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Education Advocates

Civic Warriors Podcast Episode 17: Education Advocates

"It needs to be an ocean of excellence."

Newark Trust for Education believes that the right partnerships and continuous desire for improvement are both keys to which children’s development and success is accessed. We speak with Ron and Natasha on what it takes to create an environment which focuses on maintaining the student’s mental, physical and emotional well-being. As well as what they are doing to help enable students to become the best people they can be, even in times of uncertainty.


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Civic Warriors:
Innovative, dynamic, gritty, determined, warrior.

Hosts:
This podcast is about the innovators, the leaders on the front lines of adversity, the all around good people doing good deeds. They are the civic warriors of the world. Withum’s guests are the leaders in the nonprofit industry affecting change. They try, they fail, they overcome. Through their stories we can join forces to become civic warriors.

Brad:
Hey warriors. On today’s episode of civic orders, we spoke with Ron and Natasha, the Executive Director and Deputy Director from the Newark Trust for Education. The Trust is an independent nonprofit dedicated to coordinating and focusing ideas, people and resources on the efficient and effective delivery of a quality public education to all children in Newark and to creating broadened, shared accountability for student success across multiple stakeholders. Education is important on so many levels and is ever changing, especially in light of the COVID pandemic, but is there a better way to educate our next generation of students? We discussed how COVID is having an impact on education, how innovation and conversation are crucial to success and how the trust is catalyzing the conversation in the city of Newark to create a lasting impact on our students. Let’s welcome, Ron and Natasha to the show.

Brad:
Thank you, Ron. Thank you, Natasha, for being here. So, um, we appreciate your time. Appreciate being, having the ability to talk about some really important issues, uh, that are going on in Newark New Jersey. Um, so I was wondering if you could, uh, Ron or Natasha, just give us, uh, a brief overview about the Newark Trust for Education. Um, you know, what it is that you do and, and, uh, we’ll, we’ll go from there.

Ron:
You want to take this first and then I’ll, I’ll fill in.

Natasha:
Sure. So the Newark Trust for Education was established nearly 10 years ago, and it was meant to function as an intermediary organization for public education in Newark. And so what that means is that we essentially connect, uh, multiple stakeholders and leverage their expertise and resources to, um, deliver quality education for all students across the city of Newark. Um, our primary focus is, um, improving the conditions for learning for all students, um, in the city. And we do that. And, um, let me see, we do that in four bucket areas. So the first is developing partnerships and networks in which we collaborate with, um, schools, we collaborate with parents and we collaborate with other stakeholders to, like I said, improve the conditions for learning for students across the city, leveraging resources across all of those stakeholder areas. The second bucket area is promoting practice and providing technical assistance. And we do that through our grant programs. We currently have a funders collaborative, and we are also part of the Victoria’s Funders, collaborative, both of which are focused on promoting social, emotional learning. Um, in public schools, the funders collaborative is focused on implementing schoolwide initiatives for social-emotional learning. And the Victoria collaborative is really focused on professional development or project based SEL implementation. Um, the third bucket of work we have is, um, studying evaluation and documentation. So everything that we do, we approach with a lens towards continuous improvement. So we like to study what we do to see if what we’ve done is working to see if, uh, we are doing what we said we would, and to really evaluate the outcomes. Once we do that, we share out the information we’ve issued several publications on, um, our programs and initiatives and independent evaluations. We like to leverage that information to shape and inform policy and practices. District-wide. Um, the final bucket is educating stakeholders and informing policy, which of course, um, branch is a branch of studying, evaluating and documentation. So like I said, we use those publications and independent studies to inform stakeholders of issues that are currently being faced in our schools, um, practices that are working well and areas that could use adjustment. The organization itself is organized into five divisions. Of course we have operations and finance, and we also have a, a division focused on early learning, which is for students or children, I’d say ages, um, birth through eight right now at this moment, we’re focusing on the population of birth through three years old. The other division we have is three P through 12 education, which really focuses on education, wants the child enters the school setting. And then our other division is research and evaluation.

Brad:
If you could talk a little bit about, a little further about, um, how, uh, COVID-19 is affecting early, early childhood education and, and, and how the Trust is responding to that. I think that’s a, that’s a great point of discussion to, to hear a little bit more about what you’re doing.

Natasha:
Sure. So do you want to start?

Ron:
Sure. I’ll start and then we could jump, um, we’ll kind of team tag on this one. So, um, so obviously as, as the COVID-19 restrictions came in, more and more students were at home, um, and quiet, what are the unseen spaces or Lee lesser seen spaces, uh, has really been the childcare sector. And so, uh, over the course of the time, there was actually initially very little guidance given in the childcare sector. And so things were kind of just moving along and then, uh, there was, um, less, uh, ability for families to, to, to, to, uh, kind of access childcare. Um, and so, um, one of the things we started to do because we were working directly with 87 families, and we think that we had staff that was visiting prior to COVID the homes twice a week for half an hour, that team transition to virtual space to a virtual space and was staying in connection. So we were getting a really good correct information and was on the ground around some of the barriers that they were facing. Um, so, you know, things along the lines of just access to services for their children, uh, because so many organizations had shut down, uh, having the appropriate kind of breadth of activities, uh, to do with the young children, uh, you know, just understanding kind of different, uh, ways of interacting with kids when you were with them for the old stretch of time, uh, dealing with socialization, right? How do you, uh, how do you, um, guard from this notion of isolation and potentially depression, uh, how do you work with multiple siblings at different ages? Right. So there were all of these issues that were coming up. And so what we’ve tried to do one primarily, uh, is to support the families as they engage in those questions and come up with supports and resources that they could access immediately going to Natasha earlier point of research and study, really trying to aggregate that information so that we could think about at the award level, what kinds of things, or, and what kind of knowledge we should be sharing, uh, to help these families actually be more connected and further supported. Um, so those are kind of at the 90,000 foot level, uh, Natasha, do you have anything on that space and that space to talk to?

Natasha:
Sure. I’d say, um, in a more direct way, we had to implement several shifts in the face of COVID-19, um, like Ron mentioned, uh, one is shifting from, in person home visits to virtual home visits, which most of our families were receptive to. Um, another has been providing emergency assistance. So we are not a social services organization. However, many of our families have experienced challenges, um, in the face of COVID-19 from food insecurities to housing, insecurities, and unemployment. So fortunately we were able to, um, leverage some emergency funds that we had to deliver those of needed, um, that needed assistance to the families. So we’ve been able to issue emergency grants, so families, and we’ve also been able to push out information on how to access, um, certain resources that are available, available to families from the city and from the state. So our early learning specialists have, um, also faced and encountered situations where, you know, they are online to work with the parent and child together, but sometimes the parent needs an outlet. Sometimes the parent just needs, um, an extra ear. So our own learning specialists have been amazing in responding to that demand and not being dismissive of those needs.

Ron:
And to, to riff off of that, we have another PA, uh, partnership with, uh, with a group that’s called Abbott leadership Institute. Kaleena Berryman is the executive director there. And the work that we’ve been doing there is around adult socio-emotional development, uh, really looking at what the socio-emotional capacities are, uh, being able to understand how those apply to your day to day life. And so when COVID hit a one thing that was interesting, we were able to transfer the work into a virtual platform and actually interestingly accessibility shot up at the same at the same time that the need to have a social network also shot up. And so a Kaleena and in our office, uh, Tamika Walden, uh, with, with their teams have really been looking at supporting these conversations among parents and residents of the community, uh, around the, uh, the, the, you know, the issues concerning COVID the issues concerning, uh, being at home, the issues of having children and multiple ages, all of those pieces. Um, and what we’ve heard kind of in the reports back from those sessions is one, the parents just really appreciate the space, uh, to meet other parents, uh, so that they, they, they understand that one they’re not alone and two that the problems and the issues that they’re facing are not unique to them. Uh, they see each other as a resource. So we’re building social capital across, uh, we’re helping them to build social capital for themselves, right. Uh, uh, access to others who potentially have the kinds of, uh, um, advice that they would need in order to address that. And, and quite honestly, uh, two things, one, the number of people participating in the sessions has increased as well as their, uh, desire to, to stay on for longer than the, the, the time that we had set aside. And so I understand from Kaleena that on a number of occasions, the sessions have gone way beyond the, I think it’s originally scheduled for 90 minutes and they’ve gone way beyond because, um, parents and residents are really engaged in some very interesting and deep conversations.

