Bank Street College and Newark Schools:
A Success Story
There are success stories in education. The dedicated people involved in Bank Street College of Education’s New Beginnings Project, which turned failing schools in Newark, NJ into dynamic centers of learning, celebrated a book about the Newark initiative, Putting the Children First: The Changing Face of Newark’s Public Schools, edited by Jonathan G. Silin and Carol Lippman, (Teachers College Press).
After the riots of 1967, Newark fell into a steep decline that severely impacted public education. The state took control of failing schools and invited Bank Street into a collaboration to help restructure the early education program. In 1996, the college introduced its progressive approach, which, explains Bank Street President Augusta Kappner, “creates an optimum physical learning environment which is structured but learning-centered. Teachers recognize different learning styles and adjust instruction to meet individual needs and utilize kids’ strengths.” Begun with 16 kindergarten classrooms and slowly expanded to include pre-K through third grade and 100 classes in 20 schools, the project involves intensive staff development, curriculum reform, and change management. New supplies have been brought in and classrooms divided into different areas to facilitate small groups and learning by doing. Students can work independently as well as learn from each other. Bank Street rooms are alive. Teachers are nurturing and show pride in their pupils. Superintendent of Newark schools Marion Bolden says, “The partnership has transformed early childhood programs and has become the model that is replicated throughout the district…. Everyone who goes into the schools can feel the difference. Now we need a trickling down and bubbling up.” Carol Lippman, director of the project, explains that it is “about partnerships and developing relationships. We could not have done it without partners.” Jonathan G. Silin, New Beginnings co-director of research, notes, “The challenge has changed over the years. Initially, it was about gaining trust and building relationships. That takes time.” Adds Lippman, “We didn’t go in with all the answers. We learned as much from Newark as they learned from us.”
Evaluations and test scores show that New Beginnings is making a difference. The district is committed to the project. The foundation partners remain enthusiastic. A privately funded mental health initiative is making the schools more peaceful. Yet, cautions Silin, “We cannot change the world outside of the school. The building cannot be accountable for the larger social issues.” Beth Lief, Bank Street trustee and well known and effective advocate for small schools and progressive education, wonders why “It is so hard to do what shouldn’t be hard, to care for our children.”