformer, and Ras Baraka, whose team is reflexively opposed to everything Anderson does.

Yes, Anderson has a political problem on her hands. But when she makes room for good charter schools, she is giving families in Newark exactly what they are demanding. Our hope is she stays the course.

Jul 5, 2012

Newark Super’s Unpopular Decision to Lease City Schools to Charters

News

Read this article as it originally appeared on njspotlight.com

In the face of loud public opposition, Newark's state-appointed superintendent has overruled her local advisory board and is moving ahead with her plan to lease district school buildings to charter schools.

Superintendent Cami Anderson announced late Tuesday that she would proceed with the five latest leases, each enabling a charter to move into part or all of a newly closed school, starting next year.

It's been a hot topic in the city, and the elected local advisory board overwhelmingly voted against four of the five leases at a raucous special meeting on Monday.

But many expected Anderson would veto the actions, with the leases a key part of her reorganization of the district. Alerting the board on Tuesday, she said in a statement Wednesday that they were the best for the district and the schoolchildren.

"Approving these leases will increase the number of seats in high-quality schools and generate much needed revenue that we can invest in serving NPS [Newark Public School] students," Anderson said in the statement. "It is time that we put what is in the best interest of our children first."

The move was sure to spike debate over the state's 18-year control of the district, especially with the administration itself disclosing this week that operation under Anderson remains uneven.

The chairman of the local board last night was very critical of the decision.

"The board members took this issue of leasing very, very seriously," said Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, recently elected as the board's chairman. "At this point, what has happened is that the democratic rights of the voters we represent have been totally disrespected."

In her statement Tuesday, Anderson reiterated that the leases would depend upon the charters adhering to high standards in accepting and retaining all students and showing strong performance.

"Our singular focus remains working towards the day when every single Newark student attends a school that puts them on the path to college readiness -- regardless of the type of school," Anderson said.

District officials have said that the five leases would draw annual income to the district in the range of $500,000 to $700,000. In addition, some of the lessees have committed to major renovations of some of the schools, including the century-old Eighteenth Avenue School, which was closed last month as part of Anderson's reorganization plan.

The leases would be short and long term, with some of the schools having the option to buy after two years.

The head of the Newark Charter School Fund, an advocacy and funding group for the city's burgeoning charter school network, yesterday issued a statement applauding Anderson's decision:

"Although the superintendent in Newark has the power to veto the advisory board, we believe this power should be exercised judiciously," said Mashea Ashton, the fund's chief executive. "In this case, it was without a doubt the right decision."

"It does not make sense for the district to maintain half-empty buildings while high-performing charters as well as new charters poised for breakthrough results cannot find space in the city to educate Newark children."

Baskerville-Richardson, the board chairman, said Anderson called her on Tuesday with her decision, and the two were frank in their exchange. She said the issue wasn't just sharing space with charters, but the larger topic of the state's control and its long-term goals.

"She said she felt it was best, and I reiterated to her that felt the community was leery of what was the state's larger plan," she said. "That there was a fear this was just the beginning."

The advisory board has an ongoing legal challenge against the state's continued takeover.

While the debate over the leases continues to brew, the Christie administration this week also released its latest evaluations of the district, the first report since Anderson was appointed by Gov. Chris Christie a year ago.

Like all districts, Newark schools go under periodic review through the state's monitoring process, called the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC).

How a district fares in the QSAC review determines, in part, how or if the state intervenes, and improving scores in Newark over the past few years has given some ammunition for those pushing for the district to be returned to local control.

The latest scores don't speak well for the district's readiness for local control, but they also raised some questions as to some aspects of Anderson's stewardship.

The QSAC ratings are broken down into five specific categories, from student achievement to budget controls, and none of them for Newark have improved in the last year, according to the letter released Tuesday.

In personnel management, the district went from meeting 98 percent of the state's benchmarks in June 2011, to 48 percent in June of this year.

The letter sent to Anderson on Tuesday listed a number of specific concerns, including the district's failure to bid out certain contracts. It also said the operation of the school lunch program continued to be out of compliance.

A spokeswoman for acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, who has worked closely with Anderson, said he retained high confidence in her work and said some of her progress had yet to show in the QSAC review.

"Superintendent Anderson has laid out an ambitious agenda for ensuring all of Newark's students have access to a high-quality education, and a number of those reforms are just beginning to take hold and thus might not be reflected in this review," said spokeswoman Barbara Morgan." "We support the work she and her team are doing and believe that the district is moving in the right direction both operationally and academically."

Jul 5, 2012

Newark school boss overrules advisory board, will lease 5 buildings to charter schools

News

Read this article as it originally appeared in The Star-Ledger

NEWARK -- Newark's top education official has overruled the wishes of the district's advisory school board and will lease five district-owned facilities to charter schools, a district spokeswoman said.

Because the district is state controlled, virtually any decision made by the district's elected school board can be overturned by Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson or acting state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf.

On Monday, the board voted to strike down four of the five proposed lease agreements after deciding at an earlier meeting to table balloting. Many parents and community leaders oppose the leases.

Anderson said the rental agreements are essential and will generate "much needed revenue" that the district can invest in the roughly 40,000 traditional public school students it serves. The five leases will bring the district $500,000 to $700,000 a year.

"Our singular focus remains working towards the day when every single Newark student attends a school that puts them on the path to college readiness — regardless of the type of school," Anderson said in a statement.

Five charters, Paulo Freire, Newark Legacy, 100 Legacy Academy, Team Academy and North Star Academy, will lease facilities previously known as Burnet Street School, Madison School, West Side NAF Academy, Eighteenth Avenue School and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School starting next school year.

The only lease agreement the board did not contest was that of Paulo Freire Charter School, whose chief is former Science Park High School teacher Tauheedah Baker-Jones. The board voted unanimously to approve its lease of space at Burnet Street School.

School board member Marques-Aquil Lewis said the board voted against some leases because Anderson hadn't provided information about agreements that allowed charters to share space with district school students this past year.

"How can we vote on these leases when we don't know the results from last year?" he asked. "This decision is a clear sign of disrespect to the community."

Lewis added the board plans to seek legal advice about reversing Anderson's decision.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker scolded the board for striking down most of the leases and said he supports Anderson's decision.

"We have an opportunity to expand high-quality school options for children and create revenue for the district, yet we continue to let the interest of adults get in the way of the interest of our kids," he said.

Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund, said Anderson should be "applauded for making the tough decision to veto the school advisory board."

In recent years, the district has been losing droves of students to a growing number of Newark charter schools, leaving it with many partially empty school buildings. According to an analysis provided by the district, as many as 8,000 seats were open in the district this past school year.

