Find­ing com­mon ground

Coun­cil mem­bers spend time at NHS

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

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 POST FILE PHOTO BY JOSH SHAN­NON

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.

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