Frequently Asked Questions: Community Meetings on the Camden Commitment Tuesday, February 25, 2014

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1 Frequently Asked Questions: Community Meetings on the Camden Commitment Tuesday, February 25, 2014 The following questions reflect the most commonly discussed topics by attendees of the most recent series of community meetings on the Camden Commitment. This information is being collected and shared so all students, families, educators, and community members can learn about the primary questions and responses. i. Proposed Renaissance School Partners ii. Safety iii. Teaching & Learning i. Proposed Renaissance School Partners 1. Why do you think what works in Philadelphia (or Newark or elsewhere) will work in Camden? How do these models fit Camden s particular needs? Both proposed school partners agreed that each city has its own unique characteristics. Senior leadership from Mastery Charter Schools and Uncommon Schools have been meeting with Camden students, families, educators, and community members to learn how their model would need to be adjusted to best support Camden students needs. Both partners also invited meeting attendees to visit their schools to learn more about their current models. 2. Will all of the teachers at the proposed new schools be certified? Yes, under New Jersey State law, all teachers must be certified. 3. I ve heard that charter schools can pick only the students they want. How do I know the Renaissance school partners won t do that, too? Unlike traditional charter schools which operate via a lottery, a Renaissance School is a neighborhood school. It has a defined catchment area the part of the City where its students live and every student within that area is guaranteed a seat at the school. 1

2 4. How do Mastery and Uncommon engage parents? How do they work with parents who aren t engaged? Parents and guardians can t be forced to participate, but part of the appeal of these school partners is their commitment to family engagement. Feedback from parents has driven changes at both school partners schools. Mastery and Uncommon officials talked about giving parents and guardians multiple options of how to get involved in supporting their child s education so they can determine which way works best for them. 5. Would teachers at Renaissance schools be in a union? Teachers at Renaissance schools would not automatically be in the teachers union, as is the case for teachers at district schools. However, teachers would have the option to organize themselves into a union. 6. Would Renaissance schools hire current Camden teachers? Current Camden teachers would be welcome to apply to teach at these schools. Both Mastery and Uncommon said they are would be interested in any educator, in Camden or from across the country, who shares a deeprooted belief that all students can achieve at high levels. 7. What is your average class size? Average class size varies, but at Mastery and Uncommon schools it is generally 25-30, and there are two teachers in each classroom for grades K What kind of critical thinking happens at the current schools these partners manage? What kind of creative work are students doing in classrooms? Representatives from both potential partners reported that students are continually challenged to stretch their thinking the goal is for students to not only get the right answer but explain how they got there. Many teachers from both school partners use teaching strategies from the popular book of instructional techniques, Teach Like A Champion. In terms of creativity, students at Uncommon schools are often developing fun songs and games to remember what they are learning and make the content more fun. Students at Mastery schools talked at the meetings about going on scavenger hunts across Philadelphia to learn more about historic sites. 9. Will Camden Public Schools be issuing bonds and taking on debt in order to pay for the new construction allowed under the Urban Hope Act? The proposed school partners would take on the costs for all construction. In the event of a Renaissance 2

3 school closing, any remaining debt such as the remaining financing cost to finish a facility, for instance would be inherited by the district. 10. Have any of Mastery or Uncommon s schools closed? No, none of Mastery or Uncommon s schools have closed. 11. How do you teach the children to be nonviolent? What is your discipline policy? Both school partners talked about the importance of social-emotional learning. Students who attend Mastery schools and students who attend Uncommon schools take art, music, and gym. In addition, Mastery has a program called Play in K (Kindergarten), which operates based on the values of kindness, respect, and responsibility. The students learn to be social with each other in appropriate ways. 12. Where would these new schools be located? Would they be taking over another school? Would they have a new location? In its Renaissance school application, Mastery expressed interest in many different locations, and indicated that it wanted to serve a large number of students in its first year. Uncommon expressed interest in its application to open a new school, beginning with kindergarten. No decisions have been made about where Mastery and/or Uncommon would be located, or the scale at which either would operate. We would work to make these determinations alongside them, should they be approved to submit an application to the New Jersey Department of Education. 13. Why do we need Renaissance schools? What is the strategy for all of the other schools in Camden? Renaissance schools are one piece of Camden Public Schools broad strategy to ensure that each student in Camden attends an excellent school. The Camden Commitment presented a series of promises around safety, teaching and learning, and school support that are focused on strengthening every school in Camden, regardless of type. 14. Would students at Renaissance schools be subject to the same tests as students in district schools? Students at Renaissance schools would take all New Jersey State tests, as is the case for students in district schools. ii. Safety 3

4 1. Some parents cannot afford the $75 for the background checks but would like to volunteer. Can something be done? Parents and guardians no longer have to pay in order to volunteer in their child s school. As of January 2014, the fee for parents and guardians background checks is waived and billed to the central office. Contact Tameeka Mason with any questions. 2. For the Safe Corridors plan to work, sidewalks need to be kept clean and clear. How can you make that happen? Camden Public Schools has been working closely on Safe Corridors with multiple agencies from the City as well as with the Camden County Police Metro Division. Keeping sidewalks clean and clear is a critical part of making this project work. We have learned many lessons from the initial rollout and will be making many changes. 3. Too often, students lose their ID cards. Are there other options? All schools do not currently issue ID cards. As part of a new, comprehensive safety plan to be released later this week, Camden Public Schools is prioritizing the strengthening of building access. There are many opportunities to leverage technology to improve safety. 4. How will the Safe Corridors program work with early-morning and after-school programming, especially those programs provided by partner organizations? Camden Public Schools values partner organizations contributions, and these groups will be consulted as planning is finalized for the Safe Corridors program. iii. Teaching & Learning 1. The Common Core standards are dense and hard to understand. What is Camden Public Schools approach to training teachers on the Common Core? The Common Core standards can play a critical role in helping our students prepare for the challenges of succeeding in college and careers. Educators are receiving a number of supports as we make the transition to these higher learning standards. Teachers and administrators are both receiving ongoing, job-embedded professional development. In addition, Camden Public Schools core curriculum and interim assessments are all aligned to the Common Core standards. Teachers have been trained on the language arts and math curricula as well as administering the end of unit assessments. 4

5 2. Some students don t want to learn because the conditions in their classrooms are not adequate they are too hot or too cold. What are you going to do about facilities? Half of our buildings were constructed before World War II progress must be made on facilities. One of the benefits of Renaissance schools is that they must come with a significant investment in facilities. For all non- Renaissance schools, new, modern facilities are a priority and a key promise in the Camden Commitment. Toward that end, Camden Public Schools is working closely with the School Development Authority on planning improvements at Camden High School and other buildings across the City. 3. Camden has a larger English Language Learner population than Philadelphia or Newark. How would you serve this group of students? Both proposed school partners recognize this difference and have expressed eagerness in taking on this new challenge. Effective instruction includes multiple access points to support all students, including English Language Learners, in understanding the learning objectives. Both proposed school partners are expected to develop additional capacity, as needed, to ensure the needs of English Language Learners are being met. 4. What support would these proposed school partners provide for students with disabilities? All schools are expected to meet their students needs. Both proposed school partners, as well as their students and families, spoke of currently providing a continuum of support for students with disabilities, from the least restrictive setting to emotional support classes, autism support classes, and occupational therapy to the most restrictive setting, as appropriate. 5

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