Newark is determined to put Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million challenge grant to good use and is asking all of its citizens for their input. Since September volunteers have knocked on nearly 50,000 doors and made countless calls trying to find out how Newark residents think the money can best be spent to help resuscitate the city’s struggling school system. Despite reportedly spending $22,000 per student, only half those who come through Newark’s school system graduate.
Once the results of the survey has been compiled into a report, Mayor Cory Booker and the new school superintendent, a position that has yet to be filled, will attempt to come up with a course of action that best addresses the community’s needs and concerns. “There are going to be gems coming out of this process,” the mayor said at a recent town-hall meeting. Despite Booker’s optimism, others are less enthusiastic. “Obviously, outreach is always a good idea, but I think $1 million on this survey is really a misuse of the money,” said Patrick Diegnan Jr., chairman of the New Jersey legislature’s education committee. But others feel that this process is vital to the school system’s future. The plan “can’t be dictated to the community, it has to come from the community,” says Jeremiah Grace, executive director of Partnership for Education in Newark, leaders of the outreach effort.
Newark seems to have realized that the rest of the country is paying attention, and regardless of how much is spent trying to fix the school system’s problems, its future success is contingent on community acceptance and participation.