Sara Neufeld is a contributing editor at the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan education-news outlet affiliated with Teachers College, Columbia University.
Try and Try Again: A Newark School’s Make-or-Break Year
Tuesday, March 04, 2014
Erskine Glover, the principal of Quitman Street Renew School, sees progress throughout the halls of his school.
There's the boy who ran away from home last fall, but continued to show up for class every day. The hallways teem with displays of student work. And three teachers — deemed model instructors by the district — now draw colleagues from around the city who come to watch them teach. More than 80 percent of students in kindergarten through eighth grade last year showed growth in their academic performance.
But so far, none of that has translated to an increase in the school’s all-important state test scores, which last spring were among the bottom 2 percent in New Jersey.
Nearly two years ago, Glover was handed hiring and spending power by Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson to see what he could do as principal of Quitman Street Renew School, a perennially low performer in the impoverished Central Ward.
But rehiring half of his staff in one summer posed new problems — the entire middle school math and science teaching staff quit midway through their first year. That dropped test scores when students had to rely on substitute teachers for the remainder of the year.
This year, several new strategies are in place, from a longer day to after-school tutoring to a new math curriculum. In third- through fifth-grade classrooms, students are receiving more personalized instruction as online learning allows teachers to work with small groups. Glover and others on his staff are struggling with health issues while working excruciating hours. The pressure is palpable.
“It looks like we’re not even doing anything,” Glover said. Nothing could have been further from the truth. He and numerous staff members have been putting in tremendous hours, in some cases — his included — at the expense of their own health.
Glover is driving his staff and students to improve on this spring's NJ Ask tests — not just because he has his own goals of improving the school. He also wants to avoid the possibility of Quitman being placed on a school closure list next year.
Yet the challenge to get scores up grows steeper, as the student population continues to grow even needier. Staff members are identifying more children with untreated mental health issues. Quitman received new students from a school for children with behavioral disabilities that was shut down and from two charter schools closed for poor performance. At the same time, high-performing charter schools are recruiting away some of Quitman’s best and brightest.
The Hechinger Report, in partnership with WNYC and NJ Spotlight, has been following Glover's struggle to remake the school since the beginning of Newark’s “renew school” initiative in 2012. Click here to read the latest installment in “A Promise to Renew” series.