Following the submission of an application for conversion to charter school, two Camden district school leaders wanted to share their take on the question, “Why convert at all?”
Dr. Davida Coe-Brockington of Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy and Mr. Tim Jenkins of MetEast High School stopped by our blog to answer that very question.
When the idea of conversion was first presented as a possibility, we met as fellow school leaders to determine what made the most sense for our students. This was not a decision either of us wanted to make in haste, nor was it a decision made to distance ourselves from Camden public schools. Rather, we were driven by the essential principle guiding both our schools: we must do what is best for our students; and right now having the autonomy to make critical decisions in house about instruction, staffing, budgets, policies, and procedures will best enable us to align our efforts with our students’ needs and interests.
We did a lot of reading about charters and spoke with many of the parents and community leaders involved in the school before approaching a conversion. It is important to both our schools that the parents and community support the actions made in the interest of their children. Just as we believe education happens with our students, not to our students, we also believe that any key decision about the future of our students could not have been possible without the support of the students’ families—many of whom are proud Camden residents and vocal about their wishes for their child’s success. Charter schools are public schools run by parents, teachers, and administrators who really want to put forth a specific vision of what they believe their school ought to look and feel like instructionally. This decision was made in partnership with the community, and we are excited and grateful for their support. We also know that as the principals of these schools, we are first and foremost accountable to the students and families. We could not have moved towards conversion without them.
Dr. Coe-Brockington for Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy
At Creative Arts, where I have been since 1999, the arts-integrated curriculum promotes students’ cultural awareness, challenges them academically, and prepares them for whatever path they choose after high school. In a school that already supports dance, drama, fashion, and music, teachers who understand the students’ paths are critical to students’ success. In the past, staff reductions and reassignments occurred beyond our control. As a charter school, we will have the opportunity to hire and assign staff members in a way that best meets the unique needs of our students and best serves our school’s mission.
This is about continuing a tradition of excellence and high expectations to which our school community has made a life-long commitment. We look forward to working with the district as partners in education and providing options for our parents and their children.
Tim Jenkins for MetEast High School
MetEast is proud that our students demonstrate high performance compared to schools across the state in graduation and post-secondary performance. But what MetEast High School is most proud of is our ability to provide personalized academics, tailored to meet the unique needs and interests of its students. As a born-and-raised Camden native, I have been where my students have been; I have sat in those very Camden classrooms, some of which are more than 100 years old. Our conversion to a charter isn’t about privatization, and it certainly isn’t about money—you need only look at per pupil funding in charter schools to see how charters are underfunded. MetEast’s conversion is about the students and doing what’s best for them by having the ability to implement our Big Picture Learning design with fidelity.
When I arrived as principal at MetEast in 2005, I came in with one mission: prepare every student who walks through MetEast’s doors to be not only college-ready, but life-ready. Becoming a charter will allow us to further that mission.
Continued collaboration for high-quality education for Camden students
Our conversion efforts are focused on the students, which is where we all need to be as educators. Charter school conversion offers us an opportunity to make our schools even better.
We will always be public schools, and we will offer programs that no other schools in Camden offer. Our schools will become even more widely accessible as we recruit students through the lottery process. We are committed to maintaining a solid relationship with the school district to ensure a seamless transition for everyone and to allow for the productive sharing of practices and ideas.
Charter school conversion offers us an opportunity to preserve all that is unique and effective about our programs and to assume full responsibility for implementing our mission. We recognize the heightened level of accountability that comes with charter autonomy, and we embrace those high standards and expectations—and share them with our students, families, and community.