The Perez Education Agenda:
Promoting Learning and Civic Involvement among All Residents
Our goal is that all residents—youth and adults; native-born and recent immigrant; bi-lingual or monolingual—know how to learn more, have the skills to find and keep a job, and are informed, actively engaged in our democratic institutions.
OUR STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES TO REACH THIS GOAL:
• Promoting enrollment in high quality Pre-K education for all students
• Carefully selecting members of the board of education and providing them on-going professional training to increase their skills in leading our school district
• Convening a Trenton-Wide Community Education Advisory Board to develop strategies to ensure that Trenton is committed to learning for all residents
• Supporting an expansion of Community Schools as centers of learning and service to neighborhoods
• Increasing high quality out-of-school programs for our youth and ensuring that our school buildings are available for learning beyond all school hours
• Working with area agencies and non-profits to increase the opportunities for all residents to obtain the training and skills they need to be productive citizens—be that ESL instruction, parenting education, nutritional counseling, driver’s education, citizenship preparation, small business planning, home-ownership planning, or helping their children in the post-high school planning
• Working with school board members and administrators to integrate civics instruction for all students at all levels
• Working with the school members, administrators, and the NJ Department of Education to re-invigorate high quality vocational education programs in our high schools
• Affirming the strong charter schools that serve Trenton’s students but calling on Governor Murphy and the NJ Department of Education to institute a moratorium on new charter schools until the state reviews its selection and approval process. It’s not fair to the district, to teachers, to families, and certainly unfair to the children to continually approve and then close charter schools.
• Engaging local higher education institutions including Princeton, Rider, The College of New Jersey, Thomas Edison State University, and Mercer County Community College in advancing the learning of our residents and rolling up their collective sleeves to help Trenton address the challenges it faces
• On-going professional development of all city staff, in all departments, at all levels to ensure that our city employees have the knowledge and skills they need to do jobs well to serve all residents, investors, and visitors.
• Re-instituting tuition reimbursement programs for city employees to further their skills to do their jobs better.
BACKGROUND AND DETAIL:
Mortimer Adler, a wise educational philosopher, once laid out the three core goals of education in the United States. They were:
• To prepare us to be continual, life-long learners: You don’t have to a genius to know that the world is evolving daily. Technology is changing virtually every element of our lives. The demands of being a worker, a business owner, a parent, a consumer requires ever-more complicated processes and procedures. If today’s youth and adults do not know how to learn about or how to do something different, they will be left behind. Our schools don’t only need to teach students “facts and formulas”, they need to teach students HOW to learn more when the need arises.
• To prepare us to be successful participants in the economy. By the time youth complete their time in school, they need to have the skills, knowledge, and attitude to obtain and keep a job, manage their financial affairs, and keep themselves engaged as workers or owners. The days of being guaranteed a job in the factory where your dad and grandfather worked are long gone. Our community’s youth and adults need to be able to compete for jobs that were not even imagined in our parents’ lives.
• To prepare us to participate fully in the democratic institutions of our nation. Living in a democracy is privilege but the rights we enjoy are fragile unless citizens understand their responsibility for preserving through keeping informed, voting, knowing and protecting their rights, and understanding how each part of our government—executive, legislative, and judicial—works.
Sadly, I am afraid to report that the children and youth of Trenton are not being served by our schools in achieving these three goals. Further, many of our adults are lacking these skills as well. Too many (perhaps as many as 25 percent) of our students leave school without a diploma, and even among who receive that diploma far too many are prepared for the next stage in their lives without taking remedial courses are starting at the very bottom of the ladder in an entry-level job. Finally, too many of our youth know very little about what it means to be a citizen: they don’t know their rights; they don’t when those rights are being taken away; they don’t have the knowledge needed to vote responsibly, and, perhaps most sadly, they don’t know they have the opportunity and responsibility to contribute to their community.
The role of a mayor in education is limited both by law and by reality. But I will use whatever leverage I can to help improve the opportunities for learning in Trenton for all residents—children and adults. If Trenton is to be successful, we need residents who are able to learn more, get and keep a job or start a successful business, and know and exercise their rights.
1. The pre-school programs available made through the former Abbott legislation have been a major benefit for improving the chances of school success by offering high quality pre-Kindergarten programming for 3 and 4 year olds in Trenton. The participation of eligible children in Pre-K programming is about 90 percent in Trenton. I will work with the district to increase the awareness of this valuable resource for all eligible families. Pre-K education is an important down payment in the education of all children and we need all families to take advantage of this offer. I will underscore that this is not just daycare, but education and that children in pre-K programming need to attend every day.
2. I will continue to work to identify highly qualified individuals to serve as members of our School Board. However, I will insist that they receive on-going training in emerging educational issues, strategies for effective governance as a board, and improved skills in review of complex school district budgeting. To be effective, our board members cannot rely solely on the knowledge and skills they bring to the board, but—as life-long learners—they need to build their skills and understanding while on the board to better serve our children and families.
In addition, I know that serving on the school board is not an easy task. In fact, done well, it can overwhelming. Further, all school boards are focused on the operation and policies of the schools in their district. But who is focused on the educational needs of the entire city? We have many recent immigrants who need support; there are adults who cannot read, who need new job skills; there are young parents who need support and instruction on good childrearing skills, and we need to consider the evolving role of the school district itself within the context of educational needs of Trenton.
