Neighborhood schools, which have been a fixture of American society since the early 20th century, are especially near and dear to the state of New Jersey. We are a state where home rule reigns. We have over 600 public school districts and approximately 2,500 public schools. There is a neighborhood school in nearly every town in New Jersey, and for better or for worse, that has become part of our cultural fabric.
While neighborhood schools are beloved for a variety of reasons—tradition, community pride, practicality of being close to home, etc.—not all are living up to their primary responsibility of providing students with a high-quality education. As a result, some of New Jersey’s legislators and community leaders have been working to elevate the quality of school options for families while also incorporating the tradition of neighborhood schools. One of the newest and most promising initiatives in this area has been the creation of Renaissance schools, which opened their doors to students in Camden for the first time this fall.
Renaissance schools are a brand new kind of neighborhood school. They blend the best practices of district and charter schools and the flexibility of charter schools with a partnership with the school district. All families within the area who want to enroll their children are guaranteed a seat. If there are extra seats, students from outside of the neighborhood who want to attend can do so by entering a lottery. Renaissance schools can provide children in Camden not only with a neighborhood school experience, but also—based on the strong track records of KIPP, Uncommon and Mastery in other cities—a high-quality school experience.
Neighborhood schools are still alive and well in New Jersey, but we should be thinking more and more about how they can be “reborn”—much like what is occurring with the Renaissance schools in Camden and as their name would suggest.