NEWARK, NJ--Walk through the doors of Roseville Community Charter School and you can immediately feel the love.
A little girl in earmuffs runs up to School Director Marshae Newkirk to share some exciting news; she’s just about aced her report card.
Newkirk offers her some warm praise and a squeeze on the hand.
“I knew you could do it,” she tells her.
It is this nurturing and supportive environment, said Newkirk, that continues to guide the school forward.
Launched in 2011 and located in Newark's Roseville neighborhood, Roseville Community Charter School's mission is rooted in the belief that all children can learn and achieve when provided with high-quality learning in a challenging and supportive environment.
Newkirk has been instilling this empowering message in her staff members and students since the school’s inception—a message that has helped grow the school to a student population of close to 330 in grades K-4.
“There’s so much potential in every single child,” Newkirk said. “I have a team here who works hard to make sure students know we see them that way. They’re important in this world and we want them to know that we see them.”
RCCS is anchored in five core values including collaboration, honesty, excellence, effort and respect, with the school’s administration and faculty working to ensure that students are actively engaged in their own learning while molding each student into independent and critical thinkers.
Newkirk has a strong belief that one’s background should not limit their access to an outstanding education, and the school works hard to lay the foundation for college readiness and success.
“The work begins in the kindergarten,” Newkirk said. “Our full mission is to develop in our students character and academic discipline. We are laying the foundation for college readiness and for literacy and math. We want to instill in them the perseverance to endure challenges.”
Guided by Common Core Standards, the school’s curriculum includes Eureka Math and Readers and Writers Workshop. In English/language arts and math, students are expected to problem-solve and think critically, while in science and social studies students are encouraged to explore and question.
RCCS provides increased support to students, with two adults in each K-2 classroom, an extended school day, at least three hours of literacy each day and guided reading instruction.
The school also offers a strong visual arts program.
“We are a data-driven school,” Newkirk said, noting bi-weekly assessments and instructional meetings held with faculty members. “This has become part of the school’s culture.”
Newkirk comes from a rich educational background, teaching in such diverse school districts as the Bronx and Mount Vernon, NY.
While Newkirk said she has gained from all her teaching experiences, it was during her tenure at a school where she was the only African-American that inspired her to focus on urban education.
“That was the first time I ever saw disparity in education,” she said. “When I saw that disparity, I knew it was going to be urban education. I wanted to learn how to be a leader, not just an administrator. The Newark Charter School Fund was looking for a leader to take on the task of opening up a new school and my whole life changed for the better.”
Newkirk said there are unique advantages to being an independent charter school.
“All the energy we invest into how to do education right is funneled into one site,” she said. “All of our operations happen here, at this single site. As an independent school, there’s a real opportunity to maintain a single, real identity as a school.”
The ability to serve every child is something that Newkirk is proud of, and this has been achieved through the school’s ESL advisory board.
“It is a major achievement to be able to serve every child in Newark,” Newkirk said, noting the school’s student population is approximately 50 percent Hispanic and 50 percent African American. “We’ve witnessed a growing number of Spanish-speaking students."
The school employs several Spanish-speaking staff members who can translate for parents, while all communication to parents is provided in both English and Spanish.
“We try to support the diversity that enters the building,” Newkirk said. “We try to make sure we have a diverse staff. The world doesn’t look one way, so if we can give students the opportunity to see that, we do. But we also aim to have teachers that look like them, so it’s a balance.”
Newkirk credits the school's uniquely inclusive environment as part of its innovative spirit.
“I think the type of environment we’re able to create with a focus on relationships is innovative,” she said. “Another one of our cornerstones is having dedicated teachers. Teachers should believe that every child can learn and that even on their worst day, a child is filled to the brim with potential. If we’re here to address the whole child, then we’re here to address the social-emotional as well as the academic.”
The school hopes to build on its success with an upcoming expansion.
“We are hopeful about expanding to Pre-K through fifth grade,” Newkirk said. “The school intends to eventually expand to that.”
The expansion will start the learning process earlier and will give the school more time to grow young scholars, Newkirk said.
“People in the community say they hear we really love our kids here,” she said. “Children want to know that people believe in them and love them. We’re about relationships and making children and their families feel welcome and supported. This is their school.”