Pedro Noguera, an urban sociologist at New York University, took the lead in crafting a comprehensive plan for education reform in a group of public schools in Newark’s central ward. Modeled on the Harlem Children’s Zone, the Global Village Zone was heralded as thoughtful and bold when it was introduced in 2010. But things went wrong, and Global Village did not survive.
I invited Pedro Noguera to describe what happened. He generously responded.
The End of the Global Village
In the fall of 2009, I was invited by an organization called America’s Promise Alliance, associated with General Colin Powell’s national anti-dropout initiative, to deliver a keynote address in Newark, NJ on how to prevent and reduce the dropout rate. In my address took the position then as I do now, that genuine and sustainable progress could only be achieved if a systemic approach were taken, one that addressed the social and economic roots of the problem and strengthened the capacity of schools to meet student needs.
To my surprise, Governor Jon Corzine, who had spoken just before I took the stage, stayed for my entire presentation. Afterwards, he leaned over and said “we need to talk”. During the break he told me that he was interested in taking the approach I described statewide because several districts were in need of major changes. I told him that it would be better to start with one district that could serve as a pilot, and that if we made progress, the strategy could be applied elsewhere. We both agreed that Newark would be the logical place to undertake this work because it was led by an energetic mayor, Cory Booker, who cared deeply about education, and the district had just hired a new superintendent, Clifford Janey, who had a reputation for innovation.
Conversations ensued shortly after that initial discussion, at first primarily involving state officials from the Attorney General’s Office, the Commissioner of Education, and the Governor’s office. Early on we were able to enlist support from the Ford Foundation, which liked the approach we proposed to take, and agreed to serve as the lead funder of the initiative. After a short time we got support from a wide variety of local agencies and funders, including the Prudential, Victoria and Shulman Foundations. We also received the blessing of Mayor Booker who, though an ardent advocate of charter schools, recognized the benefit that would be obtained if we succeeded in improving public schools.
The strategy we envisioned drew on many of the tenets associated with a larger national initiative called the Broader and Bolder Approach (BBA) (www.broaderandbolderapproach.com). I was one of three national co-chairs associated with BBA (Helen Ladd, a professor of Economics at Duke University and Tom Payzant, the former Superintendent of Boston, were the other co-chairs), and thought of the project in Newark as a way to demonstrate and reinforce the national policy advocacy work of BBA. Drawing on the resources and expertise of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University (I am the Executive Director of the center), BBA began working in the spring of 2010 to implement a school reform strategy that would place issues like expanded access to early childhood education, health care, community engagement and extended learning opportunities at the center of the work. Our hope was that we could transform teaching and learning within schools while simultaneously addressing the external conditions related to poverty – poor health and nutrition, crime, housing instability, etc., that often undermine reform efforts.
After some preliminary meetings with Dr. Janey, it was decided that seven schools in Newark’s central ward would be selected for the pilot. Re-named the Global Village Zone (GVZ), the project sought to adopt some of the strategies utilized by the Harlem Children’s Zone, the Children’s Aid Society and the Comer Model (pre-school, extended learning opportunities, expanded access to healthcare, etc.) and include a concerted effort to engage and organize parents. We also envisioned that over time career academies would be developed that would provide students with training in fields where we anticipated jobs would be available such as energy conservation and healthcare. Unlike the Harlem Children’s Zone, the GVZ would focus on improving public schools (HCZ sponsors two charter schools) and rely largely on public resources to insure sustainability.
For the next three years, we worked assiduously at building the GVZ infrastructure and improve the schools. It wasn’t easy. We were under staffed and were working with seven schools that had a long record of under-performance. We took on several of the functions normally carried out by district officials such as providing professional development for teachers and administrators, and conducting workshops for parents. Nonetheless, with a small staff headed by Dr. Lauren Wells, we accomplished a great deal. We signed an agreement with the Newark Teachers Union to allow for a longer school day, we implemented a free book drive to insure that children had access to reading material over the summer, we held summer institutes for staff on instructional leadership, and gradually began to create the zone we had envisioned. Despite our limitations, we had an enormous amount of buy-in and support from the leadership and staff of the seven schools, the parents and the broader community. Our greatest progress was achieved at Central High School, which in the spring of 2010 had been designated chronically under-performing by the State of New Jersey and received a School Improvement Grant to support turnaround efforts (SIG). After its first year, student test scores in language arts increased 32.5% and 25% in math. State officials told us that the progress being achieved at the school under the leadership of Ras Baraka the principal, was unmatched by any other turn around school in the state (http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/06/newarks_central_high_school_se.html).