I propose to convene a Trenton Wide Educational Advisory Board charged with examining the full range of education needs in this community—including those of students in our district and charter schools, but also those of adults—and make recommendations to the administration, Council and state legislature on how we can elevate learning and education for all in Trenton.
3. Our schools are open between 7:30am and 3:00pm for 180 days annually. The learning hours of our children and families however are 24 hours daily, 365 days each year. As a community, we need to increase the opportunities for formal and informal learning for our children through afterschool, weekend and summer programming. As mayor, I will work with the school district to ensure that our community’s educational buildings are accessible for formal and informal educational programming through the year. These are COMMUNITY BUILDINGS; they need to be accessible to the community for learning!
I will find ways for the city administration to facilitate the recruitment and coordination of the many extracurricular options available to youth and families in the Trenton. My administration will build on the efforts already underway–such as the Trenton Literacy Movement, the Play Soccer NonProfit International, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Trenton, and myriad others—to ensure that Trenton children and youth have productive, educational supportive, and safe programs available to them.
Within that discussion, I will ask the Board of Education and the related city administration departments to develop a recommend a strategy for formally working together to meet the year-round educational needs of our youth and children. In particular, I will strongly support efforts to transform each of our neighborhood schools to adopt a comprehensive community schools model in which schools and other community agencies offer students, families, and other residents in the neighborhood a range of educational, health, and other services.
4. Working with the district administration and the Board, I will insist that a renewed focus on civics instruction be part of each student’s education annually. I want to see civics instruction as a formal part of each grade’s curriculum because good and effective citizenship must not simply be for the well-to-do, or those with a political bent. It’s a life-long skill and responsibility and the peril to the nation of an uninvolved and uninformed citizenry will be catastrophic. In the past year, even in the past month, we have seen the power of an energized, engaged citizenry pushing for their rights and needs of the county through Black Lives Matter,
5. Like many others, I bemoan the elimination of traditional vocational education in our nation’s schools. While in past decades, many voc-ed programs had become warehouses for students where they learned little of value. We need to re-establish sensible vocational education programs and courses that really prepare students for actual jobs. As mayor, I will convene school board members, administrators, local trades union representatives, and local business leaders to identify how we can work together to create viable programs that lead to employment for our youth. I have already proposed the creation of an Advanced Placement program for highly qualified youth to explore and prepared for careers in law enforcement and community safety. We owe it to today’s youth and those who will follow to offer them opportunities to succeed in life.
6. Charter schools have been operating in our city for almost 20 years. However, their track record would be appropriately described as “mixed” to poor. While Trenton youth and families have been served by several strong charter schools, the majority of charter schools selected and approved by the NJ State Department of Education have failed and have been closed by the very department that selected them. The roll call of FAILED charter schools in Trenton: Samuel DeWitt Proctor Academy, Trenton Community Charter School, Granville Academy, Greater Trenton Area Academic and Technology Charter, Emily Fisher Charter School, Mercer Arts Charter School—is a statement not simply of schools that were closed, but also reflects the dashing of hopes of literally thousands of students and parents who were caught up in these disasters. And, the list of closures is not complete. We have already heard of the impending closing of yet another Trenton charter school in June.
As Mayor, I will call for a moratorium on the granting of any more charters in Trenton by the NJ Department of Education until such time as a thorough review of the charter application and approval process is completed and the Department of Education establishes a new structure that allows the opinions and insights of Trenton in the selection process. We must not allow a state government process to continue to do “business as normal” premised on the boundless resiliency of children. Treating these charter school closures simply as “failed experiments” or “failed businesses” is unconscionable when you realize the impact such failures have on children’s lives.
7. Despite our city’s small size, we have direct access to many institutions of higher learning including Thomas Edison State University, Mercer County Community College, The College of New Jersey, Rider University, and Princeton University. Each of these institutions have made efforts to leverage their academic programming, their students and faculty, and their institutional resources to improve educational opportunities for residents in Trenton. I applaud and thank them for their efforts and, now, I ask them for more. We need these institutions not simply to see our city as a living laboratory for students and faculty, or a destination for “doing right by doing good” through some social service projects. Those efforts are welcome and helpful but they will not transform Trenton.
Instead, we need each of these institutions to make a commitment in terms of increased opportunities for admission for our youth and adults; for increased, scheduled, and occupied classroom space in downtown Trenton for true, beneficial learning. We need each of these institutions to promote Trenton as a place to go and live, and not a place to “be careful when visiting.” Further, these institutions properly claim to have amassed some of the best and brightest minds to do good, solid work. We need them to share those minds and work in Trenton. I propose that Trenton formalize agreements with each of the institutions of higher learning in our area as have the institutions involved in Boston Compact.
8. Finally, in my administration, we will model the importance of on-going learning and skill development as we launch a comprehensive professional development program to for our employees in every department and at every level to ensure they have the knowledge and know-how to do their job well and professionally. In addition, my administration will seek to re-institute an education tuition reimbursement program for our employees who seek to improve their ability to do their jobs by taking relevant courses and seeking college degrees at accredited institutions.