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Newark school reforms must include parents: Opinion

By Marion A. Bolden
The Star-Ledger

Recently, the elected Newark Public School Advisory Board unanimously approved a resolution of “no confidence” in Newark’s state-appointed superintendent of schools. Subsequently, the Newark City Council voted unanimously for an independent evaluation of recently implemented educational initiatives and asked for a moratorium on all new initiatives until its analysis is complete. Not long after the council’s vote, the Essex County freeholders voted unanimously for an evaluation, as well.

Each of these actions is unprecedented and truly astounding — a clarion call. We need to chart a new course in the Newark Public Schools reform efforts, a course of communication and collaboration.

As former superintendent of Newark Public Schools, I am quite aware of the planning, coordination, outreach and time required to implement any significant reform or restructuring initiative. When reforms are implemented with little or no input from the community, there is going to be a level of frustration and lack of ownership because there is no buy-in. These conditions do not bode well for the sustainability of any reform, regardless of its intentions.

Decisions that involve the opening and closing of schools, school choice, elimination of staff and the sale of historic school buildings should allow an opportunity for the community to have input. Shared decision-making can be a longer and sometimes contentious process; however, working together for a common purpose gets us to the outcome we are all trying to achieve.

There were occasions in my tenure as superintendent when I moved so quickly to resolve what I perceived to be a crisis or time-sensitive issue that I did not advise or seek input from the parents impacted by my decisions. It was a mistake. I soon learned that you must allow for timely communication and collaboration with all stakeholders.

Almost always, our collaborative efforts resulted in changes we owned together. At the very least, they resulted in changes we could all live with, changes made in the best interest of children.

Parents have a right to expect a seat at the table with those charged with leading the school district. It does not matter whether there is local or state governance. Concerns of parents, students and the greater community must be considered.

Elected officials have a responsibility to represent their constituency. When these officials express concerns about the most important institution in the city, they are simply doing their jobs. We do not always agree. Disagreeing or questioning does not automatically make one’s actions politically motivated.

We all want what is best for our children. However, any change that dramatically alters the way in which services are to be delivered to children requires ownership from the stakeholders — those impacted by the change or reform. What a great opportunity it might have been if parents, community and district staff had been involved in the Newark Public Schools’ reform process.

Collaboration is a necessary prerequisite to successful reform. Unfortunately, collaboration is not taking place and disregard for the opinions of others has become the prevailing attitude. This sad condition will continue to exist until either the state returns local control to the citizens of Newark, or those charged with implementing reform begin to view the people of the district not as part of the problem, but a necessary ingredient for the solution.

Marion A. Bolden is former superintendent of Newark Public Schools.

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Interim president of Essex County College assumes new role, navigates county politics

By Eunice Lee/The Star-Ledger 
April 21, 2013 at 7:30 AM

NEWARK — Gale Gibson took over the reins of Essex County College as its interim president earlier this month and, in contrast to her predecessor’s short-lived term, she’s aiming to stick around for the full-time gig. (more…)

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E3 Parent Roundtable @ St. Benedict’s Preparatory School – National School Choice Week 2013

“Parents and communities of color have been left out of the most important discussion (urban education reform) since the civil rights movement,” said Kevin Jenkins VP of Operations for E3.” “Engaging parents in the discussion, leading the process of reform utilizing the input of the stakeholders themselves is the only way to affect effective, systemic and sustainable change in urban education.” (more…)

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Donation push meets $100M goal for Newark schools, sources say

The donations will cap a more-than-two-year quest to answer the young billionaire’s challenge, which stipulated that the city could only access his funds once other donors matched the gift. The gifts, however, are not finalized.

“Raising the money is critical, but what the money accomplishes is what matters,” said Derrell Bradford, executive director of Better Education for Kids, a school reform advocacy group. (more…)

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Report: Nearly all of Newark’s most disadvantaged students attend failing schools

NEWARK — Nearly all of Newark’s most disadvantaged elementary and middle school students attend failing district and charter schools, a report released today has found.

The report, commissioned by the district and prepared by the Boston-based consulting company Parthenon, analyzed student proficiency in math and reading, college readiness and test score growth in 85 charter and district schools across the state’s largest city. (more…)

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

Newark charters lift statewide averages, while advantages not necessarily shown elsewhere

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. (more…)

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Spotlight Research: NJ Teacher-Evaluation Reform Compared to Other States

Drew professor looks at progress in implementing systems required by Race to the Top

What it is: The Center for American Progress, a liberal public policy think-tank, this week released a report titled “The State of Teacher Evaluation Reform,” which looks at new teacher-evaluation systems in New Jersey and five other states as they continue to evolve under new state and national mandates. (more…)

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Facebook Fund Helps Seal the Deal for Newark Teachers’ Contract

Money funneled to high-profile performance bonuses, and nuts-and-bolts retroactive pay

The fund created by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to help Newark schools will contribute a little less than $50 million to the contract ratified this week for the city’s teachers, but not necessarily in the ways many expected. (more…)

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