Natasha:
Right? And in addition to that, I know that because of the whole situation with COVID-19, you know, parents are dealing with multiple stressors and increased anxiety and other issues. And so now more than ever, it’s important for them to develop those social, emotional learning skills. And as I said previously, you know, the through line in much of our work is creating those safe and supportive learning environments for students, both in and out of school. And we can’t possibly do that without creating those same safe spaces for the adults in their lives. You know, the parents and the practitioners and the educators.

Ron:
I mean, I think the other really, um, you know, hot topic right now has been, uh, remote learning and online learning. And I actually like to make a distinction between those two things. So there’s learning that occurs, uh, using technology online. And there’s learning that occurs off site from a school building. And I think both of those are important concepts, and they certainly overlap at times, but they are important in different concepts. And so one thing that has been beneficial to us as an organization is because our own team has really had to struggle through and understand changes to their teaching, to their interactions in a virtual space. And they’ve taken that very seriously and we’ve done it in a, in a systematic way, uh, partially because that work is working with babies and essentially they’re 16 months to 36 months, they’re tiny little human beings. And, uh, you know, uh, many of our families, unfortunately, uh, don’t have necessarily, you know, these kinds of setups, right. With an external camera and a wide screen. And so in some instances we’re really working on a cellular network with a telephone, uh, 18 month old and a caregiver. And because everyone’s now at home, sometimes that’s actually the 18 month old and their two siblings. And so really starting to think about what does it mean to engage young people in this way? What do you need to do differently as a teacher? Um, so that, uh, the time is effective. How do you keep young people engaged when they’re not necessarily in your sphere of vision? Uh, how do you actually promote cross age learning when you have multiple siblings in the room? Um, so we’ve really been looking at that in our, our director of research and evaluation pre the goat blog has actually been working with the team to document, uh, what they’re doing, what switches they’re making over time and how those switches are impacting, uh, the learning situation. nk that, you know, as we look at the formal education space, uh, where we do have this hybrid, uh, way of, uh, now having learning opportunities for our kids, um, I think as an organization, if we could create the space in a forum for teachers who have been engaged in this type of learning to actually do similar to what we were doing with the parents and residents, right, create support networks in this visual space to think about what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, how they can learn from each other, if we can support the district in making that happen, if we could support the charter districts in making that happen, uh, or augmenting what they’re already doing. I think that that could be value add as we continue to transition into this kind of living with COVID a time period that we’re entering.

Heather:
Yeah. I think that’s what, you know, that’s really important because you talk about the safe space and being able to come together for children. And then now you have the parents who can have that trickle down effect. Now they have that safe space now. So you have the teachers you’re really surrounding, um, the, the children of any age with such a strong support network. And I think just continually building that support is, is so helpful and so impactful in trying to make this whole, you know, remote and online learning situation work. Very, very interesting.

Ron:
Yeah. And Heather, I think you, you pointed to, I think one of the challenges, so we’d like to talk about the success or the seeming success or where we think we’re on the roads of success, but I do think that the challenge here is, uh, ensuring that the work across stakeholders talks to each other. Right. And so, so, you know, one of the things that we’re really aggressively trying to figure out is we have the work with the parents that we’ve partnered to do. Uh, we have the work with the schools that we’ve partnered to do. We have the socio-emotional work with the partners that provide that type of service. The question is how do we make those circles overlap, right? So that the providers of the children and the parents of the same children and the children, right. That they all are getting a similar message and dosage, and that’s a little bit harder to do. And we think over time, we’ll be better at better at doing that as the circles widen, the overlap becomes easier. Uh, but, but as you say, I do think that ensuring every constituent group has access to a conversation that resonates with the conversations happening in the other stakeholder groups is, is important.

Brad:
Right. And I think that that’s a real challenge. Can you hear me? Yeah. Perfect. So I switched to my phone audio. So me and Natasha, you can’t see both of us that we’re on the same equal plane. We have two people on two people off. Um, so, you know, I think that’s, I think that’s interesting because, you know, when you talk about connecting stakeholders and the challenge of it, you know, you’re working in one geographic location. Now you take that and multiply by how many geographic locations in the country there are, and then in the world. Um, I think that becomes a more difficult challenge in itself. And, and you know, that my, my question to that is how do you, you know, right now you’re working within your community, you know, what other outside forces are involved in this, when you say, you know, the stakeholders, I mean, is it just your community or is there kind of like a broader stakeholder group of these are the I’ll call them overriding mandates from everyone in the country? Or, you know, how does, how does that all interact with how you’re working directly with your constituents in Newark?

Ron:
Yeah. You know, and again, I guess maybe I’ll start in touch with you did, um, I think the, the easiest way to think about that from my perspective is to really just start with the child. And it’s something that we really focus, right? If you click that kid and you just kind of stay anchored with the kid and then think about the concentric circles that impact that child. Right? So in the first instance, really home is critical, uh, partnering with the families, having families understand, ensuring those relationships are strong relationships learning from families. And I think we don’t talk about that. Often enough, our families know our kids the best. We will never know our kids as well as our families do. And so really opening up those, those byways so that families can help us understand what their children need in order to support them. And then you kind of take the next circle, which is community, um, right? As a child now lives in the community, whether it’s a church organization or, or school organizations or activities that they do in that community, they have neighbors, uh, they have friends, family, right. And then you have the school community, right. And then you have a district, county, state, nation. Right. And so, so for us, one of the things that we always like to do is really start close to what is actually happening, because there is a lot of good stuff that goes on, and sometimes you get lost in a national conversation, right? It’s like all of this stuff is being said. Um, and it, it, it, it doesn’t allow you in some ways to focus in on, well, what is truly happening here, right? What is going on here now? And so we like to start in that space. I don’t, I think that there are roles for different groups and different organizations and each one needs to make the decision about where they start and what’s important. But for our work, we think really starting with the child and chose starting with the close part of what’s going on, uh, really pointing to the strengths of what is happening right now, right? What are the good things, the important things, the impactful things that already are in place. And let’s talk about that. Let’s figure out how to make sure that everybody knows that that’s going on. Let’s broaden that message. And then from there in that conversation, what’s going to happen is you’re going to say, well, we could do better if we had X. Well, once, once there’s a need to find right, then, then that becomes a tangible and joint effort to identify how that need is going to be addressed. And so you are able get input from the people closest to the issue to say, we think we need this. You know, we have the luxury quite honestly, as an organization to be connected at the, at the district, county, state and national level, right? We can bring to the table recommendations and ideas based on both our own networks and our research. And so we can bring those to the table and say, well, here are three or four different ways that might address these gaps, which of these, how might you go about doing that? Can we do this locally? Do we need to bring somebody in, right? But, but really to start to build that participatory, um, kind of effort to continuously improve on what is available to our young people so that they could be successful is, is really kind of the way that I think about the question you just asked. Um, and then to the extent that there are barriers, right? Uh, to the extent that, uh, you know, if you think about either national or state policy might be impeding, uh, something from happening, uh, then really partnering with advocacy groups, uh, that can help to make those changes occur so that it’s better aligned with what’s really needed. Um, cause that’s the way I think about it on Natasha. I know you’re, you’re very active in the local community and have tons of different connections. So I’d be interested to hear how, how you think about that question.

Natasha:
Right? I mean, so your point is just important to tap into the collective wisdom of parents and students in those closest, um, to, um, our most vulnerable populations and those really closest to the issues at hand. And once you do that, it’s easier to identify what the issue areas are. And for us as an intermediary organization, our job is to really identify, um, those stakeholder groups that may be the funding to community. It may be, um, policy makers and just leverage all of those resources to fill the gaps and the needs that we’re hearing from the ground. So to Ryan’s point, it’s just important to, to tap into everyone that we can and to listen, right. Um, listen, before we act.

Brad:
And I think that is just such a perfect way to say it. And I think just the fact that, you know, the trust is such an important integral part of the education community for another exactly. For what you just said, you’re not starting by saying, we know what we know exactly the answer, and we’re going to do it. You’re starting with, let’s listen to this, let’s listen to all these groups. And we’re in a very unique position to do that. You have the opportunity to connect with multiple groups up and down the chain. And I think by you starting with the local on the ground, you know, this is exactly what the residents of Newark are experiencing. This is what the parents are experiencing. This is what the children are experiencing. You’re really identifying what are the real issues? What is impeding education? What is impeding progress? And then, and then you’re making it happen by then connecting the right people with the right people. So I think that’s, I love what you said there about, about that.

