Partners Wanted

Local institutions pledge their support as Newark takes back control of its public schools.

Illustration by Richard Mia/TheISpot

Educating the nearly 50,000 students in the Newark Public School system is a daunting task. There will likely never be enough money, infrastructure or people power to create the kind of educational environment found in affluent communities like Millburn, Summit or Princeton.

Still, Newark has taken giant steps in the right direction. The city’s high school graduation rate reached 78 percent in 2017, a 20-point increase since 2010. Thanks to such progress, Newark’s school board regained authority over its school system on February 1 after 22 years of state control.

Still, it will take more than local control to help Newark students reach their potential. Among other initiatives, the effort will require a host of public-private partnerships involving the corporate, higher education and philanthropic communities.

Among the leading companies pledging support for the schools is Newark-based Prudential Financial. “We were founded here more than 140 years ago to ensure that everybody has the opportunity to achieve financial security,” says Sarah Keh, Prudential Financial’s director of corporate giving. “That opportunity begins with making sure that people have the right skill sets and that they are connected to quality jobs, and that begins with having a high-quality education.” (Full disclosure: the Prudential Foundation supports the Caucus Educational Corporation’s Stand & Deliver Youth Leadership initiative, which I founded in 1999.)

Prudential has invested more than $150 million in education-related initiatives, including the Newark Trust for Education, a partnership with the district, the community and city leaders. The Trust aims to provide ideas, data and resources in support of quality education and good governance.

Prudential also supports Teachers Village, a Newark community with three charter schools, discounted teacher’s housing, retailing, a day-care facility and a health clinic. Prudential backed Teachers Village with an investment of more than $60 million; the lead developer on the project is RBH Group, another Newark-based company.

Such public-private partnerships can extend beyond the school year. Last year, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka launched the Summer Youth Employment Initiative with the backing of 17 corporate and philanthropic institutions, including PSEG, Horizon BCBSNJ, TD Bank, JP Morgan Chase, Victoria Foundation, Prudential and RWJBarnabas Health. The program provides summer jobs and mentoring.

Whether in Newark or other urban districts, how well public school students perform is not simply a product of government spending. And it’s not just the responsibility of the administrators and professionals who run the schools and teach the classes. It’s also up to the community—the parents, civic leaders and businesses, all of whom have a stake in seeing that today’s students become contributing members of society.

The more corporations, universities, foundations and other institutions are committed to genuine partnerships with our public school—especially urban schools—the better off we all are. It’s a smart and strategic investment of time, money and effort.

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