At his first State of the District address, Superintendent of Schools Dave Marken defined the Newark Unified School District as an organization that needs more focus on student learning.
Marken’s perspectives on the strengths, weaknesses and needed improvements of Newark Unified were presented during the district's Board of Education meeting on Tuesday.
While Marken said the district has a core of qualified educators, he added the district is in a more grim state than he thought.
Four months after his hiring, Marken said he found the following within the district: a discouraged staff, a fear of making mistakes, anger, some uncertainty, a “silo” mentality in which people expressed a disregard for the district’s system, an emphasis on , a “think of the worst” perspective of Newark Unified, and an “arbitrary and capricious” nature of the federal Adequate Yearly Progress goals.
But Marken said he believes the district can pull together to establish more trust and success throughout the school district.
“It’s all about our students. It’s not about you and it’s not about me. It’s all about our students and their future,” Marken said. “Great schools make a great community, end of the story. It’s why people buy houses. It’s why businesses move in. They want to know what are the schools like.”
Marken outlined a number of goals he would like to see Newark Unified adopt as part of the steps to take in becoming an environment focused on student learning.
The top three goals, which have yet to be formally reviewed and adopted by the Newark Unified Board of Education, include:
- Maximizing student learning, which includes raising graduation rates, using data to guide instruction and identify who is proficient and who is not, establishing professional learning communities, interventions, professional development, and establishing a six-year plan so that students at Newark Junior High School can begin a graduation plan in grade 7
- Providing a safe and nurturing environment by expanding counseling services and the role of counselors, establishing character education, creating emergency plans/disaster relief, preparing for emergency drills and lock downs, focusing on green-tech energy and custodial and maintenance matters
- Recruit, develop and maintain an exceptional learning community of professional employees. This pertains to contract and negotiations with the teacher and staff unions, re-establishing a full instructional school year, recruiting and hiring the best, qualified educators and creating a recognition program
Other goals that Marken mentioned included providing financial stability and building the district’s reserve to 5 percent; enhancing the district’s communication with its community and improving the district’s image; supporting the facilities department and focusing on maintenance and custodial efficiency; technology support and governance support.
Marken said he believes Newark Unified’s community – district officials, the school board, bargaining units, staff, parents, city leaders and community – can work together toward these goals and “for a positive change, a positive outlook and a positive attitude that will stop at nothing for our students.”
Marken’s objectives and ambitions were welcomed by the crowd and the Newark Unified Board of Education.
Board President Charlie Mensinger said the presentation met what the board had asked for.
“We asked you to be blunt … I have never been to a meeting where somebody called us out. …We all need to believe in our students and believe that we can meet our lofty goals,” Mensinger said.