But before Anderson would consider leasing space to charters, she required the schools to make two pledges — to share academic-achievement data with the district and enroll special-needs and low-income students. Charter schools typically enroll fewer of those students than traditional public schools.

Dozens of angry, frustrated parents and community leaders, however, spoke against the leases at Monday's advisory school board meeting, making a final plea that the arrangements are unfair to students in regular district schools. Three facilities being leased housed schools that Anderson closed last month because of low test scores and enrollment.

Some of the charters, including Team Academy, are planning multimillion-dollar renovations of their leased facilities that the district has said it could never afford.

Jul 4, 2012

NCSF Supports NPS Superintendent’s Decision to Provide Space for Charters

Press Releases

Mashea Ashton, the CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund, issued the following statement regarding Newark School's Superintendent Cami Anderson's decision to veto the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board's vote on charter school leases. 

"Superintendent Cami Anderson should be applauded for making the tough decision to veto the school advisory board. Her decision to approve charter leases will expand the number of high quality public school options for all Newark students.

"Although the superintendent in Newark has the power to veto the advisory board, we believe this power should be exercised judiciously. In this case, it was without a doubt the right decision. It does not make sense for the district to maintain half-empty buildings while high-performing charters as well as new charters poised for breakthrough results cannot find space in the city to educate Newark children.

"What has become lost in this debate is that charter schools are public schools, funded with public dollars, educating the same Newark children as traditional district schools. It's time to put politics aside and move forward with this plan that will benefit all students in Newark."

May 14, 2012

NCSF Hosts First Ever High School Fair

News

Nearly 200 students and their parents turned out to the Newark Charter School Fund's first-ever high school fair to learn about their options from 17 of Newark's high schools, including both charter and district high schools.

With charter high schools and 10 district high schools lined up at tables next to each other, students had an opportunity to compare schools to see which would be the best fit. Teachers and administrators staffed the tables and some schools brought along current students, including several from East Side High School that came in full lacrosse gear.

The April 28 fair was held at the former Camden Middle School building, which now houses People's Preparatory Charter High School, Bard High School Early College and BRIDGES, three high school programs that were all represented.

"The fair is a great opportunity for Newark students to learn first-hand about their options for high school," said Mashea Ashton, the CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund. "It doesn't matter whether they chose a charter school or a district school. What matters is that they select a school that best fits their needs and provides them with rigorous academic training. This fair gives the information so they can make the right decision."

Newark currently has four charter high schools with four more slated to open, pending final state approval, for the next school year. Charter schools are public schools that do not charge tuition nor require an entrance exam. Charter schools that have more applicants than spaces available are required by law to hold an admissions lottery.

Many parents visited every table to hear what each school had to offer, some not realizing that their children had so many choices.

"We know our children," said Silvia Randolph, who visited every table. "I'm looking for great academics, social standard."

Malcolm X. Shabazz's students talked to prospective students, describing student life and what activities they could be involved in.

Mufutau Taiwo, a senior at Malcolm X Shabazz High School, was set to leave after the school fair and fly to the National Robotics Competition in St. Louis, Mo. He is a part of the robotics team at Malcolm X Shabazz. He already received a full scholarship to the University of Oklahoma and plans to study electrical engineering, just like his father who is an engineer.

"We just have so much fun," Mufutau said, while he showed prospective students pictures of the robots his team had designed.

Parents were vying to get their children into their first pick were ready to hand in applications.

"It's kind of like the college process," said Traynel Washington, whose younger brother was weighing his options.

For some parents, safety was a priority.

"We want to give our son structure," said Jeff Watkins, who was at the fair while his son, Jeffrey, was taking an entrance exam and interviewing with North Star.

Facebook and word of mouth were a big help in getting parents aware of the event. "My supervisor found out, then she forwarded it to me on Facebook," said Ms. Randolph, "this event is so important, it's the future of my children."

The schools that participated in the fair were: American History High School, Bard High School Early College Newark, Barringer High School, Central High School, East Side High School, Malcolm X. Shabazz High School, New Day Charter School, Newark Bridges, Newark Innovation Academy (NIA), Newark Prep Charter School, North Star Academy Charter School, Paulo Freire Charter School, People's Preparatory Charter School, Spirit Prep Charter School, Visions Academy Charter School, University High School and West Side High School.

May 1, 2012

We Compete, They Win

News

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.”

There are now 18 charter elementary and high schools in Newark, Ashton said, and another nine have won approval but have not yet begun operations. About 7,600 of the city's 38,000 public school students attend charters, a number likely to grow in the coming years.

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.

Apr 25, 2012

Robert Treat Academy Graduating Class Receives Record $6M in Scholarship Offers

News

Read this article as it originally appeared in Newark Patch

Graduating eighth graders at Robert Treat Academy Charter School in Newark received a record $6 million in scholarship offers to attend private boarding and day schools in the fall.

The scholarship offers this year exceeded the average $4 million a year that previous classes have received since the first class graduated in 2005, said Theresa Adubato, the principal of Robert Treat.

"We are extremely proud of our students," Adubato said. "The scholarship offers that this class received are a reflection of all the hard work they have put into their academics during their elementary school years."

Robert Treat, which was established in 1997 by North Ward Center founder Stephen Adubato, enrolls 450 students at its North Ward campus. The second campus in the Central Ward, which opened in 2009, currently enrolls 100 children in grades K-3 and will eventually have 225 students in grades K-8 as it adds a grade every year. Robert Treat was nationally recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a Blue Ribbon school of excellence.

"The fact that these children are getting into the greatest high schools in America and on full scholarship shows that children in Newark can excel," Stephen N. Adubato said.

Students at the school have been accepted to some of America's most elite boarding schools including Cheshire, Choate Rosemary Hall, The School at Church Farm, Deerfield, Groton School, St. Paul's, Phillips Exeter, Phillips Academy Andover, the Peddie School and Lawrenceville. The boarding schools have offered students more than $4.6 million in scholarships.

Nicholas Scott-Hearn, 14, who received a full scholarship to attend St. Paul's School, said the boarding school in Concord, N.H., was the first campus he visited on a trip in seventh grade.

"I visited a few other schools, but I found that St. Paul's was my favorite," said Nicholas, who grew up in Newark and attended The North Ward Center's preschool program. "It's a large campus with wide open spaces and nature. They have a lake in the middle of the campus. It's just beautiful there."

Nicholas, who is president of the student council and participates on the debate team and the chorus, said he believes Robert Treat prepared him well for the rigors of a boarding school.

"Robert Treat has taught me to be diligent, to work and try my best," Nicholas said. "I've been here since pre-kindergarten. That's all I know."

