For too long we have not taken a holistic stakeholder approach to education in our cities, instead remaining in our silos that do not benefit our most important asset, our children.
In Newark, while our schools have markedly improved, we recognize the myriad of barriers that still exist. We have the resources and the collective genius of all education stakeholders—especially our students. Now, we must find better paths to communicate, operate, and cooperate so we can move our children forward.
Our “2022 Roadmap to Educational Equity Conference” will take place October 28 and 29 at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) Campus Center. We are approaching these barriers to education with the same urgency and teamwork as we approached our water situation, public safety, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Our success in these areas gave credence to the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
The two-day conference will offer a series of seminars, workshops, and keynote addresses, all the usual moving parts of such events.
One difference will be the voices not heard often enough in educational conferences: those of the students and their parents, because the goal of creating educational institutions committed to equity, safety, sense of belonging, wellness, and academic excellence is for the students and their families, as well as the overall well-being of our city.
We will kick-off the conference with a youth summit, to hear their voices and their thoughts on reaching our educational goals within our Newark Forward values. In Newark, we strive to be a more educated city in which residents of all ages achieve the knowledge, resources, and tools to lead healthy successful lives, secure globally competitive jobs, and have opportunities for life-long learning. A city with pipelines that give our youth greater access to their highest level of educational attainment. A city in which no matter what stage you are in life, you have the opportunity to start anew and create a path to success. To achieve this, we must listen, and listen carefully, to what our children say because we cannot defend a system that does not serve their needs or address their concerns.
If the students feel they are invisible to teachers and the administration, if they feel educational materials are foreign to their culture, or our schools lack high-level curriculum, we must listen.
We must know if they feel safe in schools, while not feeling the overbearing presence of police. We must address the implicit biases that might cause our teachers and administrators to view our students as academic underachievers, or even as dangerous threats. We must listen and act with urgency.
These are conversations that must be had to improve our school climates. Newark Office of Comprehensive Community Education Chief Education Officer Dr. Sharnee Brown will moderate a panel to discuss creating safe spaces for brown and Black students featuring author and former Newark Tech Principal Baruti Kafele; Father Edwin D. Leahy, headmaster of St. Benedict’s Prep; and myself on this topic.
This conference will be wide-ranging in the stakeholder invitees, including students and parents, teachers and administrators, philanthropic and charitable organizations, the business community, our universities, police and education policy makers, and equally important, the community at large.
The scope of the conference is just as wide, and includes our public schools, charter schools, private schools, special education and ESL education aimed at our immigrant community, and our universities will also be represented. Newark Board of Education Superintendent Roger León manages the largest and oldest school district in New Jersey. Thus, it is imperative that he is a strong partner in this work. The conference and the collaboration are to foster more opportunities (such as out of school programs, curriculum updates, removal of systematic barriers, more access to the almost 40, 000 students) and to achieve one of our most critical objectives: a quality education for every single one of our children.
He will participate, as will superintendents Angela Mincy of the Marion P. Thomas Charter School and Dr. James Pedersen of the Essex County Schools of Technology. The universities will be represented by Rutgers University- Newark President and Chancellor Nancy Cantor; Essex County College President Augustine Boakye; and Teik Lim, the president of the New Jersey Institute of Technology. This inaugural conference will be the beginning of an ongoing effort to end systematic barriers to learning for our students and bring equitable opportunities to high-quality education for all students.
Join us as we center on collaboration, tapping into the collective genius of our stakeholders, so ideas can be turned into strategies, strategies can be turned into policies and policies, can be turned into action. For the good of our students and our community, we must show the will to make the necessary changes to move us all forward.
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The Honorable Ras J. Baraka is the 40th Mayor of the City of Newark, NJ.