Approximately 25 participants from 11 District, Charter, Independent and Faith-Based schools were in attendance at the first Schools That Can-Newark (STCN) Roundtable event hosted at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School on October 29, 2011. The day consisted of discourse that focused on cross-sector collaboration and sustainable growth practices.
Rey Pierantoni of Discovery Charter, a STCN member school, led a conversation on Shared Service Arrangements, outlining opportunities for schools to pool resources to reduce costs and ways to provide enhanced services for their students. IT support, food services, special education staff are a few of the areas of potential collaboration that are being evaluated.
Cheryline Hewitt, a teacher at Clinton School in South Orange and STCN Regional Council member, next discussed opportunities for individuals looking to work in conjunction with the STCN initiative, to make a difference taking a leadership role to help the community with things such as networking, mentoring, and advocacy.
The highlight of Newark’s inaugural roundtable focused on the delicate balance between data-driven instruction and thoughtful, personal engagement with students, led by Jesse Rector of North Star Academy’s Clinton Hill Middle School and Fr. Edwin Leahy, Headmaster of St. Benedict’s Preparatory School. Fr. Edwin set the tone of the discussion by urging everyone in attendance to be “pie bakers and not pie slicers,” challenging the paradigm that some in the education world focus too much on their piece of the pie, not about collaborating to make more for the overall good of the children. He stressed that we must all bring our successes and, more importantly, our failures to the table in an effort to truly work together. Fr. Edwin has long recognized the importance of building character in his students as well as creating strong community bonds between his faculty and young people. However, after nearly 40 years of service to St. Benedict’s, he is not blind to the necessity of learning from other educational models within his city.
In collaboration with the well-touted charter network, Fr. Edwin and Mr. Rector discussed the importance of instruction based on student performance and assessment results. Mr. Rector’s school uses data to tailor classroom instruction to fit the specific needs of individual students. North Star assesses its students frequently and uses the results to provide feedback on which skills students have mastered as well as where students are falling short. As a result of the relationship between these two institutions, St. Benedict’s recently implemented its first school-wide assessments in math and science to better gauge how its students are performing according to curricular standards. The conversation evolved into a vibrant discussion among all the participants on the effective practices to deploy measurement as a tool to help teachers obtain the feedback on student comprehension.
The final topic of discussion was a focus on talent retention among school professionals. Dr. Irene Hall, Principal of Discovery Charter, noted that finding teachers whose philosophies align with a school’s mission is crucial for optimizing talent retention. Maria Paradiso, Head of LINK Community School, a STCN member, added that teacher satisfaction is key. “If teachers feel supported,” she stated, “their overall levels of morale and retention are high.” Additionally, principals Joanna Belcher of TEAM’s SPARK Academy and Dr. Winston D. Jackson of George Washington Carver Elementary School, a Newark Public School, discussed the importance of professional development for teachers, as well as frequent mentoring and coaching. These two leaders have an important relationship, as they are co-located in the same NPS building. Their collaboration and agreement on such issues is critical for their successful partnership.
Overall, the event created much enthusiasm amongst the Newark school leaders in attendance as they began to imagine the full scope of future discourse and resource sharing. Schools That Can – Newark is an apolitical, member-based organization that is part of a national movement to create opportunities for school leaders to collaborate, provide leadership, financial support and solutions to systemic problems in urban communities with the goal to help all schools ensure that every child has the opportunity to obtain a quality education.
The next Roundtable is taking place at St. Philips Academy on January 28, 2012. The meeting will highlight St. Philip’s progressive approach toward integrating technology with student achievement and character development.