Robert Treat students have also been accepted to some of the top private high schools in and around Newark, including St. Vincent Academy, Delbarton School, Lacordaire Academy, Montclair Kimberly, Morristown Beard, Newark Academy and Seton Hall Prep. The private schools have offered scholarships totaling $1.1 million.

Kaylah Lee, 14, who received a partial scholarship to St. Vincent Academy on West Market Street in Newark, said she wanted to attend an all girls school with high academic standards.

Kaylah, who is in the chorus and plays flute, said she hopes to play softball and volleyball in high school."Robert Treat motivated me to never be shy about anything and to be independent," Kaylah said.

Asia Moore, 14, who received a full scholarship to Newark Academy, said she fell in love with the school the first time she stepped on its Livingston campus.

"The school just fit me like a glove," Asia said.

Henry Negron, 14, who received a full scholarship to attend the Delbarton School in Morristown, said he was attracted to the brotherhood he found at the school as well as its high academic standards and athletics. He said he wants to play baseball in high school with an eye on one day making the majors.

"But if that doesn't work out, I want to be an engineer," Henry said.

The students said the high schools they are attending would have been out of reach if they had not attended Robert Treat.

"We wouldn't even know about these schools if it wasn't for the high school placement program at Robert Treat," Nicholas said.

"They act as our agents," Asia said of the staff in the high school placement office. "They know what we are capable of and what schools we should be able to get into so we aren't disappointed."

Adrianne Davis, the vice president of the Robert Treat Board of Trustees, said the school's goal is to match every child to the best placement for them.

"Many of Newark's public magnet high schools are a good fit for our graduates," Davis said. "But for those who are ready for the challenge of a private or boarding school, Robert Treat has prepared them well."

Apr 23, 2012

Charter School Fair Highlighted in Newark Patch

News

Read this article as it originally appeared in Newark Patch

The Newark Charter School Fund is hosting a first-ever Charter High School Fair for Newark students who want to learn more about their high school choices.

The fair is open to all Newark students and parents, particularly seventh- and eighth-graders looking to learn more about their high school options. In addition, some Newark charters have spots available for students who will be sophomores in the 2012-13 school year.

The fair is scheduled for Saturday, April 28 from 9 am to noon at 321 Bergen St., the former Camden Middle School Building. There is no charge for admission and refreshments will be served.

Newark currently has four charter high schools with four more slated to open, pending final state approval, for the next school year. Charter schools are public schools that do not charge tuition nor require an entrance exam.

"Now more than ever, Newark students have more options to pursue their secondary education, from charters to magnets to new NPS school models," said Mashea Ashton, the CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund.

Ashton said the purpose of the fair is to provide students with an opportunity to learn more about the city's charter high schools and the programs they offer. Representatives from each of the schools will be on hand to answer questions.

Additionally, interested parents and students will be able to enroll their students at the fair if space is available at their school of choice, and they are able to provide immunization records, the student's birth certificate and three proofs of residency, such as a lease, deed, tax bill, rent statement, utility bill or driver's license. These documents are required under charter school law for enrollment.

Schools that have more applicants than spaces available are required by law to hold an admissions lottery.

"Each school offers something different," Ashton said. "The fair will give students an opportunity to answer any questions they may have about attending a charter school. Students should be well informed before making such an important life decision."

The schools expected to participate in the fair are: People's Preparatory, TEAM's Newark Collegiate Academy, Visions Academy, North Star Academy, Spirit Prep, Newark Prep, New Day, and Paulo Freire.

The Newark Charter School Fund makes grants to support the quality and sustainability of Newark's charter schools. The NCSF is dedicated to improving Newark's charter schools and generally to creating a thriving public school sector in Newark that prepares all Newark public school students for college and work.

Apr 17, 2012

Newark Charter School Fund Hosts High School Fair

Press Releases

The Newark Charter School Fund is hosting a first-ever Charter High School Fair for Newark students who want to learn more about their high school choices.

The fair is open to all Newark students and parents, particularly seventh and eighth graders looking to learn more about their high school options. In addition, some Newark charters have spots available students who will be sophomores next school year.

The fair is scheduled for Saturday, April 28 from 9 a.m. to noon at 321 Bergen Street, the former Camden Middle School Building in Newark. There is no charge for admission and refreshments will be served.

Newark currently has four charter high schools with four more slated to open, pending final state approval, for the next school year. Charter schools are public schools that do not charge tuition nor require an entrance exam.

"Now more than ever, Newark students have more options to pursue their secondary education, from charters to magnets to new NPS school models," said Mashea Ashton, the CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund.

Ashton said the purpose of the fair is to provide students with an opportunity to learn more about the city's charter high schools and the programs they offer. Representatives from each of the schools will be on hand to answer questions.

Additionally, interested parents and students will be able to enroll their students at the fair if space is available at their school of choice, and they are able to provide immunization records, the student's birth certificate and three proofs of residency, such as a lease, deed, tax bill, rent statement, utility bill or driver's license. These documents are required under charter school law for enrollment.

Schools that have more applicants than spaces available are required by law to hold an admissions lottery.

"Each school offers something different," Ashton said. "The fair will give students an opportunity to answer any questions they may have about attending a charter school. Students should be well informed before making such an important life decision."

The schools expected to participate in the fair are: People's Preparatory, TEAM's Newark Collegiate Academy, Visions Academy, North Star Academy, Spirit Prep, Newark Prep, New Day, and Paulo Freire.

The Newark Charter School Fund makes grants to support the quality and sustainability of Newark's charter schools. The NCSF is dedicated to improving Newark's charter schools and generally to creating a thriving public school sector in Newark that prepares all Newark public school students for college and work.

Mar 23, 2012

Newark Educator Selected as “Administrator of the Year”

Press Releases

Julie Jackson, associate managing director and principal of North Star Academy Charter School-Valisburg Elementary in Newark, is being honored as the "Charter School Administrator of the Year" at the New Jersey Charter Schools Association Annual Conference in Atlantic City, March 27-28.

The two-day conference, to be attended by more than 700 educators, parents and supporters of New Jersey's growing charter school movement, will spotlight the many achievements of the state's charter schools and feature discussions among state and national leaders about how charter schools are transforming public education.

Jackson was among a select group of charter school leaders to receive the Cultivating Quality Education Awards for their contributions during the 2011-2012 school year. The awards were judged by a panel of three independent education experts.

"It is my strong belief that every child in this country has the right to an excellent education," Jackson said. "When I joined North Star 14 years ago as a math teacher, I knew I was in a place that was using its autonomy to innovate. Over the last decade and a half, my colleagues and I have felt fortunate to live the mission of charters by developing and utilizing proven methods in education and then sharing those practices with others. It's our hope that we continue to get to learn from and share what works as this movement grows."

