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A Promise to Renew: Try, Try Again at Quitman Street Renew School

The environment at Quitman is such that, when a student ran away from home last fall, he continued reporting to school every day for more than a week. Glover was eventually notified that the boy was missing and pointed his family to his classroom.

Irony and Determination

Glover’s challenge is to keep a positive culture and raise test scores while Quitman’s student population keeps getting bigger and needier. He is anticipating yet another influx of students next academic year as another of the original renew schools, Newton Street, is expected to close this spring. (Officials say they plan to turn the Newton building into a community center, a decision that has heightened anxiety at Quitman as staff members wonder if their grace period, too, might be running out.)

Then there is the matter of Glover’s health, as well as the health of his staff. The number of physical ailments in the building has become a running joke. The vice principal needs foot surgery, which she is putting off until the spring. The sixth- and seventh-grade English teacher and a special education teacher are both out on medical leave. The data coach is hobbling around with torn ligaments in her knee. “Quitman is falling apart,” Glover said, only half-kidding. “I work them so hard.”

Them and himself. Glover returned to Quitman in mid-September after having his left hip replaced in late July. He still regrets missing the August teacher training sessions and the first few weeks of school, apart from the first day, when he hobbled in despite doctor’s orders to stay home. He ripped his meniscus on his left knee during rehab and began having pain in his right hip. His doctor says he needs that one replaced now and should allow six to eight months for recovery. He’ll consent to surgery on June 30 and stay home most of the summer before going back to work.

That’s assuming at least half of Quitman students pass the NJ ASK this spring. Otherwise, he said, he needs to reassess what he is doing. Glover believes the school will meet a goal of 50 percent proficiency this year, and to get there he wants his staff to focus on good teaching, not test scores. But clearly the pressure is on.

Glover is aware of the bitter irony in his personal circumstances. If he wanted to be a rising star in urban education, all he would need to do is take an easier job leading a school with a more privileged population. Test scores would be higher and easier to move upward, and he would have time to finish his Columbia doctoral dissertation, which has been sitting untouched for the past few years. Then he would have his pick of positions in a central office or in higher education.

But if he leaves Quitman without turning scores around, then what? He still has a family to help support, and his son and daughter will soon be applying to college.

He tries not to think too much about that scenario, just as he tries to tune out the physical pain he’s in walking up and down the school’s three flights of stairs to spend the majority of his days visiting classrooms. “Why complain? It’s not going to change,” he said. “I can’t stop walking. That’s just the nature of what I do.” He wears sneakers beneath his suits, has a cane but usually doesn’t use it, and bends down whenever he sees a tissue or snack wrapper on the floor.

He prefers walking the halls to being in his office, where he never can keep up with all the emails and paperwork. He hates feeling like he’s in reactionary mode rather than being proactive. But so many little things demand his attention each day, whether signing off on a student report card being released to Child Protective Services or tracking down a contract for the math consultant.

On his daily rounds, he finds plenty of cause for frustration but also many reasons for inspiration in the hard work of his staff and students. Seeing them, he reminds himself to keep going.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.

Sara Neufeld, a contributing editor for The Hechinger Report, has been writing about public education since 2000. She has been following Quitman since the beginning of Newark's renew school initiative two years ago for the award-winning "A Promise to Renew" series with NJ Spotlight.

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