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