After teaching in Paterson as a Teach for America corps member and alumna, Jackson came to North Star in 1998 and rapidly grew from a teacher, to a middle school dean of students, to founding high school principal, to founding elementary school principal and finally, associate managing director. She has become one of the most well-known figures in the national education reform movement, and for good reason. She is featured in two recently published books on education reform and in two more still in development. Having set the standards in North Star's curriculum, she hosts several workshops nationwide, teaching thousands of educators how to replicate her accomplishments in their own schools.

Also to be recognized at the conference as "Teacher of the Year" is Stephen Charles Dunn of Pride Academy Charter School in East Orange. Dr. Gloria Bonilla Santiago, founder of LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden, will be recognized as "Advocate of the Year."

Mar 19, 2012

Newark Charter School Fund Supports Newark Public Schools Effort to Expand High Quality Schools

Press Releases

Mashea Ashton, the CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund released the following statement in support of Newark Public Schools Plan to expand the number of high quality public schools in Newark.
"Parents in Newark have been extremely clear about their desire to have more high-quality public school options in the city, as evidenced by the more than 10,000 children on waiting lists at the city's 18 charter schools. We fully support Superintendent Cami Anderson's effort to expand the number of high-quality, high-performing public schools, including charters and other public school options. The Newark Charter School Fund has always been focused on the mission of ensuring every child in this city has the opportunity to attend a quality public school."

Mar 13, 2012

NCS Fund Praises Christie Administration for Securing $14.5 million in Federal Funds

Press Releases

NEWARK -- The Newark Charter School Fund today applauded the work of the Christie administration for securing a $14.5 million U.S. Department of Education grant to support the expansion and replication of high quality charter schools in New Jersey.

"We applaud Gov. Christie, Acting Commissioner Cerf, and the state Department of Education's charter school office for their success in securing federal funds to support the creation of new high quality charter school options for New Jersey students and the replication of high performing charters," said Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund (NCSF).

"These funds will be vital for new quality start-up charters, replication and sharing best practices. NCSF has been pleased to partner with the state Education Department in working with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA). With technical assistance and guidance from NACSA, the state Education Department was able to make the changes needed to access these federal funds."

Mar 9, 2012

Shared School Campuses Offers Solution For Newark Students

News

Read this article as it originally appeared in Local Talk News

When Jessica Rooney was looking for space for People's Preparatory Charter School in Newark, she knew a brand new building was out of the question.

Charter schools do not receive facilities funding to build new schools and raising the millions of dollars needed to construct a new school building was just not possible.

The solution came when the Newark Charter School Fund worked to include People's Prep in the Newark Public Schools shared campus plan earlier this year.

Now the school shares space in a building at 321 Bergen Street, which is also home to Bridges High School and Bard High School Early College. People's Prep has 95 students in ninth grade, while Bridges has 200 between ninth and 12th grade and Bard has 122 freshman and juniors, who are also first year college students.

"Sharing the campus benefits all of the students from all of the schools," said Rooney, the founder and school leader of People's Prep. "By indentifying and utilizing previously under-used space, three schools now have their own classrooms and access to a gym and cafeteria. Without the shared campus initiative, this would not be possible."

Many Newark schools have several underutilized classrooms, while growing schools are at capacity. When two or more schools share one campus, not only does it provide adequate workspace for students, but provides a unique culture conducive to learning, Rooney said.

Rooney has a lot of experience with shared campuses, having worked as a teacher in lower Manhattan and an administrator at Bronx Lab High School, which is one of six schools on the campus.

She feels if they can make it work with six schools, there is no reason why they cannot make it work with three, she says.

Prior to becoming School Leader of People's Prep, Rooney was a Founder in Residence at the Newark Charter School Fund. During her time there, the Fund was instrumental in helping her to get the school up and running.

"The staff at the Fund helped by writing, researching, making connections, and once we were accepted by the state, they helped us recruit students, hire teachers , secure a facility, and helped with board leadership and organization," said Rooney. "Once we were open, they helped us unpack boxes, hang things up, served the kids lunches and helped us organize. They were with us the whole way from the high level policy level to the nitty gritty stuff."

People's Prep is on the first floor of the building and is shaped like a large "L." Blue lines down the hallway mark that you are travelling the corridors of People's Prep. When you turn the corner and walk through an invisible barrier, you are now in Bard High School Early College Newark. Each school staggers their class times so that only their students are in the hallway at one time.

"Personally, I don't mind sharing the building with the other schools. It's different for us and it's a new experience," said Kashief Walker, a 14-year-old student at People's Prep.

When asked about the best part of their school, the students answer unanimously: The teachers.

"Since I came to People's Prep my grades have been straight A's and B's. The teachers don't make anything seem too hard. The teachers explain everything and work one-on-one with students to make sure everyone understands what they were taught, " said Walker.

At the end of the class period students are given an "exit ticket," a small assignment they must complete before they are allowed to leave the class. This shows whether or not the students learned the material and also whether or not the teacher's lesson was effective.

Nathan Patton, an English teacher of 7 years, engages the students in a writing assignment by playing a short video. Homer Simpson appears on the screen and is attempting to write a book. After a few moments of struggling, Homer says, "Oh.....Oh......writing is hard!"

Patton agrees with Homer saying that writing is hard but explains to the students why it is worthwhile, before instructing the students on story structure for a five-paragraph persuasive essay. Patton has worked in six different schools, including shared campuses.

"Our shared campus has been working so well because it is such a large building," he said. "We haven't had problems with students between the schools and we have more than enough room for the amount of students we have."

While BRIDGES was founded during the 1997-1998 school year, People's Prep and Bard both opened in September 2011. Since their establishment at the beginning of this school year, the three principals hold a weekly Building Council meeting to discuss topics such as scheduled fire drills, staff, visitors, events, conferences and schedules for final exams.

"The purpose of these meetings are to keep up with the comings and goings of our shared space," said Rooney, the school leader. "In addition to business, we also talk about student issues and how each school handles it. It also gives us the opportunity to discuss best practices and a chance for collegiality."

Students of separate schools do not interact at all during a regular school day, but remain curious about pupils from their neighboring school. To promote interaction between the schools Bard has invited students to join their after school clubs.

Now going into their sixth months together, the three schools have faced only minor problems.

"Sometimes students float into the other spaces, we call this 'wrong place, wrong time,'" Rooney said. "They are mostly just curious to see the other schools. We tell them we would be happy to give them a guided tour, but sometimes they want the thrill of going over there on their own."

The challenges they face are more of a matter of physical space and not necessarily between teachers and students, Rooney said. She feels the benefits heavily outweigh the challenges.

