Expanding 'Turnaround' schools in Newark benefits city students while keeping up with charter schools | Opinion

By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
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on May 26, 2015

Designating certain district schools as "Turnaround" schools has helped Newark public schools keep pace with charter schools in the city.

 

By Peter Turnamian

For the past twenty years, my work has crisscrossed traditional public schools and charter schools. I've taught at a large traditional middle school, interned at a nontraditional Boston public school, founded and led an independent charter school, served as a principal of a Blue Ribbon traditional elementary school and now lead a network of schools as assistant superintendent at the Newark Public Schools.

Throughout my career, I have been inspired by the work of many amazing teachers and transformational leaders, serving in both traditional public schools and charter public schools. In the city of Newark there are great traditional public schools, there are great charter schools and there are great people working for Newark's kids in both settings.

Before superintendent Cami Anderson arrived, Newark Public Schools struggled for many years with a predominance of underperforming schools that were failing our students while an increasing number of families opted to enroll in charter schools. Rather than accept the status quo, we aggressively pursued policies to transform the district by attracting, growing and retaining the very best teachers and leaders, so that we can deliver for and inspire the very best in our students.

In an effort to transform NPS to meet the demand for excellent schools, and better compete with the growing charter sector, our administration has maintained a fierce commitment to labor policies focused on quality and choice for all families. In 2012, the district negotiated a historic contract with the Newark Teachers Union. As a result, NPS is now able to designate up to 10 schools each year as a "Turnaround" school – which allows us to better serve our students and support our teachers by expanding the school year and school day for each of these schools, similar to the design of the charter schools that many of our families choose.

In previous years, many people thought of a "Turnaround" school as one in need of intensive government intervention, or one that would be restructured, re-staffed and designated a Renew School. Neither of these scenarios will occur in Newark this year. In fact, many of the schools that have been designated as a "Turnaround" school have outstanding leadership and terrific teachers, and we know that they will use the extra time and resources to raise the bar even higher for Newark's students.

Study after study has shown that when teachers and students have more time to collaborate, they achieve better results, and often-higher staff and family satisfaction rates. Students learn more, families know their children are safe and engaged for a longer period of time and teachers have more time to participate in meaningful professional development.

Today, the need for Newark's community of educators to work together for our students has never been greater. As an educator, I know what can happen when adults fail to put kids first. Sadly, the charter school I founded was closed due the dysfunction of the governing board. From this experience, I've learned that we must work to confront past practices that have put adults first and adapt to the changing needs and demands of the students we serve. The expansion of "Turnaround" schools in the district positions NPS to better meet these changing needs and compete with charter schools.

Our kids win when they spend more time learning in an environment that promotes enrichment, with teachers who are dedicated to their future. By creating "Turnaround" schools, NPS is leveling the playing field between traditional public schools and charter schools so we may improve the educational outcomes of all our students. They deserve nothing less.

Peter Turnamian is the assistant superintendent of Newark Public Schools.

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