Leadership and Models of Success Drive Education Reform in Newark


In Newark Public Schools, New Jersey’s largest school district, less than 54 percent of students graduate from high school. According to reports from Essex County College, a community college based in Newark, 98 percent of the Newark Public School students who graduate high school and enroll at Essex required remediation in math.

The education system in Newark is clearly struggling.

Despite these grim statistics, however, there is a renewed sense of hope and optimism for education bubbling in Newark. Education reform-minded leadership at every political level, in addition to promising innovations and models of success in Newark, are starting to forge a path that will lead to an improved education system in Newark. 

This year, Education Pioneers will help build the capacity of organizations working to improve education by expanding operations beyond New York City and infusing leadership talent into the Newark area. Education Pioneers expansion is due in large part to a generous grant from the Newark Charter School Fund.

“We are so excited to be part of the inspiring work happening in Newark right now,” said Kelli Doss, Managing Director of Education Pioneers New York Metro Area. “Our Alumni are already doing great work there and our expansion of Fellow placements will inspire more talented leaders to apply their unique skill sets to help students, whether as school leaders, nonprofit directors, or district administrators.”

Promising leadership changes

New, education reform minded leadership at all political levels contributes to much of the optimism for improved education in Newark. 
Both Chris Christie, newly-elected Republican Governor, and Cory Booker, Democratic Newark Mayor, want to see changes to the education system in Newark. Christie and Booker share common ideas about how to make these changes happen, both have mentioned the growth of charter schools as a key strategy for education reform in Newark.

Also leading the charge for education reform in Newark is Dr. Cliff Janey, Newark superintendent and former Washington, DC superintendent.

Janey, who was elected in 2008 on a platform to change the trajectory for Newark schools, implemented a five year strategic plan that aims to build stronger schools by reopening failing schools as charter schools, improving teacher effectiveness through stronger data collection and analysis, and making schools safer and more welcoming by better involving the community.

Given these leadership changes, it is clear the Newark community supports changing the education environment.

Though past school board elections had notoriously low voter turnout, a recent election drew double the number of residents to vote, which helped spur education reform-focused leadership changes.

Three reform-minded candidates from an alliance called For Our Kids swept these school board elections.

The School Board leadership now includes Shavar Jeffries, civil rights attorney and co-Director of the Urban Revitalization Project, Ivan Lamourt, Newark native and Doctoral candidate, and Shanique Speight, school board incumbent.

Models of success and promising innovations

Beyond political leadership, exciting education initiatives in Newark could provide models for education reform success in the area.

TEAM, a network of four charter schools in Newark, recently demonstrated strong results when one of their schools, Rise Academy, received 2009 state exam results.

Rise students scored significantly above their New Jersey peers for seventh and eighth grade -- 74 percent proficient compared to 40 percent proficient in seventh grade language and 56 percent proficient compared to 38 percent proficient in eighth grade math.

Education Pioneers Alumna, Mindy Weidman (’09 New York), and five  other former Teach for America Alumni founded a Newark-based education nonprofit organization called Building Responsible Intelligent Creative Kids (BRICK).  BRICK formed a strong public-private partnership with Newark Public Schools (NPS), with the purpose of building a school community that develops globally minded students.

The mission of BRICK is to Build Responsible, Intelligent and Creative Kids. Through a globally minded curriculum, extended day program, individualized professional development, and community and family partnerships, BRICK provides students with the opportunity to be college and life ready in an interconnected global society.

“We are elated to be given this opportunity to serve the children of Newark. We are fully committed to providing a high quality of education to the children we will serve,” Weidman, who will coordinate the school’s use of data and manage the afterschool partnership, stated.

More leadership capacity for Newark

Education Pioneers expansion into Newark will provide important leadership capacity to support the exciting reforms already taking shape in the area.

This summer, eight Fellows will work on important initiatives for Newark education organizations including Teach for America, TEAM charter schools, Newark Legacy Charter School, Visions Academy, and Excellent Education for Everyone (E3).

TEAM charter school network, for example, will leverage the Education Pioneers Fellowship to refine their current recruitment strategy and enhance their human capital practices to expand their staff by 50 in the 2010-2011 school year.

-Lindsay Heinlein
New York Metro Area Program Associate


Interesting article especially given the social and economic demographics of Newark, NJ. The statement, "improving teacher effectiveness through stronger data collection and analysis....", is very vague. I don't get the writers meaning. I enjoyed the article and hope that desired outcomes are achieved.

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