"For years, charter school founders have struggled to find adequate facilities, often spending large sums of their budget for rent instead of classroom instruction," said Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund. "From an educational, equity, and financial perspective, there is no reason why these under-utilized spaces should not be made available for promising new public school programs, including charter schools."

Mar 8, 2012

Grammy Award Winning Musician Molding Next Generation of Composers at Robert Treat Academy

News

Newark N.J. – As a bassist for Latin jazz band Ruben Blades and Seis del Solar, Mike Vinas has performed on some of the biggest stages in the world.

But several times a week, the Latin Grammy Award winning artist comes to a classroom in Newark at the Robert Treat Academy to teach music composition to a small group of students in an afterschool enrichment program.

"I always wanted to have my own music lab, so when the opportunity came to work at the Robert Treat Academy, I said to myself, this is exactly what I've been trying to do for so many years," said Vinas, who has been teaching at Robert Treat since 2008.

Vinas teaches a two-hour after school composition class three days a week. On Thursdays, he teams up with longtime friend and band mate Reynaldo Jorge on Robert Treat's nine-member jazz band.

His musical composition classroom at Robert Treat is well equipped with state of the art keyboards and music programs allowing students to express their creativity by creating their own compositions.

Sixth grader Jessica Bernardo said that Vinas' class allows her to take her mind to places where her creativity can come to life.

"I feel like I can actually express myself through my music, like I can get my emotions out onto the keyboard," she said.

Jessica added that she feels privileged to have Mr. Vinas as a teacher because he is fun and has a lot of experience when it comes to music.

Her classmate, Tatiana Nazario has big aspirations.

"I've always loved music and this class allows me to experiment with sounds and write lyrics to the compositions that I create," Tatiana said.

Turning to her teacher with a smile, she says, "When I grow up I want to be like him, but more popular."

Vinas relishes the passion of the students at Robert Treat.

"I love teaching, because I was able to go out and play and bring my experiences back to the classroom. I used my credibility as a musician to hook them in," he said.

Hooking them in is the easy part he says, keeping them disciplined and attentive is another obstacle.

"You have their attention, but what you do with their attention determines how good of a teacher you are. I use everything in my arsenal to get them to learn."

Robert Treat Principal Theresa Adubato said the public charter school is unique because most students remain at the school after the traditional end of the day to participate in a wide range of enrichment programs. Students at Robert Treat begin the day as early as 7:30 and many stay until 5:30 p.m.

"The programs that we offer after school are important to the growth of our students, but there's no way we could fit them in during the normal course of a typical academic day," the principal said.

Stephen N. Adubato, the founder of Robert Treat, said while students at the school are among the most academically proficient in the state, it's also important for them to have a creative outlet.

"Having our students exposed to a Grammy Award winning artist who comes from the same background gives them inspiration that anything they want to achieve is possible," Adubato said.

Adrianne Davis, the vice president of the Robert Treat Academy board of Trustees, said Robert Treat students are sought after by the nation's top high schools not only because of their academic training, but their well rounded backgrounds.

"Of course it's important for us to make sure our students do well academically, but we also want to develop the whole student," Davis said. "That's what these after school enrichment programs are all about."

Vinas, who was born in the South Bronx in 1950 and taught at the same school there for 32 years before retiring in 2005, also moonlights as a professional musician in one of Latin America's most famous bands.

In November of 2011 his passion for music was rewarded with a Latin Grammy as Ruben Blades and Seis del Solar took home the award for best salsa album.

"It's validating to be recognized for something you've done your whole life, but it wasn't something I felt I needed to accomplish" he said. "The students get a real kick when I show them the trophy and some are even afraid to hold it. I tell them to go ahead and get all their finger prints on it."

Vinas credits his grandfather for introducing him to music at a very young age. "Being of Puerto Rican and Cuban heritage, my whole family was involved in music, but my grandfather on my mother's side was the one who really opened the door for me," he said.

"I truly feel like I've had the best of both worlds," he said with a smile stretching across his face. "I've been extremely fortunate to do two things that I am very passionate about."

Feb 11, 2012

“Best and Brightest” Learning Campus Planned for Halsey Street

News

Read this article as it originally appeared on Local Talk News

Newark officials broke ground on Teachers Village, a mixed-use development in downtown Newark that will create three new charter schools, a daycare center, more than 200 moderately-priced rental apartments for Newark teachers, and more than 20 on-street retail establishments which will include restaurants, medical offices and local and national stores.

The first phase of a larger development, Teachers Village will result in 460 temporary construction jobs and 460 permanent jobs, according to estimates. Retail tenants will be able to begin building out their spaces by the end of this year and open for business in the summer of 2013, and the first residents will be able to occupy apartments in the fall of 2013. The residential units cover about 200,000 square feet, and the units are being pre-marketed to Newark-based teachers.

"Teachers Village shows that when Newark dreams big and makes ambitious plans, we can achieve development projects that meet the highest standards for innovation and excellence," said Mayor Cory Booker. "While the global economy is struggling, we in Newark have fought to create transformative change that will lead to new educational and economic empowerment for our citizens. We welcome teachers – anchors of the middle class and dedicated to our children’s future – with over 200 units of housing."

"This project is the kind of catalyst that will forever change the landscape of Newark's business district, and is another sign of the work we've been doing to start the New Jersey Comeback," said Gov. Chris Christie. "At the heart of Teacher’s Village is a shared commitment to innovative educational policies that Mayor Booker, the City and my Administration feel so strongly about – providing choice in education for the students and families that feel they have no choice. No matter what their zip code, each and every child should have access to a quality education."

Centrally located on Halsey Street, Teachers Village will also allow for the expansion and relocation of three charter schools – Great Oaks, Discovery Charter School and TEAM Academy – as well as the CHEN School daycare. The two school buildings will represent about 90,000 square feet and serve about 800 students from kindergarten through eighth grade. CHEN will occupy about 11,000 square feet and will service about 150 children.

"If we are to recruit the best and brightest teachers for Newark, we need to create the best and brightest environment for learning," said Mashea Ashton, CEO, Newark Charter School Fund. “We are excited about the possibilities of Teacher’s Village and are pleased that three top-quality charter schools with proven records of success in Newark will be the first tenants. This campus – including a residential component for teachers – will be a special haven for learning and achieving in Newark."

"What began as a vision is now becoming a reality, and that doesn’t happen without the support, wisdom, loyalty and commitment of individuals and groups not only from Newark, but from around the state and beyond," said RBH Group Managing Member Ron Beit.