Ron:
And just to give kind of a kind of real world example on the other end of the spectrum. So, um, you know, as, as COVID-19 hit, um, you know, we have a lot of young people and, and again, there’s tons of conversation right now on the importance of school and absolutely, um, going to a school building where you get to interact with other young people, you get to interact with content specialists where you get to learn and grow yourself, right. Is a tremendously important part of development. Um, and so with the COVID-19 restrictions, we, uh, ended up facing a situation where our kids stepped away from that. Right. Uh, but they were still experiencing all of these restrictions, right? It is, it is a traumatic community level event. Right. Um, and so what was interesting was that to us was that we had been working with another partner, uh, the Newest Americans Project at Rutgers university and, uh, another group called talking eyes. Um, and in that work, um, you know, sometimes you do stuff, not for the immediate it’s kind of, you know, seeding or thinking about things into the future. And so last year we had done a very, very small pilot with, with Newest Americans and Talking Eyes where we, us, where we, uh, selected some teaching fellows, uh, who are about 12 teaching fellows from New York public school, high schools. Um, and we worked with newest Americans to introduce to those teachers, a set of resources that newest Americans had put together. And it’s a multi-platform, uh, kind of history. Um, that’s locally based. And so it really is a group of, uh, people who go out and talk to residents of Newark, talk to young people, talk to older people, uh, pull together, uh, the, the lived experience of the people in Newark, in relationship to migration and immigration, right? So that’s their space. And so when COVID hit, those teachers had finished that they had been working on trying to figure out how to integrate some of those resources into their curriculum. And because of that relationship, uh, you know, we were able to, Newest Americans was able to talk to Marianne Riley at the district who oversees a curriculum. And they formed a partnership where they use the modules and model that were, were started in this fellowship program. Uh, they further developed it. The district took on the responsibility of further developing it. And those got integrated into the high school curriculum course at the same time that kids in newer public high schools were able to participate in the creation of another module, which is actually called stories from the pandemic. And so kids are invited to create narratives, to create videos, to create poetry, to create music that reflected their experience of COVID-19 and what was occurring in them, how they wanted to speak about it, which for us kind of just supports this notion of creating safe spaces, uh, to aim, to, to in a positive manner, interact with life. Um, so it was a really nice circle of things that happen and it’s about seeding, creating relationships and figuring out what’s the right moment, but it’s not even figuring out when the right moment occurs. Uh, those, those, those relationships kind of kick in and possibility becomes reality.

Heather:
Yeah, I think that’s, that’s so cool. So cool that you did that. And I think when they’re, you know, the children are now involved in building history and it’s also this therapeutic session, like, like you kind of said, like, you just kind of get your feelings out. And I think going back to that, um, the socio-emotional, you know, feeling disconnected and perhaps, and, and, you know, not having, especially for high schools, like you don’t have all those traditional events and things. So kind of just getting that out, but in this is, this is how we’re feeling and this time, I think that’s, that’s very interesting and very, very cool program, very, um, initiative that that kind of just happened and very neat, very neat.

Ron:
I’d be remiss if I said it didn’t name schools that can actually, it was also a partner with us in this. And I feel badly that I didn’t name them upfront.

Natasha:
I will say one thing, I was kinda disappointed about that. Um, something that COVID, uh, impact it was our annual candidates forum. Um, because a couple of years ago we made the decision to have our school board for a moderated by students. Right. And so in that we would have about four to six sessions with students from different high schools across the city to inform them of the role of school board members. And then they would identify their concerns right. Based on the roles of the school board members and what they’ve experienced in the school. So that was an opportunity to really, um, magnify the student voice, unfortunately, because of, uh, COVID we could not move forward with all of the intended sessions for the students. Luckily, we were able to have one in person session and one virtual sessions where the students were able to articulate their concerns. And we were able to use that to shape the questions for this year’s forum, which unfortunately didn’t happen in person. Um, we actually had to go through multiple shifts, um, even dealing with technology, right? So we initially thought to have the forum via a recorded zoom conference and to push that out via our website and social media outlets. However, during the recording, it was apparent that, you know, due to technological barriers, the final product would not have been, um, in the best shape. And it would have been a disservice to the candidates and to the public to share it. So we wound up having each candidate respond, um, or provide written responses to the questions. Luckily, we were able to record individual interviews with the candidates prior to COVID hitting. So we had that, um, as an option. Um, the other impact that COVID had in that respect was also, um, folder turnout. So historically we know that, um, voter turnout for North school board elections have, has hovered around 5% and it may have peaked at 7%. One of those years, this year, there were several organizations and entities doing a big push, um, to get people registered, to vote and, um, to increase voter turnout from project ready, which established an entire website devoted to informing residents on how to vote, um, virtually to the NAACP, which held, um, uh, an interview with the County clerk on the process of voting online to the 72 collected. So all of these entities were active in China, get out the vote in the face of COVID. Um, unfortunately another impediment wasn’t delivery of ballots. So there’s a segment of the population in New York that did not receive the ballots, um, even after going through the electronic process to request them. So they had to either their only other option was to actually go in person to the County clerk to, um, vote. And of course, given the current dynamic, a lot of people were reluctant to do that. So, um, voter turnout, while, while there was a slight uptick, I’d say probably a 300 person increase from the previous year, it, it could have been dramatically more had, um, had this not happened.

Brad:
I just, I just heard a few things there. And, um, just so, so when you, when you think about that, the voter turnout for the, the, for these elections 5%, so you’re saying that 5% of the residents of the city are the physically vote. So, you know, five out of a hundred,

Natasha:
Well, 5% of the voting population, which isn’t, which is even less than 5% of the total population. Right, right,

Brad:
Right. So how do we, how do we change that? You know, and, and I, I know COVID-19 creates even more challenges as you mentioned, but I mean, to me, that seems like, that seems like an extraordinary, low percentage of voter turnout. I don’t know. I don’t know what the national says or anything, but yeah.

Ron:
I mean, school board elections, um, historically are low turnout and especially, and that’s true nationally. Um, I don’t, I don’t have all of the numbers. Um, the other piece that complicates this is that, uh, our school board elections are off cycle. Um, so we did not at the same time as other elections. Uh, so that creates, uh, both a separate process and a different day to go in for school board elections. Um, so, so I think that those are kind of system questions that a number of different groups are, are looking at and trying to figure out. Um, I, I, you know, one thing that I do think is important to note, uh, because, sometimes things get completed. Uh, and, and I think a lot about this, uh, through a parallel as when I was a principal of a school, uh, I got very tired of hearing that parents of high school students were not engaged in their children’s education. Uh, it just was something that bothered me at my core. And so, uh, we started to really think about, well, what does parent engagement look like? Um, and we came up with a model that basically had four different elements to it, around how parents were engaged, because the only measure that kind of visually is used is attendance at a PTA meeting. And so if that’s low, basically people say you have low parent engagement, but that, that, isn’t the only way. And I don’t want to go down that road too much in this particular conversation, but I bring it up because I think there’s a parallel piece here on Newark. Community members are very engaged and involved in the educational issues that impact their children. Sure. They are, there is a broad and wide set of people who are constantly looking and thinking about what the educational process is like, how it can be better, what needs to occur. Um, and so I think Brad, to your question, I guess my, my, the strategy that I think would, would be an interesting one to think over time is how do you leverage all of those groups, uh, so that they are working to continue what they’re doing, but then they are also kind of thinking about the voting piece as an integral part of that work. And that’s about reestablishing trust. That’s about addressing, uh, nearly quarter century of state control, where many residents felt that the school board, uh, wasn’t representative of that. Um, you know, and you could almost imagine a conversation say, well, why vote if it’s an advisory board and when they do put advice forward, it’s not necessarily followed, right? So there’s kind of this historic, uh, piece that I think also needs to be addressed. And so w you know, the conversations, I think we’ve, we’ve tried to, to, to, to support our conversation that say, how do we over time, again, those basic building blocks for our work identify the strong pieces of what are what’s already going on, identify the stakeholders who are doing that work, bring those stakeholders together to kind of get to a common understanding of governance in the city. Um, and then brought in the number of people interested in that formal governance structure, both on the community side, understanding what the school board does, and for people interested in running understanding the responsibilities of being on the school board. So that over three to five years, you start to change that perception and get more people involved.

