South Ward Community Schools Initiative to bring wraparound model to five schools for 2016-2017

education cardThe City of Newark and Newark Public Schools announced the selection of five Newark schools that have been invited to participate in the South Ward Community Schools Initiative (SWCSI), an initiative that will help provide educational and wrap-around support services to some of the city’s highest need students. The five schools selected for the project are Malcolm X Shabazz High School, BRICK Avon Academy, Belmont Runyon Elementary School, Louise A. Spencer Elementary School, and BRICK Peshine Avenue School. These schools will participate in a six-month planning period, before officially launching as community schools in the 2016-2017 school year.

“We are very excited about the schools that have been selected to take part in this initiative,” said Superintendent Christopher D. Cerf of Newark Public Schools. “Bringing the community schools model and additional resources to these communities will allow us to provide more of our students with an excellent education, along with the fundamental support services they need to attain educational and career success.”

The SWCSI, a partnership project of Newark Public Schools and the City of Newark, was announced in December of 2015. The Foundation for Newark’s Future is investing an initial planning and launch grant of $600,000, and the funders expect to commit up to $10 million towards the community schools effort.

Since the announcement, a cross-sector working group of community stakeholders convened by Dr. Lauren Wells, Chief Education Officer for Mayor Ras Baraka’s Office of Comprehensive Community Education, have met weekly to further develop the long-term plan for the South Ward schools. The working group, which includes members of the school board, representatives from Rutgers University, NJ Communities United, and the Alliance for Newark Public Schools, have said they will continue to support these schools as they create a long-term vision for success.

“Community schools remove barriers to learning, create rich academic and instructional environments for students and teachers alike, and bring stakeholders together to ensure the success of students and schools. They are vibrant places that use the assets of their students, families, and communities as vital resources for learning,” said Wells.

“These schools are beginning an exciting journey of transformation that will enrich their students and families while at the same time charting a path for community schools in the future. Several years of advocacy for community schools have taken root in this initiative with widespread support and enthusiasm. This is an important moment for us all.”

The Clinton Hill neighborhood was identified as a starting place for the Community Schools Initiative. All traditional public schools in the community were eligible to apply. The Strong Healthy Communities Initiative (SHCI), under the leadership of Director Monique Baptiste-Good, is the lead planning agent for the SWCSI.

“After weeks of meeting with principals, educators and community members on this exciting project, we are thrilled to announce the selection of the first community schools in the South Ward of Newark,” said Baptiste-Good. “This is a major first step in the process, and we look forward to working hand-in-hand with community members to design schools that deliver both high-quality instruction in the classroom, and that partner with community organizations to offer a range of enrichment, health, social and other services for children and their families.”

Each of the five schools that have been selected will begin a needs assessment and planning period this spring. This process will engage school and community members to create a vision for each school that meets the needs of the student population they are serving.

“We are very grateful to the Mayor’s Office, the School District and the other leaders of this effort for giving us the opportunity to take part in this initiative,” said Shawn Oxendine-Walter, principal of Belmont Runyon Elementary School. “We are also excited to begin to engage further with our community in this process so that we can create a vision that will help us fully support the unique needs of our children.”

The selected schools will immediately begin to outreach into their communities to let them know that they have been chosen for these additional supports and resources. This weekend the district will be holding a number of activities in the South Ward to ensure families have the information they need to make enrollment decisions. School fairs and application support will begin on Friday and continue through the weekend with door-to-door canvassing and additional application help on Saturday and Sunday. (Additional information about these activities is available at www.NewarkEnrolls.org.)

“Now that we have been selected to participate in this initiative, we want families to know how these additional services, resources and conditions will benefit them over the long term,” said Jennifer Pellegrine, principal of Louis A. Spencer Elementary School. “We are just as committed as we have always been to the success of our children, and believe we are now better positioned to rally our community members to co-create a vision that will provide our students with vital supports that enable them to achieve at higher levels and ultimately transform the greater community.”

Throughout the coming year, SWCSI will continue to move forward with wide-ranging engagement efforts in the South Ward, working with local community leaders to further develop what these community schools will look like and how the specific support services will be structured.

“The school board and the Newark community welcome the rededication to community schools that the SWCSI represents,” said Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, Newark Board of Education member. “We applaud the collaborative effort to support a model that is improving attendance and graduation rates throughout the country. The community schools will attract families to our district schools. The school board and the community will continue to monitor and support the process, because we believe that the success of our students and the future of the Newark Public Schools system rides on the success of this effort.”

Background on South Ward Community Schools Initiative

The goal for SWCSI is to allow for the creation and ongoing support of community schools, an intervention model that provides academic, social, emotional, and health services support to those students who need it most. Over one-third of Newark’s children are living in poverty, and even higher percentages are concentrated in the South Ward. Poverty is a significant obstacle to children’s ability to learn and succeed in school, as well as to be successful in the future. This initiative is intended to bring together community organizations and institutions to improve student achievement and youth development outside of the classroom through programs before and after-school, on weekends and over the summer that aim to nurture the whole student.

SWCSI will follow the community schools model. Built around a strong instructional core, full-service community schools offer comprehensive services and programs to support student achievement, school success and positive youth development, while operating beyond the hours of a traditional school day – including before and after school, evenings, weekends, and throughout the summer. Community schools are characterized by a rigorous curriculum and core instructional program, high standards and expectations, and an integrated focus on academics and family support. Such schools may offer before and after-school programs, health and dental care, mental health services, social services, and enrichment programs for the whole family.

SWCSI has pronounced following principles:

  • Equity. Community schools mobilize the human, institutional, and financial resources of their communities needed to close the opportunity gap and the achievement gap and ensure that all young people have a fair chance at success.
  • Strong partnerships. Partners share their resources and expertise and work together to design community schools and make them work.
  • Shared accountability. Clear, mutually agreed-upon results drive the work of community schools. Data helps partners measure progress toward results and agreements enable them to hold each other accountable and move beyond “turf battles.”
  • High expectations for all. Community schools are organized to support learning. Children, youth and adults are expected to learn at high standards and be contributing members of their community.
  • Community’s strengths. Community schools marshal the assets of the entire community — including the people who live and work there, local organizations, and the school.
  • Embrace diversity. Community schools know their communities. They work to develop respect and a strong, positive identity for people of diverse backgrounds and are committed to the welfare of the whole community.
  • Local decision-making. To unleash the power of local communities, local leaders make decisions about their community schools strategy, while individual schools respond to their unique circumstances.

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