Newark’s public schools have long benefited from the largesse of some of the heaviest hitters in New Jersey’s philanthropic community. Yet according to experts familiar with the city’s school system, those efforts, while helpful to some students, are still failing to deliver quality education to the majority of Newark youth.
The problem, said Cami Anderson, the superintendent of the Newark Public Schools, can be illustrated by, of all things, “a pee wee soccer game.”
“If you watch pee wee soccer everyone’s swarming the ball. And what happens? You lose sight of the goal,” Anderson said. “Sometimes we swarm the ball and lose sight of the goal ….for me the ultimate goal is college readiness.”
Anderson was speaking to an audience of educators and staff from community organizations gathered at the downtown offices of The Newark Trust for Education, which celebrated its one-year anniversary last night.
The trust is one of 80 Local Education Funds serving cities across the United States and in five foreign countries. For 30 years such funds -- which include organizations in Philadelphia, Boston and New York City -- have had one goal: to improve the quality of public education for low-income inner city youth.
Newark’s trust aims to achieve this through partnerships with private-sector charities, community organizations and the schools themselves, partly by coordinating the efforts of stakeholders seeking to improve the city’s schools.
“A lot of our [efforts] are aimed at making sure our resources are being spent effectively,” said Leslie Billie, the trust’s director of operations and communications.
One tool to achieve that, Billie said, is a sophisticated database called the “Net Navigator” that provides historical data on charitable donations to the school system. The navigator allows users to see, for example, how much funding East Side High School received in 2009, or how much money was donated “to dance programs in the Central Ward,” Billie said.
The next step will be even more crucial: Billie said that this year, the trust will begin to gauge how effective such spending has been.
The trust “is the glue” linking together various charitable efforts to improve the schools, said Chris Cerf, acting commissioner of the state Department of Education, who attended last night’s event.
Along with coordinating the activities of philanthropic and service organizations, the trust this year has also supported some of the district’s most innovative efforts to date, such as the “shared campus” program, where multiple schools are placed under one roof.
One such campus, founded this school year, is located at the former Camden MIddle School on Bergen Street. The building is now home to three different schools serving very different kinds of student: Newark Bridges, for older students who fell behind in their academic careers; People’s Preparatory, for college-bound students; and Bard High School Early College. Bard’s 11th-graders begin earning college credit, allowing its students to earn an associate's degree for free by the time they graduate.
Having these diverse institutions in the same facility “allows us to share resources,” said Dr. Dumaine Williams, Bard’s dean of students.
The Newark Trust for Education has received a three-year, $1 million grant from the Prudential Foundation. The trust has also received funding from several other organizations and businesses, including JP Morgan Chase, The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, The Schumann Fund for New Jersey, The Turrell Fund, The Victoria Foundation, Bank of America and The Foundation for Newark’s Future.