Brad:
That is, yeah. And that’s something I’ll be honest with you. Um, before I had kids, I never thought about right now, I have that. Now I have that population you just mentioned earlier on where the 18 to 36 months I’m right in that window with two kids in that window. And I’m thinking, you know, my, my, my mindset has changed so much where you start realizing, and I realized this kind of in, in, uh, when the pandemic started, you know, my kids were going to a daycare. They were there for two days a week. Um, the difference between them being physically there versus, you know, being taught at home was just astronomically different in that early learning education. And the only, the reason I bring it up is just, I never really even thought about school boards and the politics of education and things that happen and how we, how we drive for better education. I never even really thought of it. So I appreciate you bringing it up and kind of talking a little bit about it, because me as a new parent, I’ll be honest. I, I, I’m probably not well educated on the concept of, of how the, um, I’ll call it governance of schools actually work, right. And I’ll be very, very open and honest about, and my naivety towards that. So it’s a good discussion.

Ron:
And it’s interesting because, and I mean, you bring up such a, I think the core core issue here, right. Education obviously, is critically important to the parents of the young people that send their kids to school. But I would pause it that the education system of a city or a town is critically important to the city or the town, right, as a, as an economic driver, as a, um, you know, the whole beginning, historic beginning of public education of, of right, a formal education has to do with communities coming together. The reason that local control is such a thing is that communities felt it was important for the children of that to be raised in the values and belief systems of that community. Um, and it was about becoming a member of that community, right at the end of the day, formal education is about becoming a member of that community. And what’s, what’s really interesting if you think about it, you know, much of our work has to do, uh, or at least I have maybe I’ll speak for myself at this point, but I think this is a lot of our work is looking at an urban school system where the majority of kids are black and Latino, and that’s been my career also. And what, uh, you know, a long time ago, I got to a place where I, it was this crazy realization that, uh, I, I moved, I had moved to a suburb and I went to a school board meeting and I was sitting at the school board meeting. And I realized that everybody at that school board opportunities that the young people in that school system had for integrating themselves into the community, right. It was about who was going to do what internship at which company, with which parents, friends, and right. It was all about furthering that community’s development. And it struck me that as a Puerto Rican boy, growing up in the Bronx, the conversation that I heard from outsiders about my education was about leaving. Right? You need school to get outta here. You need school for opportunity. You need school for success. And it was such a stark realization. It was like, Whoa, like, no, I need school and education. And our kids need school and education for integration and continuous improvement of the community that they come from. And they live in that. That’s what we do. And so, so when I think about school board elections, I think about, again, going back to that notion of creating the conditions for success, all board members are the representatives of our community who are charged with creating those conditions for every single one of the young people that attends the district public schools and on a charter board, similarly, they’re the representatives of the families for those charters that represent that community. And so, so, so community members need to be actively engaged in determining who those representatives are, because it is they who are speaking for the community, right? People who are representing those values, beliefs, the important priorities for the community. That’s how we get kids firmly embedded in our communities. That’s how we get kids to be successful. That’s how we get kids to want to come back and continue to work in a community. Not by telling them school is important, go away, because then even like, if you think about a school board, then who cares about the school board election, if they’re successful, our kids are leaving. It’s almost counter Productive, right? Successful school system in that scenario means our kids leave our community,

Brad:
But not reinvesting in the community. It’s not creating a lasting impact through generations.

Natasha:
Right.

Brad:
It sounds like she wants, they want to interject here. I hear, I hear. And I want to, I’m curious and attached to his thoughts on it.

Natasha:
Oh no. It’s, I mean, I have a similar perspective to Ron as a person who’s born and raised in Northern New Jersey, oftentimes from outsiders, the question is, Oh, why are you still there? You know, you could be anywhere, but it’s because I choose to be here. Um, it’s a place that I love. And I think it’s important for our young people to see people that look like them who are from where they are from, who are successful, you know, so that they don’t buy into the notion that success means leaving. Um, the other thing that I would add is just that it’s important for people to engage in the election process for school board elections, because the boards, um, district school boards, as well as charter boards, those people are the ones who shape the policies that impact our students and our student outcomes. So, um, not to engage in that process is really a disservice to our children. Sure.

Brad:
And I want to, I want to just say two things, one Natasha, you’re an exemplary example of just, you know, doing really well. And, and, you know, I’ve worked with you for 10 years and see you grow into the role you’re in and, and, um, love everything you’re doing and, and really just making a big impact. And I think if more people hear your message, your voice and your, um, example, I think more people will probably change their tune on that concept of why, why are you there? Because I think there are a lot of incredible people in the work. I think there’s a lot of incredible things going on. And I think, you know, just, just, um, working with you over the years and seeing you kind of grow into that leadership role is, is, uh, is a great thing to say. So, um, just wanted to say that. We worked together for awhile and it’s so fun because we worked with a guy named John Valdano CFO of M&M Mars for a long time. And he came and worked. He came and fell upon the trust. He used to call Natasha young Natasha.

Speaker 4:
And I weren’t, you know, we’re still young, but not that young anymore, you know, I mean, you’re probably still at 29 and 95 now, so I totally cut you off.

Heather:
Yeah, no, I was just going to say, you know, it’s interesting. So, um, I guess two things to that one, one kind of bouncing back, you know, this whole idea of you get the education to leave. I grew up on a very small steel town, you know, much different than, than the city of Newark, but the idea was there’s, there’s nothing here. You have to get an, and you have to leave. And that, that whole purpose of kind of, um, wanting to stay and kind of build and immerse yourself back into the community and, and kind of give back, you know, I, I love that realization that you have and, um, you know, that’s something I didn’t, I didn’t see either. So, you know, interesting dynamics across the board, you, you still see people leaving for an opportunity rather than saying, let me, let me come back and help create and build and make, make better for those coming after me. Um, and then, you know, secondarily to the point of Newark, you know, we’ve chatted with quite a few organizations in Newark, and I think that’s what I love. You know, you’re hearing that, um, to Natasha the point, you know, I want to stand, I want to go back. And the people that we’re chatting with, um, glass roots, I remember one, you know, hearing so many amazing and impactful stories about how the city has changed and how it’s just like, it’s great that everyone is coming in and seeing the value and the opportunity and wanting to give back and just grow and make, make this a greater place for, for the children. And I think, you know, starting in the schools is the perfect place and what you’re doing as well.

Ron:
And I think, you know, when you think about big educational issues, I do think there’s a generational thing here that has occurred, right. And so, um, um, I’m older than every single other person. Um, but you know, my parents, it was about finding stability in a job, right. It was a fun, it was about finding a good job and sticking with it and getting the benefits and, you know, kind of, that was a success story. Um, but what’s really, you know, interesting. We kind of look at stats, right? The driver, the economic driver for this country is small business, right? It’s entrepreneurship, it’s the ability to find a solution that can be used by many and be able to build something around that. Right. And so, so I do think that the notion that our young people, you know, it’s almost what I said about parents and kids, our young people know this city amazingly well, they just do. I wish that you had a more extensive way of just constantly and they’re already, there are some forums, right? The mayor brings young people together all of the time, uh, Institute for social justice, avid leadership Institute. These are all organizations that bring young people together. Um, but like they know the city, they know what works, they know what doesn’t work, they know what’s missing. And so I feel if I’m in an education stance from a learning stance, a doubling down on entrepreneurship, really doubling down on what does it mean to take an idea to fruition, right? How do you go from this? Great. Oh, what if this, and then how do you, how do you mix into that batter, risk and failure, not as bad dates, right? But as a necessary way for how we learn and how we solve problems. And so, so, you know, kind of a thinking long-term, if, you know, as the trust continues to grow, as we continue to think about kind of those, those key leverage issues, uh, that are necessary for our young people to be successful, broadening the mentorship that is possible. And we work a lot with Thomas Owens over at Newark mentor, uh, but really thinking about those mentoring opportunities for young people connected to the process of entrepreneurship and how schools and learning can really support that. I know that superintendent, Leon has really been looking at an Academy structure for the ninth grade in the comprehensive high schools. Right. And, and thinking about, are there fields, right? That, that become a kind of some, uh, cemented into the fiber of each of the high schools, uh, right. Whether it’s a health field or it’s the hospitality field, or it’s the it field, but how do you build that in? So that kids start to kind of see those fields as no start to play around in them and understand what the positives and negatives are. But then I think really importantly, think about how do I use these tools to find better solutions to current issues that we’re facing here as a city, and if we could move in that direction and I don’t think I, you know, I’d invest, I continue to invest in Newark right now.

