Charter Schools at Center of ‘Fairness Formula’ Debate

By Michael Hill

Crystal Wortham describes her special needs sixth grade son, Jason, and the fear she had of sending him to the same traditional Newark public school she attended.

“Erratic at times and kind of a volcano. Gets served here and he is not sat outside the classroom door where typically bad kid are sat. He is loved and nurtured here,” she said.

“Here” is North Star Academy’s middle school. Crystal says it was an easy choice to send Jason here. She and her husband made the decision based on Jason’s older sister’s experience attending the same school, a school that adapts to how Jason learns even if it means the most unorthodox of approaches of preparing Jason’s mind and body for a written test.

“He couldn’t calm down to focus. The dean took off his tie, had the teachers close their doors and my son and him ran up and the down hallway, then they did push-ups. This is all just to let loose extra energy,” Crystal said.

“Our special needs students here get served in incredible and inspirational ways,” said Uncommon Schools Chief External Officer Barbara Martinez.

North Star has 11 schools with 4,000 students in K through 12 in Newark.

“There is nothing that gives me a greater sense of satisfaction,” said Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie often touts North Star as the example of how to turn around urban education. He wants to change how to fund public education by giving each student $6,600 in New Jersey. It would drastically cut funds to urban districts. The governor says charters are proving to do more with less.

Seton Hall University Associate Professor Dr. Daniel Katz addressed that with Mary Alice Williams.

“And he’s being misleading again. Many of those schools do not simply have the same student characteristics as their host district,” he said.

North Star says despite what some think, 86 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced lunch and 100 percent of this year’s graduating class has been accepted to a four-year college.

“At North Star Academy we serve the same kids who are in the Newark district schools. In fact our poverty rate is higher than the district average,” Martinez said.

“We as a school are always pushing students beyond what they may or may not think they can or cannot do,” said teacher Paris Murray.

Crystal says that’s why all three of her children go to school here.

“I’m just not willing to experiment with their education,” Crystal said.

The Worthams say experience is a good teacher.