Since charter schools started in New Jersey nearly two decades ago, they have operated independently of district schools, for the most part.
However, in many cities across the country, including Newark, a growing number of charter and district schools have begun to work together to ensure a quality public education for all students.
One way in which both groups have begun to collaborate has been through co-locations, a process in which a charter school makes use of unused space in a district school.
In 2011, under former Superintendent Cami Anderson, Newark Public Schools announced a co-location plan that would allow charter schools to share space inside Newark’s public school building.
At the time, a total of eight shared campuses were announced. As part of this new initiative and, in an effort to mitigate any issues associated with implementation, the Trust launched the Shared Campus Program with support from the Foundation for Newark’s Future.
The purpose of this initiative is to build campus communities that foster collaboration, and engage parents and families across the campus.
Since the launch of the initial program, the co-location landscape has changed dramatically, with the introduction of several new campuses as well as the closure of other school buildings.
In 2014-15, the program was broadened to include the co-located district schools, which were announced under OneNewark.
A total of $75,000 was provided to four shared campuses across the city, including Miller/Spencer Campus; Weequahic/All Girls and Eagle Academy for Young Men; along with our district-charter shared campuses, George Washington Carver and Steam Academy and People’s Prep Academy and Bard Early College High School.
Generally, projects have focused on:
- Improving coordination of programs/services;
- Strengthening partnerships and collaborations between and among schools, parents and the community fosters caring, encouraging environments for schools, and,
- Improving understanding of best practices and challenges associated with sharing campuses.
School profile: Peoples Prep and Bard High-School Early College
Located in a three-story building at 321 Bergen Street in the Central Ward, Bard High School Early College (BHSEC) Newark and People’s Preparatory Charter School (People’s Prep) opened their doors to students in fall 2011.
BHSEC is a magnet school, which provides a rigorous high school curriculum with two years of a tuition-free liberal arts college program to students in the City’s public school system, while People’s Prep is a public charter school, offering a rigorous college preparatory curriculum to its 372 students.
Though very different in their approach to school culture, BHSEC and People’s Prep are both models leading toward college readiness, with cultures of high expectations. While the road has not always been easy, these schools have come together to pool their resources and find innovative ways to better serve their students.
Their 2014-15 Project Highlights focused on strengthening their school cultures and solidifying school relationships. Initiatives included:
- The two schools created a unified basketball team. Prior to the launch of the program, both schools were without a sports team;
- Both schools worked together to transform the existing gymnasium into a “community gymnasium,” which would be home to their newly established teams. Through these projects, students collaborated to design a variety of activities, including mural painting and signage creation;
- Finally, both schools hosted weekly language activities where families from both schools learned about Chinese and Spanish language and culture.
While there are many factors that impact the success of a co-located spaces, the Trust has identified some common aspects can be which can greatly influence the outcome of a particular project
Here are some of the commonalities we have seen:
- Champions: The presence of strong leaders in both schools is critical to the overall success of the campus. Strong leaders contribute to development of a clear and shared vision and mission for the campus and lay the groundwork for high performance;
- Human Capital and Development: Professional development opportunities and joint planning for teachers from both campuses has helped to build the capacity of participating schools. Such platforms have allowed for informal and organic sharing across academic disciplines, encouraging innovative teaching and instruction;
- Shared Campus Identity: Using color, messages and art to communicate to students, staff, families and the greater community that there is a shared campus committed to academic excellence has supported positive family and community engagement;
- Distribution and Sharing of School Resources: The state of facilities and the access to equitable resources continues to be an issue between district and charters schools. In schools where we have seen the sharing of resources, there have been more positive results in achieving economies of scale and avoiding duplication of efforts.
In the coming months, the Trust plans to take a more in depth look at both current and closed campuses to both highlight their successes and challenges.