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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/

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