Lady Liberty Shines in Newark
This article originally ran in a special four-page section produced by the Newark Charter School Fund in Local Talk News.
When Executive Director Glen Pinder first arrived at Lady Liberty Academy Charter School in Newark last year, the school was disorderly, students were not on task in the classroom and many did not wear their uniforms, a requirement man- dated by the school’s charter.
Today, the new administration is firmly in control, classroom instruction is mission oriented with the goal of improving reading and math skills and nearly all of the students are in full uniform.
After nearly two years as head of the school, Pinder is more confident about his faculty and believes there is a greater sense of camaraderie and professionalism.
Pinder ’s arrival to the struggling Newark charter school was no accident. Formerly the principal of Harlem Children’s Zone, the successful charter school in New York City founded by Geoffrey Canada, Pinder was recruited by the Newark Charter School Fund and Newark Mayor Cory Booker to help turn around the struggling school.
The Newark Charter School Fund, which was established in 2008 to help improve the quality of charter schools in the city, has worked to support Pinder’s turnaround efforts, including efforts to improve instruction and the operations of the school. Staff from the NCSF joined the board to ensure the success of these efforts. In addition, these members have been added to strengthen the board, including a parent representative.
“Students are here on time and ready to learn,” said lead language arts teacher Kristen Turner. “They’re extremely excited about learning. They don’t want to miss class and they want to be recognized for the positive things they’re doing.”
Turner said teacher attendance has also improved, with educators coming to school more regularly, prepared and ready to teach for the day.
Social studies teacher Lemuer Perez said since coming to Lady Liberty in 2008, he’s gradually noticed that students want to achieve more.
“Instead of seeing the glass half-empty, they see it half-full,” Perez said.
Perez said he’s heard students exhibiting different attitudes about their grades now compared to when he first began teaching at the school.
“When I first came in, students had the idea, ‘the teacher gave me this grade,’” he said. “Now you start to hear, ‘I didn’t get an A, I earned an A.’ They understand that instead of having to get something, we work hard to earn it.”
Turner said that the administration has become more student-centered since she first arrived at Lady Liberty in 2004.
“The administrator we had before would always sit behind a closed door, literally,” Turner said. “Mr. Pinder is constantly seen in the building. When you express a concern to him, he drops everything and he’s willing to talk to resolve any problems that you may have.
Under Pinder's leadership, the school began making fundamental changes nessary to ensure its future success.
The investments and hard work are beginning to pay off.
The morning after Back to School Night, Headmaster of Climate and Culture Christopher Finn burst into Pinder ’s office to tell him of his classroom observations that morning.
“We are rocking today,” Finn said. “I walked in and 100 percent of the students were on task, writing incredible essays. Kids were pulling me over, excited to tell me about their books.”
Finn told Pinder that in one class the average for the first test of the school year was an 86.
The night before, more than 250 parents came out for "Back to School Night," a huge turn-out for the Newark charter school.
Turner said parents are on board and getting more involved with their children’s education. She receives e-mails from parents almost everyday, and parents have been visiting the classroom and participating in learning incentives like homework parties and student trips. Perez added that more parents are attending PTO meetings and asking questions about the curriculum.
“Parents are constantly talking about the changes that have been made and how happy they are with the school right now,” Turner said.
Turner noted that she has taught pairs of siblings, and she says parents are noticing improvements that have been made at the school over the years.
“Our kids are at a place that they feel safe at Lady Liberty," Turner said. "They trust Mr. Finn, they trust Mr. Pinder in that they have their best interest at heart."