NEWARK, NJ — Be it science, technology, performing arts or history, parents across Newark whose children will enter elementary school over the next five years have options to choose from if they want to start their students early on a specialized course of study.
Superintendent Roger Leon unveiled the district’s long-awaited 10-year strategic plan at the Board of Education’s final public meeting in June, and with its presentation came outlines for a complete re-imagining of the Newark school ecosystem.
By 2025, every ward in the city will have "magnet" elementary schools with uniform curricula and facilities available to families. These redesigned schools will feed into the city's magnet schools — Bard High School Early College, Technology High School, Science Park High School, American History High School and Arts High School.
The district’s newest elementary school opening this September, Sir Isaac Newton, is its first science-focused elementary and the test pilot Leon and his team will use to build from.
“Everyone else is now hearing that, and they want that too. It’s giving me the buzz that I need,” Leon told TAPinto Newark.
The planning for the next four years, he said, is to create designations for what those schools will eventually become and transition the community to the new system. The re-imagined schools will be housed in existing elementary schools, though they will not be renamed.
Right now, NPS administration is busy at work preparing for the opening of Sir Isaac Newton, which has been dealt an added layer of complications due to the coronavirus. But this time is also crucial for data on how long it takes to convert the building and ready the rooms, as well as calculating costs like lab coats, microscopes and other lab equipment.
“While that is occurring we’re also assessing each of the elementary schools’ facilities,” Leon said. “There are also a couple of new high schools we will be building.”
The district plans to have the names of the schools they plan to designate as part of the new “magnet” elementary schools before the start of the academic year. Students who complete a course of study in one of the schools will automatically be enrolled in its corresponding magnet high school, and not have to apply through Newark Enrolls once they reach the eighth grade.
However, any student is still able to apply out of the magnet feeder pattern should they decide the concentration no longer suits their interests.
“We don’t want to know who would like to be an artist, we want to know who are the artists and be the canvas to show that off. That’s what we imagine these elementary schools to be,” Leon said.
Leon said there is already some idea of which elementary schools can be re-purposed. Hawthorne Avenue School will most likely become a science feeder, and Belmont Runyon, which was originally named Belmont Runyon Performing Arts Elementary School, will return to its roots. Raphael Hernandez Elementary was also once a performing arts elementary school.
The district doesn’t have a total number for expenditures on Sir Isaac Newton yet, and it is still working out what it will cost to convert the schools once they’re pinned down.
Some costs at Sir Isaac Newton, which is slowly being phased out by grade, won’t come until a few years later. For instance, Leon said he bought himself some time before the district has to purchase more advanced lab equipment for eighth-graders.
Leadership for the new schools are being hand-picked, though the district is not making the decisions public.
Each of the “magnet” elementary schools will be available in each ward, much like a franchise — the same curricula, service and “look,” according to Leon, will be mandatory.
“It’s creating a system that says we are fair to everybody,” Leon said. “One of our students, Rafael Gordon, has a phrase in his book that says, ‘Your location does not determine your destination.’ That’s really what we want to suggest here.”