The Newton Public Schools have developed and adopted a community schools mindset as an essential expression of our district mission, which was revised in June 2017 to read in part:
We believe parents, teachers, support staff, and citizens must partner in order to help children achieve their highest potential. Therefore, we organize ourselves as community schools to ensure we allocate sufficient resources to the social, emotional, and physical well-being of our students as well as to their academic achievement.
Our district-created model continues to inform our educational program.
Family & Community Connection Events
On October 3, 2019, we hosted our second Family & Community Connection Event, bringing together 38 local partners and over 200 parents, students, and family members at Newton High School to learn about services provided in the Newton community. Our partners represented social services, healthcare & wellness, arts and recreation, first responders, food providers, and other businesses. Our first event in the spring of 2019 at Merriam Avenue School was equally successful.
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.
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%
Student and Family Needs
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.
- 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). Although new space has not been constructed, each school has repurposed existing spaces to provide wellness services. Newton High School has redesigned a former classroom to be used primarily for individual and group counseling. Halsted Middle School hired a social worker and is redesigning an office area to create meeting rooms and open wellness space. Merriam Avenue School has had a social worker for several years and uses office space for individual and group meetings.
- By September 2020, full-day preschool for 4 year old children will be free and available to all residents (baseline = tuition-based, limited availability). The district successfully applied for state funding to provide three full-day, free preschool classes to eligible Newton families in leased space at Camp Auxilium beginning in January 2019. In September 2019, we added a 4th class and moved our preschool disabled classes to create a unified program. We are also proud to partner with First Impressions and Project Self-Sufficiency to provide preschool classes at their locations.
- 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).
Our Design Team meets regularly to provide guidance and support at the macro-level to the district model, and members engage in partnerships at the micro-level that employ organizational strengths toward mutual benefits.
We have joined with Project Self-Sufficiency, First Impressions, and Head Start with guidance from the United Way of Northern New Jersey to grow preschool education to cover some 75% of our community universe of 3- and 4-year olds.
We have worked with the Northwest New Jersey Community Action Partnership to help eligible families apply for subsidies to offset the cost of after-care in grades preK-2.
Choose 2 Connect, our Nita M. Lowey 21st Century Community Learning Center, is a STEAM-themed, afterschool program for grades 3-8 including collaborations with 13 local entities such as the Greater Newton Chamber of Commerce, Sussex County Department of Health & Human Services, Sojihuggles Children’s Foundation, NJ SNAP-Ed, and the Town of Newton to name a few.
We have agreements with the Center for Prevention & Counseling, Lakeside Counseling Associates, Youth Advocate Programs, and Zufall Health Center to open our school sites to on-site wellness and mental & behavioral health services.
We engage with Pass It Along, ThorLabs, Newton Medical Center, and the DreamGirls Initiative to offer wellness-based pathways to mental and behavioral health through student self-discovery, leadership, and volunteerism.
We have partnered with the Mental Health Technology Transfer Center at Rutgers University on a mental health resources map, staff training opportunities, and revisions to our crisis response plans.
We have collaborated with local internet service provider Planet Networks on their network build out into underserved areas, particularly for families with limited English proficiency.
And our School Coordinators have planned and executed two Community Connection Events to develop more purposeful linkages between our parents and local providers.
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