In January of 2011 we learned that Clifford Janey’s contract would not be renewed and a search for a new superintendent was launched soon thereafter. Cami Anderson, an educator whom I knew and supported based on her work with some of the most disadvantaged schools in New York City, was named the new superintendent in May of 2011. Though she and I had spoken on the telephone prior to her appointment about Newark’s schools, after her appointment our contact was minimal, and we only met in person on only one occasion. It’s not clear that she ever fully understood what the Global Village Zone was or what we were trying to accomplish. In the spring of 2012 she announced a major overhaul of the school district that would result in the closure of several under-enrolled, low performing schools, three of which were located in the central ward. She did this before approximately 1,000 parents in a large auditorium at Rutgers University, and after making her announcement, exited out the back door without taking any questions from those assembled.
With so much change underway and with a growing recognition that the BBA work with the Global Village Zone needed to be aligned with the district’s goals, we applied to become an Education Management Organization (EMO) in the hope that this would provide us with the funding and district level support we needed to carry out our work. Following Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s donation of 100 million dollrs to support school reform in Newark, there was considerably more private money available for school improvement. We hoped that with district support we might gain access to some of these resources in the central ward. However, our proposal was rejected twice based on concerns that we lacked the capacity to carry out the work we proposed to do. At this point our funders were becoming increasingly concerned that the GVZ could not be viable if the district did not support its goals. With great reluctance, we decided to suspend our work with the GVZ schools because we lacked the resources to continue and because it was clear that the district did not support our efforts.
I am reluctant to say that the BBA work is dead. In all likelihood, a new superintendent will come to Newark in the not too distant future and perhaps the next leader will be more inclined to resume the work we began. I am especially reluctant to say that the work is over because we raised the hopes of so many parents who embraced our vision, supported our efforts to take a holistic approach to reform and who now feel bitterly disappointed. Newark is a city where unfulfilled promises have been a constant for many years. I hate BBA and the Global Village Zone being seen as yet another example of raised expectations that failed to materialize.
I accept part of the blame for the suspension of our work. Early on we created an advisory board comprised of civic leaders from Newark for the explicit purpose of insuring that our work would be protected because it was supported by a broad array of stakeholders. I am not a novice at this type of work; I knew from experience that political instability frequently undermines good work in urban schools. Janey had served as the ex-officio chair of the advisory board. When he left we hoped Anderson would take on the role but she was not interested in it. We should have asked someone else to take on the role such as a respected clergyman or community leader. In retrospect, a strong board might have provided us with the political support we needed to keep our work in the Central Ward going.
It is also true that BBA was based at New York University, and though we hired staff from Newark, including Lauren Wells the project director, we were still outsiders from New York City. Ideally, the work should have been led by a local non-profit based in Newark. We realized this and even tried to create one because none existed. This is one of the reasons why I believe we were unsuccessful in our attempt to secure a planning grant from the federal government’s Promise Neighborhood initiative.
However, I still believe that the plan we developed and the vision we organized the schools and parents around is one that had a good chance of succeeding, if we could have stayed with it long enough. Several communities across the country are now engaged in similar work that can be described as a more integrated and holistic approach to school reform. It’s taking place in the Dudley neighborhood of Boston, the Morningside neighborhood of Fort Worth, TX, in Tulsa, OK, in East Durham, NC and Camden, NJ. I know about this work because I know the people doing the work, and I am frequently called upon to provide advice and support. What impresses me most about this work is that even without federal funding or the support of hedge fund managers, these local actors are moving forward to support their schools by creating partnerships with non-profits, universities and hospitals to address the needs of children that schools lack the resources to respond to on their own.
These communities are not waiting the right superintendent to be appointed or the right governor to be elected. They are taking action now because their children can’t afford to wait.
That is no less true in Newark today, and even if the current leadership does not embrace this approach I remain certain that there are leaders and activists in Newark that do. The Newark public schools have been under state control for seventeen years, and despite all the talk of accountability from Governor Christie and his Commissioner Chris Cerf, there has been no accountability on the state of New Jersey, which has not delivered a better education to the children of Newark during the period that it has ostensibly been in charge. Eventually, I believe the people of Newark will come forward to take control of their schools and their children’s futures. When that happens we will be ready to resume our work.