The City of Newark and Newark Public Schools Welcome Students and Families Back to School in the South Ward

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Community Leaders Kick-Off School Year by Welcoming Families to Belmont Runyon Elementary School, a New South Ward Community School

[Newark, NJ – September 6, 2016] – Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka, Superintendent of Newark Public Schools (NPS) Christopher D. Cerf, Board Chairperson Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson and other Newark school leaders welcomed students and families back to school at Belmont Runyon Elementary this morning for its official opening as a community school, part of the broader South Ward Community Schools Initiative (SWCSI). Community leaders are in the process of launching five community schools in the South Ward and released a report today that details what was heard from each school community about their needs and how SWCSI plans to address those needs.

“I am excited to be here today at Belmont Runyon to welcome students to their new community school,” said Superintendent Christopher D. Cerf of NPS. “The South Ward Community Schools Initiative has the opportunity to transform the lives of students, families and their communities. By implementing this innovative model, the district and the city will be able to work together more effectively to support schools, families and educators in their efforts to provide students with the essential support services they need to achieve educational and career success.”

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NPS Superintendent Christopher D. Cerf, Assistant Superintendent Erskine Glover, Mayor Ras J. Baraka, Belmont Runyon Principal Shawn Oxendine-Walter, State Senator Teresa Ruiz, School Board Chair Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, and Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin

Newark Public Schools (NPS), in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Comprehensive Community Education and the National Center for Community Schools (NCCS), launched an engagement effort last spring to gather feedback about how SWCSI can best support children, families and school communities. More than 200 parents and teachers participated in school-based focus groups and more than 750 community members provided feedback through individual and group meetings, small group discussions and large community events.

“As both a student and an educator here in Newark, I’ve always enjoyed the first day of school because students are excited, educators are at their best, and everyone is ready to go,” said Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka. “We must bring that energy not just to the first day, but to every day of school. Particularly as we endeavor to move back to local control, making sure we as community members support schools like this one is extremely important. These are the children who will become the next generation of self-starters and leaders who then go on to give back to the City and their communities, and it is all of our jobs to help them get there.”

The SWCSI will be implemented incrementally throughout the start of the school year, with school and community leaders finalizing partnerships and onboarding staff members to address key priorities in the coming months. The city and district have set a goal for these five schools to transition into full-service community schools by the end of the school year. In addition to Belmont Runyon, the Newark schools participating in the SWCSI include Malcolm X Shabazz High School, BRICK Avon Academy, Louise A Spencer Elementary School and BRICK Peshine Academy.

“Community schools, as a strategy for organizing school and community resources around student success, fits well with the strengths and needs of the Newark Public Schools. Our team is pleased to help launch the five South Ward community schools at the start of this 2016-17 school year,” said Jane Quinn, Vice President, and Director of the National Center for Community Schools, at The Children’s Aid Society in New York City. “We have spent nearly a year working with Newark leaders to develop the South Ward Community Schools Initiative, working hand-in-hand with community members to design schools that deliver high-quality instruction in the classroom, while providing the enrichment, health, social and other support services for children and their families.”

The feedback gathered in recent months helped community and school leaders understand the needs that must be addressed in order to better assist students and families. Each SWCSI will implement a number of common strategies over the course of the 2016-17 school year to ensure students are provided with:

  • A high expectation for learning, with well-supported teachers and an instructional program that integrates services and supports
  • Lead agency partnerships and community school coordination to connect children and families to services, resources and supports
  • Integrated student data to help guide and accelerate student learning
  • School capacity to address the health needs of students, especially mental health services to address students suffering from trauma
  • Expanded learning time and student enrichment activities that reinforce what students are learning in the classroom
  • A strong community of caring, supportive adults who promote long-term student success for every child

“Today is a truly a momentous occasion for the students at Belmont Runyon School,” said Shawn Oxendine-Walter, principal of Belmont Runyon School. “This initiative will help us put in place the resources necessary to fully support the unique needs of our children. While there is much work that lies ahead, we are on an exciting journey of transformation, and I am confident we are on track to build a vibrant community school that will enrich and fulfill the lives of our students and their families.”

At Belmont Runyon School, some examples of these strategies that will be implemented over the next year include:

  • Building a partnership with Seton Hall University and a focus on building team, morale and support for all teachers and staff in school by starting the school year with a staff retreat co-facilitated by professionals from the Children’s Aid Society
  • Establishing a partnership with Rutgers School of Nursing and the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center to provide on-site medical and mental health services to address the health needs of students at Belmont Runyon
  • Creating strong community partnerships with organizations like PULSE and Pleasant Grove Baptist Church, who have adopted the school and will assist with family and community programming and activities throughout the school year
  • Fully incorporating Belmont Runyon’s special needs pre-school and full early childhood program into its community school model, so that even the students with the greatest needs can benefit from the resources and supports available
  • Partnering with the Strive Program, lead agency who will provide a full-time community school coordinator to connect children and their families to the services and resources they need
  • Working with Strive and other expanded learning time providers to provide quality after school programs for every Belmont Runyon student beginning in Fall 2016

“Today we celebrate the initial implementation of the Community Schools Strategy in the South Ward Community Schools. This day is a result of relentless community drive, a partnership between the City of Newark and the Newark Public Schools, and the advice and guidance of community schools national experts,” noted Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, Chairperson of the Newark School Board. “Much preparatory work has been done by the parents and staff at each South Ward community school. These schools serve as a catalyst for other schools in the Newark District that are developing partnerships around a community schools model. The members of the Board of Education support the Community Schools Strategy as the best model for removing the barriers to learning and increasing academic achievement, attendance, and graduation rates for our children. We look forward to supporting our community schools and all Newark Public Schools. We wish all Newark students, families, and education and support staff a productive successful school year.”

First announced in December 2015, the SWCSI is a partnership project of Newark Public Schools and the City of Newark with grant funding provided by the Community Foundation of New Jersey. To learn more about preparations made to welcome all Newark students back to school, please see a release the district shared earlier today.