1-12 to13-12 Urban Hope bill, which targets Camden, Newark, Trenton, signed into law by the Governor
Newjerseynewsroom.com - Christie signs Urban Hope Act allowingnonprofit-run schools in Camden, Newark and Trenton

NJSpotlight - Camden Sees Hope in Promise of New Schools Built by Nonprofits…Christie signs UrbanHope Act in struggling city to spotlight his reform for failing schools

Newjerseynewsroom.com - Christie signs Urban Hope Act allowingnonprofit-run schools in Camden, Newark and Trenton

Thursday, 12 January 2012 18:27

o     Christie signs Urban Hope Act allowing  nonprofit-run schools in Camden, Newark and Trenton

Gov. Chris Christie Thursday traveled toCamden to sign legislation that attempts to expand education options in failingschools and urban school districts and provide students with access toeducational opportunities.

Christie was joined by Camden Mayor DanaRedd for the signing at the Lanning Square School, where on June 9 he and themayor publicly announced the initiative aimed at providing greater schoolchoice for students in the some of the worst performing districts in the state.

The new law allows three districts –Camden, Newark, and Trenton – to partner with one or more nonprofits toconstruct as many as four “renaissance schools” in each district. Thenonprofits must have experience operating schools in low-achieving districtsand commit to both building a new school and offering a rigorous academicprogram designed to prepare every student for college, career, and beyond.

“Last June, Mayor Redd and I announcedan innovative public-private education project designed to turn around some ofthe most chronically failing schools,” Christie said. “Today, I am proud tosign the Urban Hope Act to finally give students and parents trapped in some ofthe state’s school districts with the largest achievement gaps, hope and opportunityfor increased educational options that will lead to a successful and productivefuture. While renaissance schools are just one component of my administration’saggressive educational reform agenda, there is more critical work that must bedone this year to address the education challenges facing our state.”

Christie believes 100,000 children aretrapped in nearly 200 chronically failing New Jersey schools. He also believesputting the opportunity of a quality education within every child’s reach, nomatter where they live or their economic circumstances is an issue of vitalimportance to the future of the state.

The Urban Hope program is designed totarget students with the greatest needs. The effort could involve after schoolprograms or extracurricular activities, longer school days or years. The focusin the schools will be about getting results in the classroom through greaterfreedom and flexibility to adapt to the unique needs of students.

“Today’s signing of the Urban Hope Actis truly a victory for our young students,” Redd said. She added, “The UrbanHope Act will truly give the three urban school districts – Camden, Newark, andTrenton – hope and will offer young urban students a new academic opportunity.If we provide our children with the necessary tools like a solid education,safe learning environments, and clean and secure neighborhoods to grow up in,we are offering them a second chance to succeed in the ever changing globaleconomy.”

Assembly MajorityLeader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden) said of the legislation, “The signing of thisDemocratic bill developed in cooperation with education experts represents aleap forward for New Jersey education reform. Democrats know education progressis best built through consensus, not confrontation, and will use this approachgoing forward.


NJ Spotlight - Camden Sees Hope in Promise of New Schools Built by Nonprofits…Christie signs UrbanHope Act in struggling city to spotlight his reform for failing schools

By John Mooney, January 13, 2012 in Education

Twenty-three ofCamden's 27 public schools are already targeted for state turnaround efforts.Four others have been closed in the last two years under the guidance of thestate's fiscal monitor, and the Christie administration is currently weighingthe extent it will further expand its intervention in the district

And now, Camden lookslike it will be ground zero for a new law first proposed by Gov. Chris Christiethat could build up to four privately-run "renaissance schools" inthe city, also under state oversight.

For the president ofthe Camden school board, herself an appointee of the state under a previousintervention, it's a wild ride of uncertainty for this long embattled city."Change is goingto take place, whether we like it or not," said Susan Dunbar-Bey,appointed by former Gov. Jon Corzine.

Exactly what that willlook like and when it will happen are among the many questions, but there wereno shortage of promises yesterday as Christie returned to Camden to sign theUrban Hope Act.

First proposed by thegovernor on a sweltering summer day, the slightly watered-down version enactedby the Democrat-controlled Legislature this week would allow private nonprofitcompanies to build and manage up to four new schools in three pilot districts:Camden, Trenton and Newark.

"It was sixmonths ago I stood here detailing an initiative that would give immediaterelief to students trapped in some of the worst and most chronically failingschools in the state," Christie said.

"We stoodtogether saying we would get it done," he said. "Here we are sixmonths later saying we did get it done."

Christie signed thelaw in a crowded auditorium of the Lanning Square School, declaring it one ofseveral alternatives he hopes for Camden schoolchildren, on top of the expandedcharter schools and a proposed tax-credit voucher program.

When asked whether thestate was poised to take over Camden schools outright, like it has in Newark,Jersey City and Paterson, the governor hedged and said the state's takeoverhistory was hardly remarkable.

"I have said manytimes, I have no interest or desire to take over the schools in Camden,"he said. "I won't relinquish my authority to do so, but I do not believethat is in the position at this time, and I have no plans or are we indiscussion about taking over the schools in Camden."

Even so, the state'scontrols now are significant. The district is already under a state fiscal monitor,Michael Azzara, now three years on the job and guiding improvements inbudgeting and controls. The district recently completed one of its mostpositive financial audits in years, he said.

Still, it's not likestudent performance has much improved, dogged by some of the worst poverty inthe country, let alone the state.

Under a new statewideaccountability system being proposed to the federal government to replace NoChild Left Behind, the Christie administration would target the very lowestperforming schools in the state for aggressive intervention, including thepossibility of replacing staff, leadership and even the curriculum.

Of the 70 so-calledPriority Schools preliminarily identified, 23 are in Camden.

Still, that's just astart, as the state also continues to review its own monitoring report of thedistrict in which it could have basis for full state intervention. That reportis due soon, and Christie said it could be a determining factor.

If four new schoolsare built under the Urban Hope Act, that would put even more pressure on thedistrict already struggling to hold onto students. The local board must signoff on any new project, and Dunbar-Bey said they have only begun to talk aboutit.

"Obviously, ifthey take four schools, what would that mean for us in terms of staffing andstudents and budgets?" said Dunbar-Bey, the board president. "Thereis a lot of uncertainty."

To give one a sense ofthe depth of the problems in the status quo, the school that hosted the signingyesterday was actually the third home to Lanning Square School in the lastdecade. The previous one was torn down for a new school that has yet to bebuilt, although it's said to be a prime candidate for the new law. Anothertemporary home was closed after last year's earthquake.

Sheila Roberts, acommunity leader in downtown Lanning Square neighborhood, said all the bouncingaround takes its toll on children. Being relocated to a school four blocks awayand built in 1871 – and looking very much its age -- doesn't help either.

"We have noschool in our neighborhood," she said. "And this school is older thanMoses. Our children need a school."

Roberts said she isaware of the controversies over private management versus public, but she'swilling to swallow that for something new. "These children have not hadsomething new in a very long time," she said.