Brad:
I love what you’re saying there. And it just resonates on so many levels. Um, I know, I know. And even, even how you, how you even make that happen and, you know, your, your thoughts, uh, are very, very well taken. And, you know, I know in like our accounting profession, for example, like, you know, we historically have always been very, um, very involved in the colleges, not, not as involved in, in the generation before that, you know, the high schools and in the schools before that. And I think I participated in a program with our state society that that was called paid board. And it was, we just went to the local high schools, um, just to talk to them about, you know, what it is, what it is we do. Right. And that’s, you know, we’re one profession, one, you know, one place and accounting’s boring. So a lot of people just get tuned out right away. So you try to make it as fun as you can. But, um, I would always grab a, you know, a person that’s right out of college. I take them with me and, you know, I’ve been working for a few years and I would take him with me to just go talk to the high school students, just find out more about, you know, what do you, what do you know about our profession? What do you want to know about our profession? Or what is it, what is it that, what is it that, you know, you’re passionate about? And I think, um, you know, just that as a very, very simple, simplistic example of that, um, I think is what more businesses more people should be doing. And I think the more that, uh, students in high school and grade school here are these incredible messages, it lasts a lifetime. You know, I, I heard the FBI came to my school and not in a bad way, um, to, uh, to give a presentation about why accounting was a good profession for the FBI. And that, that conversation that, that FBI agent gave was the reason why I went to school for accounting. Cause I said that, you know, that guy was cool and whatever it was that he said, I don’t even remember his name and I feel bad, but, um, you know, he came in and said, this is, you know, this is the FBI profession and this is why accounting is a good way to get to it. And that’s really why I went into it. And it’s interesting how that, just that, you know, that simple action of just having an influential person or who I perceived at the time as an influential person, make that message. It completely changed my direction in life, which is crazy to think about.

Ron:
Like that to me, Brett is, is, is, you know, I mean, I was lucky enough to teach for 10 years and to be principal for 10 years. So I was 20 years every day with kids. Um, quite honestly, there’s people, it’s funny, people have this impression that that’s insanity. And to me that’s just like, it’s energy, it’s energizing. Um, but, but what you just talked about, right. It’s opportunity, it’s exposure to opportunity, right? It’s the ability to see beyond what, you know, and, and so I think about that in a continuum, right? So this notion of exposure, just getting kids to, uh, listen, to meet people who are in things that they don’t necessarily see every day. Um, and then I think if you, you, you move that and you, you go to, you know, where superintendent Leon is where he’s saying, okay, so now let’s formalize that let’s actually give them a, a structured way to engage in these kind of entrepreneurial and business related and industry related ways. Um, and then I would, you know, I have this crazy, crazy idea, um, in my mind that I call Broad Street Academy. And, and for me, the notion, and this is where, uh, Aaron Sweeney and schools that can, uh, are amazing thought partners and, and are doing some really interesting work. And how do we blow up that work and push it really far? Uh, and so the thing on broad street, if you walk from Penn Station to Audible on broad street, uh, you can just name all of the different things, right? You have the gateway center, you have the radio station, you have Prudential, you have Panasonic, you have the university there. They’re just so many different things on that, on that, that, whatever that is. And maybe two miles, I don’t even think it’s two miles. Um, uh, you could easily name 20 to 25 organizations, um, that are on there that are amazing opportunities for our young people. And one thing that I learned in my, you know, my time at schools is that organizations are willing to take three to five kids depending on the size. Maybe if they’re bigger, maybe even five to 10 kids, but that starts to get to the limit of what they are capable of absorbing into their organizations. But if you have 20 or 25 organizations, and you’re thinking five to 10 kids, you’re looking at 200 kids in any given moment that have an opportunity, right? So, so my crazy idea is, is it possible to work with the HR departments of those organizations, right. And create true jobs that are necessary for functioning of that organization, um, that are shared jobs, right? So you think about this as a shared opportunity, um, that, that the job is consistent, but you’re going to have interns coming into that job. It is actually within a department. So it is in the formal structure of that organization, so that there is a job, there’s a supervisor, there’s a set of expectations. There’s what success looks like in that job. Um, and each organization kind of things, you know, can I do one student, can I do four students? Can I do 10 students, but you’re working with the HR departments actually create these true job descriptions. Then you think about the population of our students, right? The seniors across, we have about 2016 years, uh, in any given year, I believe that’s the number, that’s the number of seniors that we have in our schools. And so you think about that and, and what would it look like if you really just completely reimagined this? Right. So they’ve gone through, uh, you know, the, the superintendent’s plan is successful. They have their industry related backgrounds. They have these experiences within the school building. They have some internships that they’ve done in freshmen, sophomore and junior year. Well, what would it look like if the capstone of that was a 10 week placement in broad street Academy? Like they weren’t going to go to their school building. They were actually going to go to the job that is in these different partner organizations and work there as a, as a full time intern for the 10 weeks, with a supervisor, with a job plan with responsibilities, uh, having to get there in the mornings, they, during the day be there. Right? And, and for every 10 weeks you have 200 kids that have disability. You’re talking about 800 formal opportunities in the course of a year. I think that that is doable. I figure, can we actually mobilized to make that happen? And how long will it take and, and how do we kick it off the ground? And, and what are the details that need to be in place to make it happen?

Brad:
Sorry about that. No, I love how passionate you are about that. And I think that, like, I want to have a discussion about how to make that happen. Like it’s such an important thing.

Ron:
Yeah. I mean, when we talk about work readiness, but when we talk about post-secondary opportunities, post-secondary options, you know, we’ve, we’ve, our language has evolved really to be equitable, start equitable conditions for learning an equitable post-secondary opportunity. That’s what we need to, we need to figure out how across the board there is equity in these types of opportunities. So that it’s not just the five kids who, you know, not that it’s bad for those five kids. It’s amazing for those five kids. And I love that those five kids have it, but I want the other 495 kids. And I, and I want it to be a systematic method with doing it. And I want it to be an ongoing and sustainable way, and it needs to be mutually beneficial to the organizations. Right. Um, and so can we think that we really push ourselves to think at the system level, uh, so that we were not to finding success anecdotally, but we’re still finding success equitably, right? It’s it is across the board. We figured out a system to do it was across the board.

Natasha:
I was just gonna echo what Ron said earlier about the importance of exposing young people to different carriers. Now, if you don’t see someone who looks like you in a certain, um, light in a certain career path, then it doesn’t become attainable for you.

Ron:
Yeah. And I think, I think one thing that’s interesting, and I think, um, some of the work that’s happening in Newark right now, and I hope that it really does get kickstarted and kids start, uh, really, uh, having access to some of the career paths, especially like freshmen was really, really interesting is like two things, one kids, at least in my experience, I’ve had ideas of what’s up about what something is, but they don’t really necessarily know. Right. And so the more we can help them just actually meet people and see the jobs in action. I mean, they made love it and they may actually hate it. It may just be an idea in their head, but the other part that’s really intriguing to me. And this is one of the reasons that, that whole notion about getting kids into organizations, but like really immersed in the organization, not just to go for an hour, an hour and a half, but immersed in the organization is because we, at least I, you know, growing up and certainly not till very late in my own career too, we don’t really realize how many different types of jobs large organizations have. So, so like, in my experience, when I was doing the museum school, we had a rule that all of our kids had to do their internships externships at the museums. And we got so much fight from the kids and the parents early on. They were like, I want to try other things. I don’t want to just be boxed in by the museum. And for us, it was just a matter of what we were already working with the museums. It was really easy logistically to set it up, but it wasn’t easy logistically to sit up. It’s always hard, but it was easier. Um, and then you start to understand, right. There’s restaurants, there’s catering, there’s right. In a museum there’s shops, there’s advertising, there’s marketing, there’s research, there’s history, there’s education. It’s like an entire city, but it’s contained. And so what you ended up understanding in a way that’s a little bit different than if you do these internships in different places, are the relationships and connections that actually happened between and among those pieces. And then you start to, I think, get a better grip on what the requirements are for you. Uh, but I’m interested in as much because I just feel like you in Newark, have you do the networking piece and I, I be intrigued kind of just going back in time a little bit, um, because you grew up and went to school there, right?

