The Christina School District and Newark Charter School are often seen as competitors, but officials from both institutions are vowing to find ways to collaborate for the betterment of education in Newark.

As part of a broader conversation about the future of public education in Newark spearheaded by The Newark Partnership, CSD Board Vice President Keeley Powell and NCS Director Frank Newton have met several times over the past few weeks and plan to continue to do so.

“Those kind of meetings are the first of their kind in a very long time, if ever,” noted Dan Rich, a member of the TNP board and a longtime University of Delaware educator.

While no plans have been formalized, Powell and Newton have discussed opportunities for joint training sessions for teachers, as well as art installations and other projects that could involve students from Christina schools as well as NCS.

Charter schools are publicly funded but have more freedom than district schools and are sometimes the target of criticism because they divert students and funding away from traditional public schools. Newark Charter, in particular, often comes under fire for its admission preferences for students who live within a five-mile radius of the school.

No art project or training session will resolve those issues, but officials hope that small steps will lead to more meaningful collaborations.

“We need to think about Newark as a whole,” Powell said.

Newton added that everyone can agree they care about improving the education system in Newark.

“That’s a good starting point while we figure out the details,” he said.

“We’ve got to take that leap of faith,” he added.

Powell and Newton both spoke at Tuesday’s Newark Futures Workshop, the fifth in a series of community forums organized by TNP and the University of Delaware’s Community Engagement Initiative.

Organizers asked attendees to put aside their loyalties and move past criticism of the past to brainstorm about how to move forward to improve the education system in Newark – which attendees of a previous forum identified as a top priority.

“Tonght is a game changer,” said Freeman Williams, a retired Christina superintendent and a TNP board member. “Step out of your comfort zone. Don’t think school or school district – think all of our kids.”

Rich pointed out that a number of factors are coming together to create the best opportunity for education reform in decades.

The state legislature recently formed the Redding Consortium to improve education equity in Wilmington and New Castle County, as well as develop a redistricting plan. In addition, two court cases working their way through Chancery Court could have a major impact on the way education funding is distributed. Rich said he also sees an increased political will, both in Dover and locally, to tackle the hard questions surrounding education policy.

Here in Newark, both NCS and Christina have new leadership. Newton took over for NCS founder Greg Meece this summer, and Christina has four board members in their first term.

Newton and Powell have a previous working relationship from their time at UD.

“We understand each other in that world, and now we find ourselves in roles that historically haven’t done anything together,” Powell said.

She added that she’s optimistic that change is on the horizon.

“I’m excited to be here in a time when there probably is going to be positive change for all of our students who live in this area,” she said. “I spend many hours doing board service and board work and I’m honored that during my term that I’m sitting on this board, that I will likely be part of some positive change and some things that may be solutions to problems that are older than me.”

Newton agreed.

“We at Newark Charter stand ready to partner in this endeavor,” he said. “Will it be easy? Likely not, because if it was easy, it would have already been done.”

To further the discussion of education, TNP is planning a meeting about school funding, set for 10:30 a.m. Nov. 2 at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Newark. A second Newark Futures Workshop on education will be planned in the spring.

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