In September 2014 the Newark Trust hosted its first-ever Local Education Fund (LEF) conference, attracting LEF leaders from around the country to share insights and see first-hand the challenges and successes happening on the ground in both Newark and Paterson.
The conference, "A Tale of Two Cities – Paterson, Newark and Education Reform in NJ," was co-sponsored and led by the Newark Trust for Education and the Paterson Education Fund. It began on September 17 with peer-to-peer workshops that allowed attendees to share many of the similarities and differences facing their respective organizations, communities, and school districts.
"While our experiences may differ, what links LA and Mobile, Pittsburg and Minnesota, as well as Newark and Paterson is that what is happening on the ground, in our communities, and in our schools is where all discussions about change need to begin, " said Ross Danis, Newark Trust president and CEO. "This conference allowed us to see that our issues and challenges are more similar than they are different and that the work is challenging and critically important. It's good to have a network of colleagues that can assist in informing each others work.
The second day featured tours of schools in both Newark and Paterson. State District Superintendent Cami Anderson greeted conference attendees at historic Weequahic High School.
Anderson, whose administration is coping with the protests involved in the district's One Newark /Universal Enrollment initiative, reminded attendees that in any effort to improve education, there needs to be an effort to bring in all stakeholders.
"We are starting to deepen our partnership with families," she said. "We are working with the grassroots, because that's where the real work is."
Following Anderson's talk, Vaughn Thompson, principal of Eagle Academy for Young Men—one of three schools housed at Weequahic high School—participated in a principals' panel discussion on educational approaches, resources and shared administration. Eagle Academy, along with the Girls' Academy of Newark, relocated to Weequahic High School this year, necessitating a collaborative culture that, Thompson says, has already begun to foster a team approach and unified culture within the walls of this historic school.
"As we've done in the past, we're establishing a sense of collaboration while maintaining three, fully autonomous schools," Thompson said. "Once we've established that, we can create great schools that really serve the kids' needs; We work as a team – it has to be a team focus."
Later in the day, the conference shifted to Paterson, visiting the city's New Roberto Clemente Community Middle School and East Side High School. There, attendees were treated to lunch prepared by students enrolled in the school's Culinary Arts, Hospitality & Tourism School. Paterson Council President Andre Sayegh and State District Superintendent Donnie Evans attended.
On the third and final day of the conference, attendees returned to the Trust's headquarters for a workshop facilitated by Social Impact Studios to discuss communication strategies to promote social issues.
"To learn about and experience the disparate challenges our districts are facing is particularly valuable as we head back home to continue our work," said Pam Costain of Achieve Minneapolis. "Our work is unique to our own districts as well as being very similar. We look forward to the next time."