Finding common ground
Council members spend time at NHS
After several city council members made critical comments regarding the Christina School District earlier this fall, Newark High School Principal Aaron Selekman publicly invited them to “not only talk the talk but walk the walk” by touring NHS and learning more about the school.
At least two took him up on the offer.
“We are doing amazing things at Newark High School, and I come tonight to offer an invitation and an opportunity,” Selekman said during the Oct. 22 council meeting. “It is an honor for me each day to come to Newark High School, to work with such an incredible and dedicated staff, to work with parents who believe in our school, our mission and what it is we’re trying achieve on behalf of their kids and, of course, the outstanding students who greet me each and every day.”
Before Selekman left that night, Councilman Jerry Clifton pulled him aside briefly to talk to him. A few days later, Clifton was spending the day at Newark High.
“It was quite a positive experience,” Clifton said. “It was quite an eye-opening experience.”
Selekman said that often people just stop by to say they’ve visited, but he was pleased with the amount of time Clifton spent at the school.
“We had a nice long conversation about Newark, about its history, its present and where it’s going to go and where we’d like to see it go in the future,” he said.
The day – which Selekman purposefully left unstructured to give an authentic look at the school, he said – was filled with walking the halls and stopping by classes.
“I always begin our visits with a conversation about what people know about Newark or think about Newark or heard about Newark, and it’s always fascinating what people choose to share,” Selekman said. “And then we go out and walk through the halls and walk in and there’s a fully functioning television station, there’s a fully functional CAD design lab.”
They also discussed the myths versus realities of the high school, he said. The district’s perception to potential residents of the city was fodder for council members and representatives from University of Delaware, who were quick to criticize NHS and the district last month.
Clifton said that Selekman has “done a decent job bringing it a little further along.”
“I’m not telling you it was a kumbaya moment and we don’t have issues,” he continued. “To be clear, it doesn’t change a lot of my perceptions about the district.”
Clifton added that his concerns were mostly for NHS, because it is the city’s local school, and that Selekman and other staff “are working really hard to make it a good decent quality educational institution.”
Jason Lawhorn, who has indicated an interest in bringing the public education system into the conversation at council meetings by inviting Christina spokeswoman Taylor Green to speak at council, also expressed interest in taking the time to tour the Yellowjacket’s hive.
“[The district] is probably the No. 1 issue on most people’s minds when we’re talking about our city and things we want to see improve,” he said last month. “I think incorporating that into the leadership of our city can only do good things.”
Selekman said he is always looking to improve the school’s relationship with the community – whether that is council, UD or local businesses.
“It’s important to me that your local high school is a part of the local community. Being a part of that local community means extending yourself to the local university, the local business, the local community and council and so on,” he said.
It’s important that that interaction with the community is reciprocated by the community, he added.
Clifton said he was impressed with Selekman’s sincerity.
“I thought it took a lot for him to come to council not to criticize but to say it’s an open door,” he said. “I’ve got to give him a lot of credit for reaching out the way he did.”
Selekman’s statement at council appeared welltimed, as he happened to speak during public comment at the same meeting in which Lawhorn elaborated on his thoughts about the school district.
“It seems like the only time we talk about the school system is when we want to talk about something negative, and I think there’s a lot of positive things that do happen, so I’d like to try to highlight and bring into people’s perceptions the good things that do happen in our local schools,” he said, adding that creating a dialogue between the district and city can only help. Selekman concurred. “For a long time, I think that our school and our community have felt disconnected,” he said, noting that he doesn’t think it was truly disconnected, it just felt so. “In the beginning, it’s important to develop that trust and strong foundation from which to build. I’m excited to see what all of these relationships grow into.”
Newark High Principal Aaron Selekman invited city council members to “not only talk the talk but walk the walk” by touring NHS and learning more about the school.