"My partners and our financial partners, elected and non-elected officials, community leaders and all those who have touched this project in one way or another – they have been and continue to be the foundation on which Teachers Village will be built," he said. "We look forward to the day in the not-too-distant future when Newark students are sitting in brand new school buildings, their teachers are living in moderately priced housing nearby, and all of them – and their Newark neighbors – are enjoying retail establishments that truly make a neighborhood a neighborhood."

"The development team in City Hall and at Brick City Development Corporation is focused every day on creating opportunities for Newark residents – job opportunities, educational opportunities, housing opportunities and shopping opportunities," said Deputy Mayor Zipkin. "With the creation of new schools, new apartments, and hundreds of jobs, Teachers Village is a project that combines all of those elements.  Along with so much other downtown construction already underway or in the pipeline – including the first new downtown hotels in 40 years, loft apartments and restaurants, and the first new office tower in 20 years – Teachers Village will continue the rapid revitalization of Newark’s downtown."

Feb 11, 2012

Newark to break ground on long-awaited Teachers Village

News

Read this article as it originally appeared in The Star-Ledger

NEWARK — Elected officials, real estate developers and international investors will gather in the heart of downtown Newark today to break ground on the city’s most ambitious project since the Prudential Center, one Mayor Cory Booker says will transform the entire downtown.

Teachers Village is a nearly $150-million mixed-use development that will rise along four blocks of Halsey Street, between the Prudential Center and University Heights. Once completed, the site will have eight buildings, including three charter schools, a daycare center, more than 200 apartments for teachers and 70,000 square feet of street-level retail and restaurant space.

The project is largely being built through public financing, and funding for the first building — which includes two schools, a gymnasium and retail — closed last Friday.

"This is yet another game-changing project for the city of Newark," Booker said, citing the Courtyard by Marriott hotel that is under construction downtown and Panasonic Corp., which will move its North American headquarters to the city next year. "And in a down economy like we’re experiencing globally, Newark is having its greatest economic development period in generations."

The idea to incorporate teachers came after the developers realized many of the city’s current educators worked long hours and lived far away. By living closer, they would in turn would bring energy and ideas to the area, and possibly attract more business.

The project includes an unlikely cast of characters. Its lead developer, Ron Beit of New York-based RBH Group got his start in Newark nearly two decades ago managing a commercial building in the South Ward while he was in law school. Nicolas Berggruen, an early partner, is an investor with ventures in Europe and Asia and is known as the "homeless billionaire" because he lives in hotels. And world-renowned architect Richard Meier, who was born in Newark, created the project’s overall design.

"This area has tremendous potential, and this is the first phase to catalyze that neighborhood," Beit said earlier this week. "We have an opportunity to build a community here for the 21st century that will serve as an economic engine for the city for decades to come."

Teachers Village was conceived seven years ago when Newark rose to the top of a list of places to invest in real estate. Beit and several New York colleagues were interested in the city for its development potential and proximity to New York. Since then, everything the group has done has been with an eye toward the vision of Teachers Village. What starts today is part of a master plan that will include 15 million square feet of office buildings, retail, residential units and a hotel spanning 12 blocks.

"We always had a big vision," Beit said. "The vision certainly got a lot larger over time."

The project was awarded nearly $40 million in Urban Transit Hub tax credits from the state Economic Development Authority and allocated $60 million in federal New Markets tax credits for the school portion. Other public financing came from the city of Newark, the state Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, and federal Qualified School Construction Bonds, according to an EDA memo.

Private financing came from Goldman Sachs, Prudential Financial Corp., TD Bank and New Jersey Community Capital, Beit said. In the early months of the recession, Beit said, Berggruen’s unwavering commitment to the project — Berggruen said he considers his investment "long-term" — brought everyone else together.

For Meier, who designed the Getty Center in Los Angeles, Teachers Village was as much a personal project as it was professional.

"I’ve always felt my roots were in Newark," he said in an interview. "To be able to in some way contribute in an ongoing way to help to the city grow and change and prosper was important to me."

The project extends for four blocks on both sides of Halsey Street and will rise primarily from surface parking lots, creating 500 construction and permanent jobs. The buildings range from 4 to 6 stories, with one renovated 9-story residential tower. The apartments will be pre-marketed to teachers and were designed with their salaries in mind, with rents ranging from $700 for a studio to $1,400 for two bedrooms.

One restaurant, Booker’s Diner — named not for the mayor but for educator Booker T. Washington — has already signed a lease, and Beit said a grocery store chain has also expressed interest. Retail is what will tie the buildings to the community and draw people to the neighborhood, Beit said.

"The single point we made when doing this master plan was we wanted as many people on the street, because that will ultimately be the success of this project and the long-term sustainability of it," Beit said.

The first building is expected to open in May 2013 and the first residential units could open as soon as September 2013.The Prudential Center and New Jersey Performing Arts Center have proven people will come to Newark after work and on weekends, and Christian Benedetto, a longtime real estate broker, said Teachers Village will breathe a "24/7 environment" into downtown.

"They have location, location, location, (and) they can draw tens of thousands of people from any side of their building," Benedetto said. "It just further legitimizes the market."

Feb 11, 2012

‘Teachers Village’ Groundbreaking Today

News

Read this article as it originally appeared on Newark Patch

Construction officially began today on Teachers Village, a development combining housing, retail and school facilities that is being touted as a major component of downtown revitalization.

Attending today's groundbreaking was a group described by Mayor Cory Booker as a "mob of hope," and included Gov. Chris Christie, the city council, city housing officials as well as representatives from the project's private-sector partners, including Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs. Other corporate partners include TD Bank, Prudential and Bergguen Holdings.

Teachers Village will be located on a large plot of land along Halsey Street near William Street. When the first phase is completed, in the summer of 2013, it will include 200 moderately priced apartments which will be marketed to Newark-based teachers and 20 on-street retail businesses, including restaurants, medical offices and retail.

As well, the site will be the new home for the Great Oaks, Discovery and Team Academy charter schools, along with the popular CHEN School daycare facility.

The project was a long time in coming, officials said at today's groundbreaking.

Ron Beit of the RBH Group, which s developing the site, said it was first conceived six years ago. Beit joked that a priest he knows said "the Israelites fled Egypt faster than I got this project out of the ground."

Beit also stressed that this was just the initial phase of a project that will serve as a "catalyst" for an estimated 15 million square feet of additional retail, making the area a "global destination."

The first phase is being designed by Richard Meier, a world-renowned architect and city native who told the crowd today that his first job was at an architectural firm "just around the corner" from the development.

Booker said the initiative is part of an overarching effort to breathe new life into the city, noting that Teachers Village comes as construction is being completed on two hotels that are the first to be built in downtown Newark in four decades.