Natasha:
I mean, for me, like I’ve always been into the arts, right. I’ve always been obsessed with music and, and, um, art galleries and museums and things of that nature. So for me, when I was young, I actually went to pre college at Ruckers North. And one year we had a film class and the, um, instructor from the film class invited students to intern at his studio was African Globe’s studio. Um, and that was my introduction to actually raise Baraka our current mayor, because he did this poetry set, um, called Verse for Verse that he hosted at African Globe, but they also had other, um, forums. They had something called Ron time where, um, unsigned artists could come and perform, but then they will have a panel discussion with managers and entertainment lawyers in ANR to talk about the business side of music and that having exposure to that actually planted the seed in my mind that, okay, I want to be an a and R when I grow up, you know, I would not have had that thought, had I not been exposed to it at African glow studio. And I did it on a small scale in adulthood, but it’s just, um, having those opportunities, um, is like those definitely important for our students, especially when it comes to ours, because a lot of people, um, look at what’s on the stage and not what’s behind the scenes, you know, to your point in the museums and with any theatrical performance or musical performance, you have your graphic artists, you have your lighting designers, you have your set designers, there’s all of these different careers, um, that you could enter.

Ron:
Yeah. And one thing that I, I just, I really push hard on because I just think, I don’t want, I think that this is an, this is an integral part of kind of our kids’ education process. I, it is core to who they become it’s core to how they go about doing that. And so one thing that I’ve always really pushed hard on is thinking about how do we make these experiences actually part of their credit bearing schoolwork, right. Not just that it’s, you know, not that it’s a, uh, electives are great. And actually that was the mechanism we use in order to graduate from, in order to graduate from high school. When I was a principal in New York, uh, there were seven electives that you were required to take. It was actually just labeled that way. There were seven electives. And what we did was we packaged those seven electives. So it was, it was, it was like, there were a bunch of different opportunities that, so we were able to give them credit during the regular school day for part of the work that they were doing as a big, and then not only were we able to package them for credit, we actually were also able to package them for time. And so, for example, in our school, the high school students, two afternoons, every week, we’re not in the school building, they were out, but they were out in a, in a, both a supervise and credit bearing manner. So those six hours, the three hours on Tuesdays and the three hours on one on Thursdays, those six hours were actually part of the academic program and they got credit for it. So electives are definitely a good thing. But then under career and technical education, there are a whole series there there’s job exploration. Uh, there, there are portions of the academic program that are about, uh, understanding, uh, jobs and careers. And so to the extent that we could actually use those mechanisms to allow our kids to explore the world in deep ways, and while they’re doing that get credit, I think that evens the playing ground a lot for it because, you know, I look at suburban schools, I look at kids who have a lot of social resources, social capital with their families, and right, their families have businesses or their families have, you know, working these large corporations and the kids have access since the time that they’re small, right. They, they do the go to work with dad or mom, and they do the special camp and they get the mentor from the organization. Those things are happening a lot in areas where there is a lot of connection to these larger corporations where that’s kind of just the way of life. Our kids have a lot of different types of connections, which they should also explore it, but they don’t necessarily have the connections, at least from what I could tell from some of the sets, right. They don’t have the connections to Prudential’s. They don’t have the connections to audibles. They don’t have the connections. Right. And they’re all sitting smack dab right there in the middle of Newark. So we could actually make that happen in a really systemic way. Um, not just for 10 kids, as I said, you know, as I was saying, I really think we, if we could, if we could figure out ways of making this happen for 200, 400 kids on a regular basis, um, then I think you, you really, uh, even out the playing fields somewhat.

Natasha:
Yeah. I think embedding it in the actual school day would be better. I remember when I was in high school because I had AP courses, I had fulfilled my credits for graduation, but instead of, um, like allowing us to have the experiential learning, it was okay, you take an elective class. Right. And you take it. Oh, yes. Especially at this time. Um, and then I was in a program an after school program with the Urban League and through the Urban League, I was connected to an internship at city national bank in their marketing department. But again, that was out of school time. Right. So I had it in the school day. It would be, it would be better.

Ron:
Starting from zero. I mean, that’s why it’s kind of cool, right? These programs exist, right. Kids, kids are weeding them out. They’re figuring out which one to go to. Um, it’s just that it’s very complicated for many kids and families. If you already have your seven to two 30 or seven to three, o’clock blocked. Um, and then, you know, for some of our kids, they have additional responsibilities after that. So they may not be able to actually do it from three to six or, or if we could figure out. And that’s a whole other part here, which is an interesting, right. If you do an internship and you you’re supported in developing those skills and actually deliver on that internship, we could actually be helping some of our kids actually create answers some of the demands on them, right. They could be transitioning from the internship to a job, right. We already have a responsibility to provide something in the home. So I think thinking about it really holistically that way, comprehensively that way in real time and trying to figure out different ways of using time, um, that already exists for the kids would be, uh, I, I just think it’s a, I think it’s completely doable. I think we have a great base of possibility that already exists and it’s, it’s, it’s tweaking and repackaging in some ways.

Natasha:
So it adds, uh, additional exposure and opportunities to our students, but it also provides, um, the organizations and companies with a talent pipeline.

Ron:
Yup.

Heather:
I think what I love about this too, is that we had something similar. My high school was a work study program. Uh, after lunch you would go out and part of your school day is now getting credits for being involved, you know, outside of, outside of school and whatever kind of field that you have, that’s willing to open up a position, similar to what you guys are chatting about. But what I love about this is too is, is the outlet. So Natasha, you’re saying, you know, you love the arts, maybe you weren’t into sports. And for kids, you know, a lot of kids you hear get into sports, it keeps you on the right path that keeps you integrated. It gives you value. It gives you purpose. And I feel like something like this is so valuable as well. If they’re not into sports, maybe they’re into something else. And now they have a sense of purpose. They have a sense of commitment. They’re kind of staying on that narrow path and now they’re involved in, like you said, they can kind of see their future. And it’s, it’s just such a great program that has so many different levels of, of benefits, you know, for the students and the community. And now they’re immersed. So I love, love this idea. Yeah. How do you, yeah. The little steps to make it happen for sure.

Ron:
And that, you know, the other thing I was just reading and we all know, like, you know, the engine, the economic engine in the U S right has been small business and entrepreneurial. I think it’s close to 50% of the businesses are small entrepreneurial businesses, unfortunately, with COVID and with all of that, we’re losing a lot of ground there. Right. A lot of those smaller shops, a lot of the family based shops are closing. And, um, and, and, and so there’s, there’s kind of really interesting. And I don’t really know. I mean, I’ll, I’ll claim my ignorance right now because Newark may already have this in place. And if it does, I’d love to figure out how to promote it. And if it doesn’t how to, how to write, but I do think there’s something really interesting, uh, in this notion of product, right? There’s, there’s, there’s a, a, which is about producing, there’s a sector, which is about service and there’s a sector, which is about arts. And I have met kids in each one of those sectors. Right. Whether they’re producing some, some clothing type or some, uh, you know, accessories type or kind of a, you know, a re-branding sneakers or doing it right there. They’re doing things with product or they’re creating art or they’re providing services. So I also wonder if there’s, you know, kind of an entrepreneurial challenge, right. That also could be integrated into, um, you know, and I know that there are programs that, that teach kids those skills. Right. Kind of taking from an, taking an idea, taking a, an idea to fruition, right. Creating the business plans kind of, but I think in some cases, the kind of, can you push that an extra step of actually, you know, having the popup shops, right. Like, um, this other really crazy idea, the mall high school, uh, this is like in my little folder of high schools that I’d like to start at some point in my life, but the mall high school were actually, the entire ground level is, is set up like a mall. Uh, all stalls are open to the public. Um, so the bottom floor of the high school is literally this shopping space. Um, and, and in the school, you basically have 600 kids, uh, you know, who are generating ideas are being pushed to and supported in creating their business plans, uh, to the extent, then they’ll start to create their products. And then, you know, they get three months, right? You give them three months in the mall. Actually to, right. So you do the advertising, the promoting, the marketing, all of that. And then they, they know that from September to October, they’re going to be in the mall. They actually, because selling their product or they could be setting up their appointments for service, or, but, and then that those stalls actually are bidded out depending on the competition for the business. Right. So, so as kids create businesses and business plans, like you either have to show that your business is progressing or there’s competition for the space. So you’re kind of building in this, this, this process in the school, which, which pushes kids to, if I need the space, I really have to make this a product. Right. Those kinds of things who knows if it works, but I just think like, let’s just think wildly, like, can it be different? And can it actually be different in a way to promote the kinds of skills that are going to help our kids really be successful, but also give meaning to the things that they’re learning right now. Uh, we always talk about it. We’re preparing you for the future. Well, you know what kids live right now. It’s great. And we need to prepare them for the future. But sometimes we do that at the expense of them living right now. And there are some, there are many, many kids who are super smart, super talented, have a lot of ideas right now. And they don’t know the way to go with them. I keep on shutting you down Natasha, I’m sorry.

