This piece was originally posted on the My Child My Choice blog.

With the new leadership transition at Newark Public Schools, the formation of the Educational Success Board, and a new commitment to returning local control, Newark is now at a unique moment in time for leadership, collaboration and innovation.

One of the first steps in the right direction has been the public commitment from Mayor Baraka and Governor Christie to maintain productive lines of communication between their teams and Newark’s students, parents and residents. Their creation of the Educational Success Board, focused on identifying a comprehensive plan to return Newark’s public schools to local control, is a product of that joint commitment. The board is made up of nine members-four appointed by the Mayor, and five by the Governor-who will provide timelines and benchmarks to guide Newark back to control of its public schools. This group is to produce its findings in a report, which is expected to be published by the spring of 2016.

As these transitions occur, it’s also a unique moment in time for further collaboration between charter and district schools. As discussed in our recent blog, there are already significant examples of best practice sharing between Newark’s charter and district schools. That said, the leaders at the helm of the public education system in Newark-including both district and charter schools-should consider whether additional incentives and policies could be created to facilitate greater best practices sharing.

We could, for example, look at some of the most promising best practice sharing throughout the country. One example is in Denver where charter and district schools have come together to share responsibility for ensuring that students with special needs receive equitable access to programs.

Denver Public Schools have shifted several of its host centers, which serve high-need students, to charter school facilities. These specialized programs serve students who are hearing impaired, autistic, physically limited as well as students who need additional social and behavioral supports. The programs are not offered at every public school site, and students who need accommodations outside of the traditional classroom can be placed in a host center that best suits their needs– which could be located in a district or charter school space. Parents in Denver still have the option of a district school, but often times a charter is the best fit for their child’s special needs.

Although there are inevitable challenges and questions around staffing, funding, and planning for these programs, Denver Public Schools offer a notable model in district-charter collaboration. The move has made a systemic shift in the way services are delivered, with charters beginning to educate more special needs students.

In Newark, most charter school leaders have already pledged to serve all students in the most equitable manner possible, as evidenced in the Newark Charter School Compact. An important part of this compact is a concerted effort to serve the highest need students, including those who need special education services, English Language Learners, and other at-risk populations.

Aligned to the goals of this compact, the Newark Charter School Fund has partnered with the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools (NCSECS) to work with Newark charter schools on special education best practices. NCSECS has hosted several workshops in the city to address specific questions around funding, budgets for special services, as well as refining intervention and response tactics. In response, Marion P. Thomas Charter School, for example, added special education personnel, offered tailored professional development, and put together a special education-centered strategy and practices session to further improve support services.

While we are undergoing a leadership transition in Newark and with it a time of change, it is critical that all school leaders further demonstrate their commitment to serving all students. At this unique moment in time, we can all do more to commit to collaboration and innovation and vow to make sure all kids in the city have equitable access to the highest quality schools.


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