"Newark is not done. We are a city that is moving forward," Booker said. Referring to a group of students in attendance at today's ceremony, Booker said "these children will grow up in a new Newark."

Booker, the state's most prominent Democrat, also noted that the project today was launched in partnership with the administration of Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who said the ultimate aim was to transform Newark into a "24-7 city" that doesn't "close down at 5 or 6 o'clock."

"It's a great day for Newark, and a great day for Newark is a great day for New Jersey," he said. "New Jersey stands with the people of Newark."

Jan 30, 2012

Thirty ideas from people under 30: Jennifer Pellegrine: School innovator

News

Read this story as it originally appeared in The Christian Science Monitor

Jennifer Pellegrine's turning point came when she discovered the importance of giving students multiple chances to master skills, rather than simply letting them slide by with barely passing grades.

Call it a lesson in perseverance – on her part and theirs.

"Instead of saying, 'OK, you got a 60 on that test so I'm going to put a 60 in my gradebook ... you teach that child what they didn't learn and have them redo the work until they get it," says Ms. Pellegrine, a math teacher.

Now she's helping other teachers catch that same inspiration by dedicating herself to boosting struggling students' achievement. The 29-year-old's title is director of data and assessment at Lady Liberty Academy Charter School in Harrison, N.J., which primarily serves low-income African-American and Hispanic students from Newark.

Pellegrine's main work is coaching teachers to assess students throughout the school year and address whatever gaps arise – before it's too late. She's also been identified as an "emerging leader" by ASCD, a nonprofit membership association of educators, based in Alexandria, Va.

"It forces a teacher to have to change their instruction to meet that student's need," Pellegrine says. They form small groups for targeted instruction; they reteach material in new ways.

"Kids are getting ... [that] they're not good or bad at something," she says. "They just need to learn and they need to work hard to get there."

Ultimately, she adds, "If we're not explicitly teaching students ... how to use their thinking skills to overcome obstacles and have a positive attitude, nothing else is really going to take effect."

Jan 29, 2012

School Notebook: Studying pays off for fourth-grader

News

“G-o-v-e-r-n-m-e-n-t” spells winner for Ismat Agwedicham, a fourth-grader at New Horizons Community Charter School who spelled the word correctly to win her school's spelling bee this month.

Students in the Newark school for grades K to 5 had been studying their dictionaries for almost two months to prepare for the contest.

"When we announced the spelling bee, the entire school transformed," said Andre Hollis, New Horizons principal.

Ismat will now advance to the semi-final bee, being held in March at Bergen County Community College. "I really enjoyed participating in the spelling bee … I would advise next year's winner to try their hardest when keeping up with all of their words and to not be nervous," Ismat said.

Jan 23, 2012

Two More Charter Schools Approved for Newark

News

This article originally appeared on Local Talk News

Two more charter schools could open in Newark next year, providing more than 760 additional classroom seats for children seeking an alternative to struggling city schools.

The state Department of Education on January 20 announced the approval of eight charter schools for the 2012-13 school year from among a pool of 42 applicants. The schools must clear one last hurdle, a “readiness review” before it is allowed to open in September.

The other six schools will open in Jersey City, Trenton, Camden the districts of Millville, Vineland and Pittsgrove.

“The applications we approved have demonstrated a strong educational program and the capacity to implement that program, in addition to articulating a clearly defined need for the school in their specific community,” acting state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said.

Newark  currently has 18 charter schools in operation educating nearly 8,000 students.

“We welcome another two charter schools to the Newark community,” said Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund. “Newark is home to some of the most innovative and high-performing charter schools in the state. We’re excited about the opportunity this creates for more high-quality public school options for Newark children.”

The city’s newly approved schools are Newark Prep Charter School, which will serve 446 students in grades 6-12 and Paulo Freire Charter School, which will serve 320 high school students.

Cerf said the data shows over the past several years, charter schools on average across the state are outperforming other district options for students in high-need communities.

But Cerf stressed that just as some district schools are failing students, some charter schools in New Jersey are also not performing at the level their students deserve.

“Charter schools are granted autonomy in exchange for accountability, and we will continue to hold all charter schools accountable for results as we did last year when we closed two struggling charter schools,” Cerf said.

Cerf said the state will continue to hold charters schools accountable to ensure that they offer all students a high-quality education.  He praised the effort of the Newark Charter School Fund to step forward through a charter compact that calls for schools to commit to equal access both in terms of recruitment, selection, and retention.

In his State of the State address, Gov. Chris Christie reaffirmed his commitment to charter schools, calling for changes in the law to ensure charters continue to thrive in the state.

“We should reform our process for authorizing charter schools to attract the best operators to New Jersey, to streamline the process for the best performers, to focus on our failing school districts and to encourage innovation,” Chistie said. “We must give parents and children in failing schools an alternative.”

Carlos Perez, the president and CEO of the New Jersey Charter Schools Association, said the organization is looking forward to working with lawmakers and the Christie administration to ensure New Jersey’s 15-year old law is strengthened. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools recently released a report showing New Jersey slipped from 26 to 31 in a national ranking of charter school laws.

“With thousands of children on waiting lists, there is clearly a demand for more public charter schools in New Jersey,” said Carlos Perez, President and CEO of the New Jersey Charter School Association. “Every child in New Jersey deserves a chance to attend a high-quality public school that is right for them.”

Dec 11, 2011

How tutors are making a difference in Newark

News

View this article as it originally appeared on ABC7 and watch the video

NEWARK (WABC) -- Nicole Berne's first job as a college graduate is as a member of the tutor corps at Great Oaks Charter School in Newark.

"We're always there to help out with anything; whether it's a personal problem, whether it's an academic problem, we're there to provide whatever the students need," Berne said.

Jared Taillefer is the school's executive director. He says he enlisted the help of recent college graduates because many of them need help.

Both the school and the tutor corps are new this year. Great Oaks now has 133 sixth and seventh graders. It will expand each year, up to 12th grade.

The 25 tutors are assigned to work with the same three or four students for the entire school year.

"If it's integrated into the school day and integrated into the curriculum, and it's individualized on a daily basis with a personal relationship, you're going to make some serious academic gains," Taillerfer said.

The tutors get free housing at an apartment complex near the school, and they get a stipend of 7-thousand dollars for the year.

"There's such satisfaction in being able to communicate with someone and have them understand and get something out of that, and that's what teaching is," Berne said.

Not all the tutors want to become teachers, but they all seem to value the experience.

"Being a tutor, your happiness is definitely tied to the success or failure of your students; to how they're feeling on a different day," tutor Gillian Page said.

Great Oaks plans to grow the tutor corps as it grows student enrollment.