Natasha:
I would definitely, I think that’s something that we can pilot on a small scale North regional business partnership actually has a program, entrepreneurial program, high school students. Um, and that if we connect with them and express Newark to hold the space for them to sell their products, I think that’s completely possible.

Ron:
Yeah. Anyway, it’s exciting. Right? I mean, it really like education should be exciting, right. It kind of burns a hole in me when we talk about school or we ask kids and they’re like, Oh, kids, you know, school’s boring or it’s not relevant to me. Or, um, it’s just amazingly exciting. All the possibilities are exciting. I think, um, you know, as a total says, people who are entrusted with the education system, I feel the burden is on us. Like we can’t just ignore the facts that kids tell us that six hours and 40 minutes of every day of their life that they are required to attend is boring. I just don’t think you could discount. And so, you know, and, and look, I, you know, I know there’s going to be broadcast and I’m probably got to get in trouble. I’m just going to say, you know, I mean, I remember being principal and you know, you, you, part of your job as principal is to go in and observe teachers, right. And observe teachers teaching in the classroom. And oftentimes you would have visitors who came for a very specific purpose, whether it was, you know, a photo op or they, whatever. And we would go around to do the observations. And I would say to them before they got there, we’re going to sit in one class for the entire time. And you just saw, they couldn’t think couldn’t stay away from their phone. They couldn’t fidget. They couldn’t not get up to get up. And I would say to them, I say, think about it. This is you, right. You knew you were coming in for this. You were mentally prepared. You’re here. Our kids have seven of these a day. Like why I get, why do I push teachers? Like, why do I, like, if we can’t sit in this space, what makes this think that kids can write? It’s it just, it doesn’t make sense. So, so I think we do have a responsibility and look, I wish I could say I was really super successful. I think I was medium successful. Uh, I think we did some creative things. Uh, I just feel it’s an unfinished painting. Like there’s so much more and you get so much more experience that there are people who do this super well. They make school really exciting for the kids. It’s important. It’s relevant. The kids feel heard they’re they’re in it. They want to be there. Um, and we should really raise up those heroes, but it can’t be, it can’t be, I hated the term pocket of excellence. It made me insane. It cannot be a pocket of excellence because what a pocket of excellence implies is that it’s this little oasis and everybody else, Oh, well, it needs to be an ocean of excellent cities to be continent of excellence. It just can’t be a pocket of, excellence.

Heather:
And I just think to your point, I keep thinking, you know, you always go through school and you’re saying that kids think it’s boring and you know, those boring classes, they’re like, what am I ever gonna use this in real life? Like, when does this ever apply? And then everybody, you know, the teachers always say, Oh, that’s all right. You’ll use it. You’ll use it. But a program like this, you never have that question. Now, now that question doesn’t even exist. Like now, like you said, they’re excited, they’re integrated, they’re allowing to stretch their minds. And that goes to the whole concept of, I have a two year old and, you know, I am very cognizant of not telling them how to do things and what way to do it. Cause I want him to be explorative and be innovative and try and think outside the box rather than force him to be in this box. And I feel like a program like this would allow kids to constantly be outside of the box and not so, so feeling like they’re trapped with rigid, and this is what it is, it’s it allows them to kind of explore and who knows where that can go from here, you know, that, that creativity in kids and nurture that so young from a, you know, a freshman age when they’re just trying to figure out who am I, you know, all these changes it’s it could really be limitless possibility for sure.

Ron:
Yeah. Well, and the flip side of that coin has to be answered also, like I have, I’ve always had an interesting experience working in the United States. Um, I started as a math teacher and you know how that goes, right? It is perfectly okay. It is accepted in the United States for an adult, even an adult teacher to publicly state. I’m not a math person. I don’t really I’m algebra. I’m not just, I mean, it’s, it is absolutely accepted. It’s okay. Nobody, nobody. And like, there’s an embarrassment for people to say, I can’t read, I don’t know how to read right there. There’s some on that side of it, but it is absolutely perfectly okay for people to say, I don’t do math. I don’t understand algebra. I like who is that? And I used to say to people when they came into my school and said that, especially teachers, I say, do you realize that we are requiring kids to take 400 hours of math? That’s the way it is 108 hours each year for four years, 432 hours of math. And they have to pass it in order to get a high school diploma. You cannot in this building as a teacher who graduated college and has a master’s degree tell any one of these 600 kids that you’re not a math person. You just don’t have that. Right. Because then what right. Do we have to tell them that they have to take 432? Now, if you want to change that from a policy perspective, go right ahead and push it. I think it’s the wrong perspective. But as a teacher, who’s teaching, or as a teacher in general, I feel that it really isn’t common for us to help kids see the relevance in a real way. Not just to say it is important and it’s going to be important sometime, but if you can’t make it relevant, if you can articulate how it’s going to be helpful, I think that’s a problem because I think we’re being hypocritical to the kids. You know, it’s, it’s, I guess I loved teaching algebra, but for me it was like the puzzle. I like, I still, to this day, love algebra. It’s like this really amazing thing in my brain where it’s kinda like they give you all of these discrete pieces of information and your job is to take those discrete pieces of information and put them together in such a way that it becomes a true statement. Like that’s what you’re doing. And I think about that. And I think about that from storytelling, like, what do you do in storytelling? What do you do in narrative, right? You are trying to create logical relationships between and among pieces of information that then can be related, related to other people who then understand it. That’s the algebra, like it’s a formal way of doing that. And so you’re sharpening those skills of being able to see relationships between pieces and then explain those relationships to other people. That’s a life skill. That’s why we do this. That is the important piece of this. Are you going to go and do NASA, maybe who knows? You’re too young to figure that out. Maybe you will at some point, and this is the first step, but maybe you won’t, but you’ll still have that skill. And that’s why we’re going to keep on coming back to how do these pieces fit together and what are the different types of relationships and where do we go with this? But what I want you to leave my class understanding that. And I think each one of us really, it is important for us. We can’t, like I said before, I don’t think we, I don’t think kids complaints could fall on deaf ears. They have been saying it. They continue to say it, it isn’t a stance. They just, they, they, they are who they are. They, they, they understand their experience, their experiences valid. We have to honor that and then understand how we respond to it. I’m sorry. That is another, I think that’s like the fourth crate I’ve stood on and preached.

Heather:
But I think, yeah, that’s, it’s a beautiful closing thought to this whole entire discussion of this whole time is how do we, how do we, you know, insert ourselves in here to make this better for the students, for the community? Like it’s. Yeah. Yeah. And that’s it, that’s our responsibility is as teachers, as parents is, you know, members of the community and that’s, that’s our responsibility for sure. So with, with that said, um, you know, on that same vein, if someone wants to help your cause and, and get involved and help you guys continue to fulfill this mission, what’s, what’s the best way for people to get involved.

Ron:
I think we have a couple of different ways of volunteering and supporting the organization. Um, so, uh, you know, I think certainly one there’s information about the organization on our website, right? So a new vision, new vision. Listen to me that was a slip and a pass, right. I am absolutely back in time, Newarktrust.org. Someone’s passionate about their cause. Trust that, or again, Newark T R U S T.org. Um, so there are a lot there opportunities there, but, um, you know, and this actually, we could talk a little bit, we definitely do do outreach, uh, through some of our public events and kind of supporting us with that. I think that there are opportunities, uh, really, if you’re interested in nonprofit and kind of thinking about yourself, kind of a, what does this look like? And are there projects that we certainly can use, uh, additional support on? And then there’s obviously always monetary support, uh, to help us run some of the work that we do. Uh, but how would Natasha, what would you, how would you answer that question?

Natasha:
Right. Um, to get more information about the organization and to get involved, you can certainly visit our website at www.newarktrust.org and sign up for our mailing list, because we often announce, um, engagement opportunities, volunteer opportunities, and new initiatives in our e-blasts. And there’s also a donate button there if you are moved to support us financially.

Heather:
That’s great. Great. Well, thank you. Thank you so much for your time today. And, um, Brad, any closing thoughts as well?

