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What Would You Do with $100 Million for Newark Schools?

NJ Spotlight asks a group of Newark leaders and organizers how they’d spend the expected $100 million gift for remaking the city’s school system.

It’s been a pretty wild week for Newark public schools.

To start things off, the state announced that new federal stimulus jobs funds would return more than $23 million to the district, earmarked to help restore hundreds of classroom jobs lost to state budget cuts.

But that was nothing compared to the news that the district would be on the receiving end of a $100 million gift from Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire founder of Facebook.

The money is advertised to go to bold changes in the district, and the first details to what that means are expected to be announced today on Oprah Winfrey’s television show, with appearances by Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Gov. Chris Christie.

Of course, there will be plenty of debate that comes with it. Charter schools, merit pay, mayoral control, these are just a few of the reforms that Booker and Christie have long called for -- and are sure to face long discussion.

But until then, NJ Spotlight asked a few Newarkers, school leaders and others to dream a little and suggest how to spend $100 million on their city’s schools.

Pedro Noguera, professor of education, New York University

The most urgent educational need for Newark is to find a way to attract and retain a new generation of highly trained teachers. This can best be done through the development of teacher residency programs. If these can be combined with long term university partnerships that provide ongoing pedagogical training and curriculum support to teachers, the impact would be substantial. There's also a need for strategically designed career academies that provide training for young people in careers where we know jobs will be available in Newark.

Wilhemina Holder, President of Newark's Secondary Parent Council

Science labs Well-stocked libraries in and out of school Speech therapists (special needs student population More highly effective and board-certified math and language arts educators Advanced placement courses all over the place Expansion of IB schools in district (Avon Brick Academy) Expansion of Global Village zones BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS AND MORE BOOKS Writing labs Music classes with working instruments Art studios in every school Hire cooks from the community to feed students healthy home-cooked breakfasts and lunches Just to name a few .....

Shavar Jeffries, president of the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board

“I’d like to focus on the human capital to invest in world-class school leaders and teachers, world-class professional development that is in-house, working in the classroom. The question will be how we use this money to attract, retain and promote the best teachers and leaders in the country.”

Teresa Ruiz, state senator from Newark and chairman of Senate’s education committee

“When you look at extended school days, enrichment programs, extended school years, these are some programs that have been in place in other areas and we see they work. We know that preschool works and that is already been running in the district. I know this money will go to ensure the student has the best opportunity to excel and will really be an investment. In these times, any kind of philanthropic donation is obviously great.”

Evan Rudall, CEO of Uncommon Schools, which includes North Star Academy Charter School of Newark

“North Star Academy and other high-performing charter schools will be able to close the academic and college achievement gaps in Newark at even greater scale if we receive access to public space. We are hopeful that some of the philanthropy will be used to restructure underutilized space in Newark public school buildings so that outstanding public schools like North Star Academy can replicate and serve more students.”

Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of the Advocates for Children of NJ

“I think the best investment for some of this money is in early education. Newark has a strong preschool program for its three- and four-year-olds, which continues to demonstrate positive and consistent gains for children. The challenge is to extend it beyond preschool to kindergarten through third grade, with the goal of ensuring that all children are reading on grade level by grade three. This means investments in professional development, an aligned curriculum and parent involvement, among other indicators of a comprehensive early literacy program. Imagine the return on the investment!”

Derrell Bradford, executive director of Excellent Education for Everyone

“A charter schools facilities fund. Enhanced local data system that outputs student data to a parent's cell phone. Seed money for a local private-school scholarship fund as incentive to pass the Opportunity Scholarship Act. A New Teacher academy, to recruit and train on your own, somewhat like a Newark-owned Teach for America. Teacher performance bonus pool.”

Stan Karp, project director, Education Law Center

“We need a district-wide secondary reform plan to give good options to all students entering high school, not just those at magnet schools or those with federal grants. Expand the reform efforts at Central High School to all the large comprehensives. Those efforts should include small, personalized learning communities for each student (including real-world opportunities... trips! internships! extended days!); teams of teachers who stay with kids for multiple years and some measure of autonomy over their time, budgets and curriculum; peer-review evaluations, embedded professional development; a robust parent/community outreach effort for each secondary program to bridge school/home/community; a sustained program of student, teacher and family visits and exchanges with successful urban secondary programs.”

Mashea Ashton, CEO for Newark Charter School Fund

“One of the blueprints is what the Obama administration has put out there in Race to the Top, particularly around accountability. To make sure it is transparent to teachers to see how they are doing, and for parents to assess progress from year to year. We’d want a world-class accountability system that empowers teachers as well as parents to how they are doing. Money is really, really great, but you need great people, and that needs an investment in human capital. And given my current role, ways to support the growth of quality charter schools and also successful traditional public schools, really ensuring all the obstacles should be removed and there is a focus on replicating and scaling up what works. And my last wish is really coming up with a way to ensure parents and communities have an active role in their schools and are empowered to help their own children but also whole community and schools.”

Lucious Jones, vice president of United Parents Network and community advocate

“First of all, I would address some of the staffing issues. We’re talking some major cuts in student-assist counselors, the school to careers program, college initiatives. We can’t run a district without people and there are some emergent needs. For some reason, there is even a lack of books, I don’t know where they have disappeared. And for kids with special needs, they need choices, too, and shouldn’t be left out. And we need to put back the programs, the after-school and before-school programs, and make sure they’re viable. And alternative programs to make sure they are really serving the kids. When talking about 50 percent of the kids dropping out, that’s a lot of kids. The money never seems to dwindle down to kids. The playgrounds look like prison playgrounds, and we can do better."

Joseph Del Grosso, president of Newark Teachers Union

“I'd try to alleviate some of the problems with all these layoffs, trying to restore some of the positions so class sizes reduced. But also I would like to build partnerships with universities and use some of that money to bring them in, make corridors with different high schools. That's the kind of things I'd like to do, something really creative. To throw money at the worst things we're doing is really stupid. If we got back to the simple things and taught kids to read, write and do arithmetic, it doesn't have to take a lot of money.”

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