For the transformation of the city of Newark to be sustainable, it must be paired with an equal transformation of the local school system.
The Newark Public Schools district has opened four new schools and “premier academies”.
11,000 students have been given access to partner resources of the highest quality.
By: Roger León and Sakina Pitts
In recent years, the city of Newark has seen profound change. New businesses have sprung up, national corporations have made the city their headquarters, workers and their families have relocated to the area, and housing development has followed in proportion, a positive feedback loop of growth. For the citizens of Newark, these changes have brought golden opportunities into reach for work and innovation.
However, education leaders have noted that for the transformation to be sustainable, it must be paired with an equal transformation of the local school system. Newark’s children, they say, must have the expertise they need to step out of the margins and claim a share of the city’s prosperity. Newark Public School District’s (NPS) college and career readiness strategy shows promise to provide that expertise.
The district hopes to return Newark to the place it once held among the highest-performing school districts in the nation, and contribute to the city’s revitalization by preparing the next generation of its workforce for the skilled jobs that await them. Our strategy is working. Enrollment increases, attendance rates, and graduation rates are all the highest they have been in Newark in two decades, and along with these background trends there have been more dramatic intermittent markers of success.
Over the past three years, the Newark Public Schools district has opened four new schools and “premier academies” within the existing high schools. Each of the new schools and academies aims to augment students’ traditional general education by preparing them for a specific trade or industry, such as business and finance, culinary arts, cybersecurity, law, or teaching. The training students receive is supported by industry and higher-education partners within each specialty, like Parsons School of Design, Microsoft, and more.
For example, at a recent statewide Family, Career and Community Leaders of America competition, several 9th grade students from the Newark School of Fashion and Design (NSFD) took first place for projects in the design category, including digital posters and embroidery. For city education leaders, this was a resounding vindication of both the students’ talent and the vocational model in general. With an emphasis on practice over theory, and a partnership with Parsons School of Design, the nation’s top art and design college, NSFD has given its students competency beyond their years.
This same strategy prevails at the other high schools: give students access to partner resources of the highest quality, and allow them to see their skills tested under real-world conditions. Newark Public Schools hopes that the experience promoted under this model will signal to young people that they have the right and the skill to participate in shaping Newark’s future.
Early successes have made NPS confident in our approach, but the work to support Newark students in the years ahead has only begun. At the moment, around 11,000 students are enrolled in vocational schools, most of them in ninth grade. The district’s goal is to add one grade per year until grades nine through 12 are incorporated.
As Newark finds itself becoming a nucleus of commerce and culture, Newark Public Schools has anticipated the risk that Newark’s children will be left behind during the city’s transformation. With the new vocational model in place, we believe Newark will continue to thrive, while students acquire the hands-on expertise they need to succeed in any profession.
Roger León is the Superintendent of Newark Public Schools and Sakina Pitts is the Principal of Newark School of Fashion and Design.
The New Pathways (#NewPathways) campaign will serve as a road map to the new architecture for American schools, where every learner, regardless of zip code, is on a pathway to productive and sustainable citizenship, high wage employment, economic mobility, and a purpose-driven life. It will also explore and guide leaders on the big education advances of this decade–how access is expanded and personalized, and how new capabilities are captured and communicated. When well implemented, these advances will unlock opportunities for all and narrow the equity gap. You can engage with this ongoing campaign using #NewPathways or submit an idea to Editor using the writing submission form.