Nearly 30 participants from District, Charter, Independent and Faith-Based schools were in attendance at the second Schools That Can-Newark (STCN) Roundtable hosted by St. Philip’s Academy on January 28, 2012. The day consisted of insightful, enthusiastic discussions centered on implementing technological innovation in schools and creating collaborative learning environments that promote student achievement.

The day began with a brief update on new developments with Schools That Can-Newark, highlighting and introducing two new key partnerships, the Liberty Science Center and The Leader In Me learning initiative, both of which add a dynamic cross-sector collaboration that we are all excited to see take hold.

Miguel Brito, Head of School at St. Philip’s Academy (SPA), along with Madelka Nuñez and Katrina Allen next led a presentation on the various ways that St. Philip’s integrates progressive academic technologies into the school’s everyday learning environment. Whether through videoconferences with other classrooms around the globe or through Smart Board technologies, laptops and robots, their students are fully submerged in a culture that utilizes new technologies. This segment of the Roundtable ended with an informative videoconference with Educational Records Bureau Vice President, Douglas Stein, who addressed ways technology is being used to better assess and address how students are learning. To stick with the theme of innovative technology, we interfaced with Douglas as a group in the St. Phillip’s library in Newark, while Douglas was at home in Portland, Oregon. A teacher from St. Phillip’s also joined us in Newark via video robot.

The next portion of the Roundtable centered on ways of creating a positive, successful learning environment within a school that would also reach beyond the school walls. The subject was exciting and informative for all participants as school leaders from St. Benedict’s Prep, St. Vincent’s Academy, Discovery Charter, SPARK, LINK Community School, St. Philip’s Academy, George Washington Carver Public School, TEAM Schools, and Great Oaks Charter all shared their effective practices. The rich discussion saw one-year-old Newark schools conversing with 100-year-old schools, sparking new perspectives, relationships and ideas.

During the “Creating Culture” discussion, each school leader elaborated on their school’s environment, philosophy and particular challenges they’ve faced. Miguel Brito of SPA shared his school’s approach, which holds to the simple fact that there is always more to do. “In education, there is always another job to do,” said Mr. Brito. “It’s up to each teacher and administrator to remind his or herself of that and to continue to push.” He added that at St. Philip’s they often hold meetings to discuss this philosophy and to support and inspire each other as a community.

Irene Hall of Discovery Charter spoke about the hands-on, personal approach to teaching and learning that has been vital for her school. Building close relationships between teachers and students is hugely important for the charter school to succeed. Through this effort, teachers have a better idea of how to tend to each student’s unique set of needs and learning style.

A similar approach to educating is implemented at St. Benedict’s Prep, which has been a long-standing academic institution in Newark. The school is well known for its innovative leadership techniques such as having grade-level student leaders who are active in organizing events and deliberating over disciplinary measures within the school while setting a standard of achievement and responsibility for their grade level and the younger students around them. “What Fr. Edwin Leahy [Headmaster of St. Benedict’s Prep] constantly stresses is that we must be more than just a school culture and be a positive culture for the city of Newark,” said Joshua Thompson, speaking on behalf of St. Benedict’s.

Jared Taillefer, Executive Director of Great Oaks Charter School, expounded upon his schools unique approach of hiring and training 24 recent college graduates to serve as tutors for the students. The tutors work all day and into the evenings, participating in conversation with instructors and carefully working with each student throughout the school year. This model is helpful not just for the school itself but in the same way that Fr. Leahy explained. With so many dedicated young adults, some of whom grew up in Newark and now have come back, participating in the lives of the Newark youth, they are helping shape the overall culture of the city.

Maria Paradiso, Head of School at LINK, spoke about her schools recent physical move, “our new building has brought on a rejuvenated school culture…it has not only made the adults lives easier, but you can see the way the children react in such a positive way to the new space. We are more visible now not only as a physical building but also through our community partnerships as we are able to reach out and provide the community with a safe place to hold meetings and become more involved.”

The day was loaded with thoughtful insights and new collaborative ideas between schools. The third Roundtable will take place in March, 2012 and will take an in-depth look at academic culture in the city as well as highlighting the exciting non-school partnerships that Schools That Can-Newark is developing.