Quality Education Does Not Need To Be Divisive Or Ideological In Newark

January 21, 2016

The Newark Report

Earlier this week, we reviewed the challenges facing education reform in Newark – the most perplexing issue for Newark’s parents being Mayor Ras Baraka’s strong opposition to public school options.

The specific tactics used by the Mayor recently has created, for the moment at least, unneeded division. So far, he has chosen the easy political route of being a dividing, rather than, a uniting force. What is important is that the Mayor’s tactics are not working. Which gives us hope that the way he governs will evolve.

As The Newark Report has highlighted, the Mayor has used his perch to intimidate people and the City has witnessed the sneakiness that represents the very worst of Newark and our history.

But through all of this, public school parents, and public schools in general, continue to focus on one thing – what is best for our kids.

Case in point –

On Friday, January 15th, The Newark Report had the opportunity to visit Link Community Charter School, where we learned first hand about its dynamic education initiatives. Link School Leader Maria Pilar Paradiso showed how Link goes beyond the standard curriculum to provide students with an engaging “elective” learning experience that goes far beyond what is found in their textbooks.

Like most of our great City’s great Principals and School Leaders, Ms. Paradiso is not ideological and she does not have a political bone in her body.   She has no agenda other than serving our city and doing right by our kids. She, and her team, represents the very best of Newark. She has literally committed her life to our kids.

Within the Link course structure are unique elective programs such as debate, yoga instruction, dance, creative writing, and even a program dubbed ‘Guerrilla Art’, where students collaborate to develop artwork in various styles while engaging in writing projects and then share it in the community.  The Electives program not only provides students with amazing opportunities, but it also specifically bring members of the Newark community together, utilizing the great talent we have in our city and building needed community service and collaboration. It also enables the school’s teachers to share their interests and skills with the students, thus not only exposing students but forging positive relationships with them.

I’d like to point out, especially in the case of Guerrilla Art, that a sense of participation and involvement is incredibly valuable for children. It instills in them the idea that education and learning are activities that can and should extend beyond their school, and can be a social pursuit.

Of course, these opportunities and the teaching innovations that have been built at Link are of no additional costs to students. This program was simply created through great vision and a full community in Newark and beyond working together.

This is something that should be celebrated – and replicated in schools across the District.

It would be nice to have a Mayor who uses his office to urge collaboration, rather than division – so perhaps more students would be able to have these kinds of opportunities.

What Link, and other public schools in Newark are doing so successfully – is tapping parent and community resources and bringing them into the classroom for student enrichment.  For example, at Link, a parent in an artistic profession might volunteer a few times per year to lead a creative school activity. A parent in law enforcement might give a short discussion about the value of the police within the community.  A Newark non-profit can offer its unique programs such as glass making or drumming or yoga. A Newark corporation such as Prudential can share its talented professionals in a mentoring program. The cost to partner with organizations like these is mimimal but the rewards for students are enormous. The Elective program and the many other Link programs provide avenues for involvement by committed members of the school community and our greater community.

Schools like Link are proving to all of us that education reform can happen.  It happens quietly and successfully – without ideological stands, political fights and grandstanding.

Newark public schools are successful when a total community effort is allowed. It needs to involve a visionary leader, like Ms. Paradiso; a broad community (corporations, volunteers and non-profits) that wants to support our young people’s development and parents who are willing to get involved , and Newark certainly has plenty of those kind of parents; and great teachers who are willing to focus on kids before their contracts.

Most of all, it requires leadership from our Mayor. Mayor Baraka should be showcasing and celebrating schools like Link. Newark should have a Chief Education Officer who is updated and willing to talk about these successes, especially when she is representing the Newark—in Montclair.

Regardless of recent tactics by our Mayor, we can’t loose sight of our goals.

Addressing the education issue is not about blame. It is is not about creating division. Because of the Mayor’s extreme actions, we are collectively missing the good going on around us.

We, as a community, need to continue to ignore these tactics and focus on one thing – giving our children a better education, deepening the social bonds within a community, and putting divisive political squabbling aside and creating a promising future for all of our children.

So since the Mayor has not done this, and likely will not do this – and seems more interested in dividing us –

Let me just say – Thank you Link for serving our kids so well!

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