We have not been able to determine “THE HOW”, the strategy for success… | OPINION

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RASHON K. HASAN: Member, NPS Advisory Board
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Is Extended Learning Time The Key To Turning Around Newark Public Schools?

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen the faces of students, employees, and community members on social media and in the news protesting and speaking against Renew Schools and Extended Learning Time for Newark Public Schools.  At first glance it appeared that some may have been fighting against the very success tools or resources our students need most.  But if you peel back the onion or scratch the surface you will find that the argument is not against Renew Schools or Extended Learning Time, but rather the arbitrary standards and or non-existent policies that guide the implementation.  In the city of Newark, (NPS) Renew School initiatives are often viewed by the public as a way to tear down, rather than turn around failing or struggling schools within the district.

According to the Newark Public Schools Administration Renew Schools embody five (5) key ingredients: Great School Leaders, Excellent Staff, Social and Emotional Supports, 21st Century Learning Environments, and Extended Learning Time & Adult Education.  With recent reorganizations within NPS we can undoubtedly state that some of these ingredients are missing from the recipe.  Adult education programs do not exist throughout the district and 21st century learning environments are still a work in progress.  Having great school leaders and excellent staff should be at the highest priority when working to improve performance and culture within a school.  Accountability is obviously needed, and teacher and administrator evaluations are used to rate the effectiveness of the staff.  However, there are currently at least 3 Renew Schools that have had zero teachers rated as highly effective in two consecutive school years.

As reported in the Newark Board of Education’s Assessment of the District’s Progress, NPS currently has sixteen (16) Renew Schools with extended learning time of 60-90 minutes daily.  This means that at minimum students in Renew Schools gain an additional 180 hours of learning time per school year.  Additional learning time is a good thing, but only if the time is used in a meaningful way and enhances the skills of the students.  All activities and programs offered via Extended Learning Time must constantly be examined to ensure that students are being engaged in the most meaningful way.

That being said, there are a number of questions that must be answered to gauge the overall effectiveness of Extended Learning Time in its current form.  What learning activities are students engaged in during Extended Learning Time?  What data is used to assess the needs of students and is the data used to match students with educators and activities during Extended Learning Time?  Are the same learning activities for ELT offered at each Renew School throughout NPS?  How do NPS students who actively participate in Extended Learning Time perform on state assessments compared to their peers who do not?  What is the academic return of investment for all programs associated with Extended Learning Time within the district?

Extended Learning Time has huge benefits and extends the hours of operations for schools ultimately keeping the doors open for students and community members to use the resources available to them.  I remember when all schools within the district were open until 9PM.  I practically lived at school when I attended William H. Brown Jr. Academy aka Bergen Street School.  Mr. Cahoon and other teachers led tutoring and academic activities from 3PM-6PM and Mr. Nash led recreational activities and open gym from 6PM-9PM.  It’s imperative for us to position NPS at the center of our communities.  I believe that if we keep the doors open and offer programs that help students learn and grow our families will find their way.

At this point we can emphasize what we need and why we need it.  The lingering problem is that we have not been able to determine “the how”, the strategy for success.  According to a report by the American Association of Schools Administrators; data, public engagement, strategic communications, and success strategies are key elements for the improvement of schools.  NPS currently has a policy (File Code:1100 Communicating With The Public) that encourages and supports the creation of School Parent Organizations and Parent Advisory & School Leadership Councils.  The policy further states “The School Leadership   Council   shall assist in the development of the school’s three-year operation plan and its budgeting process.”  This process was adopted by former State District Superintendent Clifford Janey on May 26, 2009 and readopted by State District Superintendent Cami Anderson on August 28, 2012.  One step in determining “the how” is to have full compliance with the existing policy that drives public engagement and collaboration with the NPS administration and the community.

 

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