Of­fi­cials: Christina’s rep­u­ta­tion im­pacts Ne­wark

Coun­cil, UD worry about school district’s in­flu­ence on econ­omy

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By BROOKE SCHULTZ bschultz@ches­pub.com

The per­cep­tion and rep­u­ta­tion of the Christina School District was thrust into the spot­light af­ter sev­eral re­cent pub­lic meet­ings touched on the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem’s in­flu­ence on the city.

Over the course of three meet­ings at the end of Septem­ber and into Oc­to­ber, city coun­cil and Univer­sity of Delaware of­fi­cials raised con­cerns about Christina, some as­sert­ing that the district’s rep­u­ta­tion neg­a­tively im­pacts the city’s po­ten­tial for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

In a meet­ing to dis­cuss the Univer­sity of Delaware’s eco­nomic im­pact on Sept. 26, the con­ver­sa­tion be­tween UD Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent Alan Brang­man and city coun­cil turned to the district.

Coun­cil­men Jerry Clifton and Mark More­head said that the poor im­pres­sion of the school district im­pacts the de­ci­sions of fam­i­lies con­sid­er­ing mov­ing to Ne­wark.

“It’s go­ing to be some­what dif­fi­cult for you to make the case that you ought to live in Ne­wark and raise a fam­ily in a great neigh­bor­hood that we have, but, by the way, you’re prob­a­bly go­ing to have to send your kids to pri­vate school some­where for $20,000 a year,” said Clifton.

More­head said he has seen the ef­fect on city em­ploy­ees as well.

“It’s not a well-kept se­cret at all that a tremen­dous num­ber of folks that work in this build­ing in higher lev­els don’t live in town, don’t live in this school district,” More­head said.

These per­cep­tions, Su­per­in­ten­dent Richard Gregg said in sep­a­rate in­ter view, are some­thing the district takes se­ri­ously.

“We’re work­ing hard to change that per­cep­tion,” he said. “That’s why we’re work­ing on some of things we’re do­ing, to cre­ate dif­fer­ent pro­grams that would re­tain the stu­dents we have and at­tract new stu­dents to the district.”

One of those changes came last month, when the school board voted to ap­prove a reimag­in­ing of the three high school pro­grams. The district will trans­form Ne­wark, Glas­gow and Chris­tiana high schools by cre­at­ing struc­tured, con­cen­trated path­ways that will give each school a spe­cific brand and fo­cus in or­der to bet­ter com­pete with char­ter and vo-tech schools.

Un­der the plan, all three high schools will of­fer dual en­roll­ment pro­grams with Wilm­ing­ton Univer­sity, Delaware State Univer­sity and the Univer­sity of Delaware; work-based learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences; in­dus­try and trade cer­ti­fi­ca­tions/li­censes and yearly sum­mer train­ing with stipends for teach­ers.

While the bones of the pro­grams al­ready ex­ist, oth­ers will be phased in in the next few years.

The pro­grams will start in stu­dents’ fresh­man year and the stu­dents will take a course in their path­way each year. Dur­ing their se­nior year, they would par­tic­i­pate in an in­tern­ship or other hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence on- or off-cam­pus that would lead to cer­ti­fi­ca­tion or work ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ne­wark High School – the high school clos­est to down­town Ne­wark and just a few blocks away from from the Univer­sity of Delaware’s cam­pus – was prom­i­nent in the con­ver­sa­tion be­tween coun­cil and Brang­man.

“I know [UD does] things with Ne­wark High al­ready, but I think that, at some point, this needs to be a full­court press; we need to get se­ri­ous,” Clifton said.

Brang­man said Ne­wark High and the district have been a topic of con­ver­sa­tion be­tween him and the dean of UD’s Col­lege of Ed­u­ca­tion and Hu­man De­vel­op­ment. He re­ferred to Ne­wark High as “low-hang­ing fruit.”

As he dis­cussed the de­vel­op­ment of STAR Cam­pus – and the univer­sity’s de­sire to turn the site into a re­search and in­no­va­tion hub – he re­marked that its suc­cess hinges on the pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

“If that doesn’t get fixed, all this other stuff we’re talk­ing about isn’t go­ing to mat­ter,” he said, con­tin­u­ing that the univer­sity is in the process of hir­ing a new dean for the Col­lege of Ed­u­ca­tion and Hu­man De­vel­op­ment. “My guess is that when those can­di­dates come in, [Pres­i­dent] Den­nis [As­sa­nis] will talk with them about how they’re go­ing to em­bed them­selves in the com­mu­nity. That is some­thing that we need to do.”

Gregg said that the district al­ready has been in con­ver­sa­tion with the univer­sity, specif­i­cally with the Col­lege of Arts and Sciences “to see how we can de­velop path­ways and part­ner­ships to build a stronger re­la­tion­ship with the univer­sity and the Christina School District,” he said, adding that that con­nec­tion is for all three high schools.

What the com­mu­nity and the city can do to sup­port the school sys­tem was an­other fac­tor that came into play in re­cent con­ver­sa­tions. When city coun­cil voted to ap­prove a un­named suc­ces­sor to the Down­town Ne­wark Part­ner­ship, a new non­profit that will fo­cus on the en­tire city and work to ad­dress is­sues be­yond just the con­cerns of the busi­ness com­mu­nity, Dan Rich, di­rec­tor of the univer­sity’s com­mu­nity en­gage­ment ini­tia­tive, said that ed­u­ca­tion could be some­thing this or­ga­ni­za­tion looks at.

He pointed to eval­u­a­tions, in­clud­ing a city-spon­sored one, that have found con­cerns about the pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in the Ne­wark com­mu­nity.

“What’s the com­mit­ment in this com­mu­nity to do some­thing about that?...I think that’s what we need to do,” he said. “If we’re try­ing to build up eco­nomic pros­per­ity, you have to build the foun­da­tions of it.”

Coun­cil­man Ja­son Lawhorn dis­cussed ways coun­cil could open di­a­logue be­tween the two en­ti­ties. He said he reached out to Tay­lor Green, pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer for the district.

Like the univer­sity has a rep­re­sen­ta­tive take ques­tions from and give re­ports to coun­cil, Lawhorn sug­gested the district could do the same.

“It could be some­thing that could re­ally help us change the per­cep­tion of our school sys­tem and at min­i­mum we could do that. At a max­i­mum, maybe we start to iden­tify prob­lems that ex­ist and maybe we can help with and we just don’t know ex­ist to­day,” he said.

Gregg, who ap­peared be­fore coun­cil in June for a pre­sen­ta­tion on Christina’s 2018-2021 strate­gic plan, agreed that more fre­quent com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the district and city would be an improve­ment.

“I think it’s im­por­tant for us to im­prove our com­mu­ni­ca­tions with the city coun­cil so that they’re in­formed and then they can be ad­vo­cates for the district, as well as par­tic­i­pate in con­ver­sa­tions with us,” he said.

Ul­ti­mately, Gregg said that the district re­lies on the com­mu­nity to sup­port the district and noted that Christina is work­ing dili­gently to de­velop strong ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams for the stu­dents and fam­i­lies it ser ves.

“We’re look­ing at a way to bring the district back up to a rep­u­ta­tion that it once en­joyed, and it’s not go­ing to hap­pen overnight be­cause we didn’t have this oc­cur overnight,” he said. “This hap­pened over years of ex­pe­ri­ences and cir­cum­stances. So, we’re work­ing hard to fig­ure out ways to im­prove the rep­u­ta­tion of the district in the com­mu­nity.”


Christina School District Su­per­in­ten­dent Richard Gregg said the district is work­ing to im­prove its rep­u­ta­tion, but that will take time.

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