Brad:
No, I love everything that Ron and Natasha have said, and I think it’s, it’s, uh, you know, just on the math comment, I think it’s, um, it’s relevant to a lot of things in life. I’ve, I’ve learned that, that, um, if you’re positive about something, generally it will go a lot better than if you’re negative about something. So if you’re, if you’re a teacher and you’re trying to say, yeah, this is stupid, but I have to teach it to you. Cause the district says, I have to teach it to you. A kid is less likely to probably want to want to cling on to that rather than having a passionate person that would be like, let me explain to you why math is important. And then let’s learn math. You’ll, you’ll get a completely different result. And I think that that falls through in business, I’ve witnessed that firsthand when you have a leader of something that, that, you know, goes that, that goes about something in a way that’s more negative as opposed to a leader that goes about something in a more positive way, more people will cling to that positive leader. And they will, it’s that negative probably a hundred percent of the time, unless someone just is a glutton for punishment. Um, so in general terms, I think that’s just a very relevant principle. And I think, you know, all the things that you as a trust are doing, and I think in the grander scheme of things in the bigger picture of our education community, you know, my, my only, my only kind of comment back or question back really is, is, you know, how, how does a large scale change like that? Like Ron Ron’s mall experiment, how does a large scale change like that actually happen? Like how does it go from, you know, Ron science experiment to a program that’s a one hour requirement in a school in high school or whatever. Like how does that, how does that actually morph? Because I feel like it we’ve had the same structure for so many years, and I don’t know how dynamic the education system is, but I’d just be curious just while we have you to ask that question, because it, it really, I’m curious how, how easy or hard is it to make a change of that kind of magnitude?

Ron:
Yeah. Well, you know, look, my entire, my entire life and career has been around a reform. And so I guess I have a bunch of different kind of levels of answer to that. So one, I think opportunities like this, uh, are critically important, right? I think, you know, change doesn’t happen if you can imagine something different. And it’s as simple as that. If, if, if you, if you just, if you don’t hear or think about something different change won’t happen. So I, so opportunity is really to engage the community in a broad discussion about, and, and the fascinating thing. And this is from direct experience when you bring community together, when you bring people, like just bring people together. And I think sometimes we make the mistake of like, Oh, they have to have this degree, or they have to have this background, or they have to be pedagogues and they have to just bring people together. Everybody, teachers, parents, community members, students, the idea, the ideation that I did idea generation is unreal. Like I, these are two little stupid examples that float around in my head. We have, you know, 298,000 residents in Newark. And I know that there is a, it’s a, it’s an amazing pot of ideas. Right. So, so I think that’s one just having really opportunities today, I think too then is I think you do need to show that it’s possible. And that’s why I was really excited about some of the stuff that Natasha was bringing up because sometimes we think it is really difficult and it’s already happening, right. Because, because it’s not on front burner because it’s just 20 kids or because it’s just in this one site. Right. So, so I think to the extent that, uh, I think it is our responsibility, I think this is a role that trust, uh, thinks about quite a bit. And hopefully we’re delivering on is about promoting practice that is out there doing positive things for young people. Right. So promoting that practice critically important, identify it, highlight it, talk about it, show it. Um, so I think that that’s the second piece, then I think there’s a third piece, which is really, and this is back to the community and the broader community. I think the notion of risk right. Is important. And then the notion of, I don’t know how to say this and maybe it’s going to sound non politic or I think we just have to be brutally honest with ourselves sometimes. Right. Um, I think we are blinded sometimes to the realities of situation. So if things are okay, well that’s good and we should celebrate it. But if things are okay and they could be wonderful or great or better, right. Why, why do we get stuck? So I think this notion of risk and continuous improvement that continuous improvement is not a negative, a reflection on what’s happened before. It’s actually a positive relationship to continuing to grow and develop modeling what we’re asking our young people to do. Right. We as adults shouldn’t stop learning. Um, and, and I had this there, um, there, there’s an education reformer in New York whose name is Debra Meyer and she’s been pretty famous on kind of the circuit. And I had the opportunity to interact with her. And it was I’m way early in my career, very young in my career. I said something along the lines, you know? Um, well, yeah, but it’s hard because, you know, you’re, you’re, you’re experimenting with kids, right. Kind of have to show parents. And Debbie had, I think she has three. I know she has children. I don’t remember how many children. She goes, you know, I have X number of children and every single one of them has been an experiment. It is the definition of parenting. Um, it, it just, is it, you, you, you, you, each child, you’re figuring out kind of where they’re going, what they’re doing, you try to kind of nurture and support and figure out the right interaction and you, and you risk it. You, you kind of say, this is my best choice at this point in time, she goes, that’s education, right? That’s education. Education is looking at who’s in front of you looking and understanding and believing that they, they have a lot to offer believe and making yourself accountable, supporting that growth, and then just going fully. Um, and, and, and, and so how do we create a culture culture, right? A, a broader culture that is around continuous improvement. That is about we are doing well. We could continue to get better. And that is our goal. And we’re going to show that as adults, we are actually using what we’re asking kids to do. And, and, you know, I’ll finish on my side by just saying, you know, going back to when I was principal, we had, we had seven components for learning. Like my goal. I had ran a sixth through 12th grade school. I always said, content is really important. We never applied for waivers from exams. Our kids took the exams, they had to do what they needed to do. Some kids did better than other kids, but our responsibility was to get them to that kind of, but my goal, my personal goal and the goal with teachers was always, I want kids to understand the learning process. And so we used to talk all the time about the seven components. It was observing, questioning, researching, whatever means whether it’s books or talking or write I’m collecting information, synthesizing and analyzing, presenting, and then standing up to critique. Those were the seven components, wanting kids to be able to tell me those seven components I wanted meet. I wanted them to show me how they did each one of them. We literally taught them how to observe things. Like, just, how do you look at something? How do you describe what you see? Right. We taught them those skills. And at the end of the day, we would say, you could enter any unknown situation. And if you have those seven skills, you can make sense of that situation. And that’s what I want you to do. I said, you might forget, you know, you might forget what the code of Hammurabi, and you might forget the law of exponent, and you might forget, I said, but, but if you just remember that, that’s okay, because you could always relearn it. You could find it, you know how to research, you know how to make sense of new questions. You know how to engage the public. You’re not afraid about making something and putting it out publicly. You’re willing to take questions and critique. Those are the core elements that we want. Now. I’m not saying those are the seven. Only for us. Those were the seven that we chose. But I feel like if we actually help, because then that was true for my teachers also. Right. That was true for me. That was true for our parents. Right? So you could, you could help model that process. Our school was our project. So every year it was like, let’s observe what was going on. Let’s really question, what are the questions we need to answer? What’s the research we need to do, right? What’s what are we going to present as the next level of this product? Right. We were modeling their process while they were learning it. And so, so I think to your question, I think let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about everything. No idea is too crazy. Um, let’s actually engage the community and doing it. Let’s create a culture of risk taking, and then you always have to get to the place where you’re able to convince people to put some money behind it, either re allocating existing or bringing in seed money to show something. Right. And so that’s a component piece of it, but all of this has been done, right? It’s not something that’s new. It is a, is this an established process? I think it’s about more people engaging in that established process and engaging the communities and the funders and the educators in these conversations.

Brad:
I’m voting for you in 2024.

Ron:
You know, I started teaching in 1983. Hey, I’m 19 in August of 1983, I started teaching. So that’s that 1737 years ago. Um, I really did make a promise to myself when I stopped getting excited about this. I just need to leave. Cause there is nothing worse. There is absolutely nothing. Whereas in my opinion than a disenchanted educator, um, I just, I just don’t see it. And it’s not healthy for the person. It’s just not healthy for the person. Like if you’re not, it is hard enough. It is just hard enough if you’re not enjoying it, if you’re not getting charged by it, then it’s kind of like, there are lots of jobs in this world. There just are. Uh, and I, you may have been a wonderful teacher. Uh, and you may at some point to be a wonderful teacher, but if you can’t get yourself psyched at the moment, it’s just not going to work. It’s not going to work for the kids. It’s not gonna work for you.

Brad:
That’s why it’s so hard being a parent. Cause you’re always a teacher, but you have those dark days where you’re just like, you know, I can’t, you know, you finally the phrase like you can’t rationalize a reason with a four year old, like it finally hits you and you’re like, you’re right. You actually can’t. Alright, thanks for your time.

Brad:
Hey warriors. Thanks for tuning in. On the next episode of Civic Warriors. We talk with Dr. Max Frieder and Stephanie Madrid from Artolution about strengthening individuals and communities around the world through the power of art. Make sure to subscribe to Civic Warriors, and thanks for all your support. Have a great day.

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