EDUCATION

Facebook Foundation CEO Says Reforms Are Working for Newark Schools

At one time or another, the state’s largest school district has been called one of the most troubled in the nation. But things are changing in Newark — graduation rates are up and teachers have agreed to a landmark labor contract. Some are crediting the recent successes to the $100 million grant by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

To discuss the latest developments in the Newark school district, NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider caught up with Greg Taylor, President & CEO of the Foundation for Newark’s Future.

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Recently, the Newark Teachers Union and Newark Public Schools agreed to a new contract that includes a total of $31 million in retroactive pay, a universal salary scale that includes increases and bonus opportunities, and a “pay for performance” system. Some see the inclusion of “merit pay” as a potential game changer for other teacher contracts to follow around the state. It’s also something Gov.Christie has pushing hard for since he came into office. According to Taylor, almost $50 million from the Facebook grant will help fund the new contract

“What we’ll do is to help offset the retro-pay concept, the notion there being that we know that teachers have worked for the past two years without pay for their cost of living and the dollars that they have accomplished thus far,” he said.

Taylor says the contract is a momentous milestone for the school district in that it ties teacher performance to student success. The details of how that will be measured, however, is still largely to be determined, says Taylor.

“It’ll be both by student achievement and also by teacher performance and there will be other metrics that we decide as we go forward,” Taylor said.

Taylor is the son of a teacher. He says the teachers he’s spoke to welcome the chance to grow professionally.

“What this contract does is really reward those best performing teachers,” said Taylor. “It’s an opportunity for the best teachers to continue to grow, to have the professional development that they require moving forward cause ultimately it’s about making sure that every child in Newark is successful academically.”

According to statistics released last week by the state Department of Education, Newark saw big increases in the graduation rate. Between 2011 and 2012, the percentage of students graduating from the city’s high schools increased 7 percentage points, to 68.72 percent.

Taylor says the new data is proof the reforms are working, but cautions that the high school drop-out rate is still too high. One of the ways for improving the retention rate is to make students understand the connection between college and careers, he says. However, he adds that schools have a responsibility to engage students with curriculum that is interesting and compelling to them.

He says that school curriculum should “meet the learning needs of each individual child” rather than adopt a single approach for all children. “I would argue that most, if not all young people, want a high quality education. We just have to work to inspire them to stay the course.”