(Copyright ©2011 WABC-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

Oct 23, 2011

When charter schools get too picky

News

Read this Jay Matthews' column as it originally appeared in The Washington Post.

The Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz, Calif., is a public charter school. It must hold a random lottery when it has more applicants than vacancies. It is not supposed to be selective.

Yet somehow its average SAT score has risen to the top tenth of one percent among all public schools nationally. Less than ten percent of its students are low-income, compared to 40 percent in its city. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that the school is allowed to ask (not require, its principal emphasizes) that every family donate $3,000 and 40 hours of volunteer time a year.

As a supporter of the charter school movement, I get grief from people who say that charters—independent public schools using tax dollars—are private schools in disguise. They are almost always wrong about that, but there are enough Pacific Collegiate situations to make me wonder if the rules need revision.

Places like California, where the law allows some preferences, are more likely to have this problem than D.C. The District’s charter law and demographics would give Pacific Collegiate a much more diverse student body.

That still leaves selective practices like the seven-page form, including essay questions, that applicants must fill out for the Gateway High School charter in San Francisco, or the lottery-exempt status as “founding parents” offered by some Los Angeles charters to applicants who promise money and volunteer time, as revealed by the L.A. Weekly newspaper.

Todd Ziebarth, vice president for state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, said vague state laws let charter authorizers, such as universities, state or local school boards, occasionally wink at loopholes. To stop that, 12 Newark, N.J., charters have signed a compact barring any burdensome requirements, like attending information meetings or filling out long forms, before their lotteries.

There is a subtler issue. What if parents and students are discouraged by the higher standards that make the best charters worth attending? The KIPP schools, part of a charter network with longer hours and proven achievement gains, require that students, parents and teachers sign contracts affirming their responsibilities, such as promptness and good behavior. Some readers have told me they assume that students who violate those rules are expelled. The truth is that such contracts have been used by teachers to set guidelines in regular schools since long before KIPP began. Violators may be mildly disciplined, but not expelled.

I know that because I have investigated KIPP for ten years and have written a book about it. Some parents don’t have the time or inclination to ask a lot of questions. I can see why they might get the wrong impression or might just think their child is not up to so much work.

Pacific Collegiate principal Archie Douglas reminded me that his school requires every student to take at least five Advanced Placement courses. I think that’s great, but not all parents agree with me.

Douglas says his school’s request for funds and time is necessary because California financial support for charters is so low, about half of what D.C. charters get. Only 30 percent of his families donate as much as $3,000, he said, although he was surprised to learn that a page on the school Web site still said the 40 hours of volunteer work was mandatory. He said he would have that statement deleted.

His school’s distance from large low-income neighborhoods frustrates recruiting, but last year the school reserved six of a possible 56 slots for a lottery just for students whose parents had less than two years of college.
Gateway executive director Sharon Olken defends her application essay questions as a way to help parents and students think through what kind of school they want. Their answers are not read until after they are admitted. Nearly half of Gateway students are low-income, close to the city average, despite the long form.

I still don’t think they need the essay questions. Charters spend public money. They should do everything possible to convince parents their doors are open to all, as long as that doesn’t get in the way of the deep and imaginative teaching that they are there to provide.

Oct 23, 2011

Newark Charter Schools Sign First-of-its-Kind Agreement

News

Thirteen Newark charter schools have signed a groundbreaking agreement to ensure they are upholding the highest principles of transparency and public accountability, serving an unmet need in Newark, striving for educational excellence, and fulfilling their missions to educate all students in the most equitable manner possible.

The Newark Charter School Compact was developed by the Newark Charter School Fund, a three-year- old organization committed to increasing the number of high-quality schools in Newark by improving charter schools, expanding successful schools, and developing promising new schools. Newark currently has 18 charter schools serving about 7,600 students.

This is believed to be the first urban charter school compact in the United States. “Newark’s charter school sector is leading the nation in this important area,” said Mashea Ashton, CEO of the Newark Charter School Fund.

As part of the compact, Newark’s major philanthropic groups have signed an addendum endorsing the compact. Any charter that is unable or unwilling to fulfill the terms and spirit of the compact could face the loss of support from these critical funders.

Ashton said the charter compact is a first step toward developing a charter-district compact, which will specify the ways in which both charter and the district schools can work together to improve educational opportunities for all Newark students.

“Our primary objective is to ensure that every child in Newark has the opportunity to enroll in a great public school, regardless of whether it is operated by the district or under a charter,” Ashton said. “We also support the underlying premise of the charter school law - chronically low-performing charter schools should be fixed or closed.”

Under the compact, the charter schools, funders and stakeholders would commit to serving all students in the city, especially the highest need students requiring special education services, students who are English Language Learners, students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and other underserved or at-risk populations.

Schools would also commit to recruiting and advertising in the widest and most inclusive manner possible and eliminate any unnecessary steps or requirements of parents before the charter application and lotteries are completed.  School leaders are also agreeing to correct misinformation about any application or lottery requirements for parents.

“As part of this agreement, charters will not be allowed to require families or students to attend information sessions to apply to their schools or enter the lottery,” Ashton said. “Charters could offer those informational sessions as an option, but not a requirement.”

Charters would also agree to provide multiple ways for charter parents and students to complete an application, including a web-based application, a mail-in application, and in-person drop off at the schools.

As part of the compact, charters would also agree to provide transparent data in full compliance with state Department of Education policies. Reports will be provided regarding all students served by city charter schools.

In addition, the compact calls for schools to post data from annual reports to the state Department of Education on each charter’s website regarding the number and percentage of students served who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, students with special education needs, and students who are English Language Learners.

“We believe this compact will go a long way toward erasing the false perception that Newark’s charter schools are somehow different from public schools in terms of accountability, transparency and equity,” Ashton said. “Charter schools are public schools that serve students across the city regardless of economic status or learning difficulties. This agreement reaffirms that.”

Schools that have signed the compact to date are: Great Oaks Charter School, Lady Liberty Academy Charter School, Marion P. Thomas, Newark Legacy, North Star Academy, People's Preparatory Charter High School, Robert Treat Academy, TEAM Academy, University Heights and Visions Academy. Adelaide L. Sanford, Discovery and Roseville have endorsed the compact in principle, but are awaiting approval from their board of trustees before signing.

“The Newark Charter School Fund will continue to reach out to the remaining charters to seek their participating in the compact,” said Ashton.

Organizations from Newark’s philanthropic community who have signed the addendum endorsing the compact are: The Foundation for Newark’s Future, The MCJ Amelior Foundation, The Newark Charter School Fund, The Prudential Foundation and Startup: Education. The Victoria Foundation supports the compact, but it is their policy to abstain from signing such documents.

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