Perspectives on the Passing of ‘Zuckerberg Era’ in Newark Schools

That doesn’t come as much of a surprise: the fund that totaled $200 million after matching gifts spent down its money for much of the past year and even held a gala farewell dinner this winter.

Actually, about $5 million in Zuckerberg money remains to be spent. It’s now in the hands of the Community Foundation of New Jersey for final disbursement. (Full disclosure: NJ Spotlight is a project of CFNJ, which serves as its fiscal agent.)

The shuttering of the foundation brings to an end what was a bold and closely watched, if at times imperfect, experiment in urban education. And there were no shortage of components worth watching, including nearly $50 million toward a landmark teachers contract, another $57 million to charter schools, and recently a $10 million commitment toward a new community-schools initiative in the city’s South Ward.

To mark the occasion, NJ Spotlight has asked the key players -- from the Facebook founder himself to Gov. Chris Christie to Newark Mayor Ras Baraka -- to give their perspectives on the Zuckerberg legacy in Newark. Some hesitated; some pointed to previous comments; others agreed. None refused outright -- yet.

Starting with those closest to the money, here are excerpts of some of their responses so far. We will add others as they come in. We invite readers to offer their opinions through email or comments.

Kimberly McLain, outgoing CEO of Foundation for Newark’s Future, recently appointed to head the Newark Alliance, in an email to friends and supporters yesterday:

“I share our biggest accomplishments and proudest moments of my tenure with all of you, in particular, several strong, impactful partnerships with an array of new stakeholders:

  • Expanding our footprint in community partnerships with over $2 million in investments in citywide literacy initiatives, including My Very Own Library and Raising a Reader;
  • Seeding $1.5 million for the Newark City of Learning Collaborative, the citywide initiative to increase the college graduation rate in Newark to 25 percent by 2025, under the leadership of Rutgers Newark and the other higher-education institutions that serve the city;

  • Joining forces with the mayor with $1.5 million for summer youth employment to provide real work opportunities for over 2,000 kids;

  • Cementing the partnership between the city and district by funding $1.2 million for a community schools’ initiative in the South Ward and a city-wide network to support the most at-risk youth; and

  • Collaborating with early education funders with $1 million collectively to improve quality of childcare centers and increase parental engagement.

These were no simple feats and we accomplished them because we worked together in partnership, on behalf of Newark’s kids and families. And as we end our journey with you, I know that Newark will continue to progress under the stewardship and leadership of the many passionate and committed individuals determined to provide Newark students the high quality education they deserve.”

Chris Cerf, superintendent of Newark Public Schools and former state education commissioner, in an essay first published in Education Post:

“We are also proud of the work that resulted in a new collective bargaining agreement, a really groundbreaking contract with our teachers. That, in combination with work we did with the New Teachers Project -- and with the benefit of the new state tenure law -- has enabled us to completely redesign the way we hire, evaluate and support our staff.”

“It is a stunning success that 95 percent of our highly effective educators have remained in the district in our classrooms, while less effective teachers have chosen not to return far more frequently. No longer are teachers compensated solely on the basis of time served; it is a combination of years of service and effectiveness. Of the 115 tenure charges filed over the last several years, mostly for ineffectiveness, 89 of those individuals are no longer with the district. (Virtually no such charges were brought before 2011.)

“Because of the success at the bargaining table, more than half of our schools now have a longer day and extra learning time. Teachers and administrators in those schools also receive record amounts of intensive professional development.”

Ryan Hill, founder and CEO of KIPP-New Jersey, Newark’s largest charter network:

“I think the big-picture conclusion is that if you’re an African-American kid in Newark today, you have a two to three times better chance of being in a high-performing school than you did prior to the FNF grant, and that is pretty enormous progress. As our analysis shows, this improvement is all due to the growth of high-performing charter schools, which was facilitated in part by the matching funds that FNF brought in. So I think the impact has been pretty big, and very positive. That said, there’s clearly still a lot of work to do.”

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