The Newton Public Schools have developed and adopted a community schools model as an essential expression of our district mission. The model is informing our educational program and facilities plans.
What are community schools?
Community schools have transformed traditional American education for over a century. They are both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources that have an integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth development, and community engagement. They have been proven to lead to increased school attendance, decreased disciplinary incidents, stronger families, healthier and safer communities, and improved academic outcomes.
What demographic data reflect needs in our community?
Total Newton HS Halsted MS Merriam ES
School Enrollment Report (2015-16 data) 1,557 752 313 492
Economically Disadvantaged 33.7% 18% 46% 50%
Students with Disabilities 18.5% 16% 19% 22%
English Language Learners 2.5% 2% 1% 4%
United Way ALICE Report (2014 data) Town of Newton Sussex County
Population 7,999 144,909
Households 3,170 54,174
Poverty 15% 6%
ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) 40% 27%
What student and family needs have we identified?
District and school level teams conducted needs assessments and developed a model that was shared publicly in January 2017. The model asked each school to consider (1) academic supports for students; (2) health and wellness access for students and families; (3) social/emotional health services and referrals for students and families; (4) social and cultural enrichment as well as recreational activities; and (5) adult education and family/community engagement programming.
We identified a district-wide need for coordination of existing community services of which there are upwards of 36 established initiatives involving some 15 community organizations.
Merriam Avenue School identified a need to improve early literacy and childhood wellness. Research literature on early literacy and childhood wellness is supported by analysis of our current preschool program, where 78% of kindergarten students who attended our preschool met the early literacy benchmarks in DIBELS, 89% met the benchmarks in our Early Screening Inventory, and parents have reported increased wellness on the part of their children.
Halsted Middle School and Newton High School identified a need for greater access to counseling and behavioral services dealing with mental health topics such as management of grief, stress, and anger. 34% of Grade 5-8 students are identified as needing such services that cannot now be met beyond crisis intervention. Over 50% of Grade 9-12 students identified stress, anger, generalized anxiety, and school phobia as significant issues for themselves and their peers.
What are our big goals?
- By September 2019, we will have pK-8 school facilities that provide greater access to on-site wellness services for children and families (baseline = no dedicated space).
- By September 2020, full-day preschool for 4 year old children will be free and available to all residents (baseline = tuition-based, limited availability).
- By June 2021, the percentage of middle and high school students identified as needing counseling and behavioral services will be reduced by 50% (baseline = 34% of middle school students identified and 54% of high school students self-identified as in need).
- By Spring 2026, 68% of 4th grade students will demonstrate proficiency in English Language Arts as measured by New Jersey state assessments (baseline = 51% proficiency).
What is our partnering strategy?
- We are building a coalition of like-minded organizations committed to a community-based approach to improving early literacy, childhood wellness, and adolescent mental and behavioral health.
- We are developing a strategic partnership with the United Way of Northern NJ to help coordinate community services and identify funding sources. An initial joint venture is the application for a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant to catalyze local momentum for cross-sector collaboration, engaging diverse partners to build a healthier community.
- We are working with NORWESCAP/Head Start to coordinate free, universal preschool for all residents.
- We are reaching out to Newton Medical Center and Zufall Health Center to investigate mutual interest in providing on-site wellness and mental health services.
- We are deepening partnerships with Thorlabs, Project Self-Sufficiency, and the Town of Newton to support other aspects of our community schools initiative.
- We are engaging the Newton Pride Foundation to activate the capacity of alumni to offer supports to secondary students based on our model’s five service areas.