Evaluating Newark’s South Ward Community Schools: Context Matters

Through a rigorous competitive process, five of Newark’s South Ward schools were selected to participate in the three-year South Ward Community Schools Initiative (SWCSI) – a pilot project designed to transform the schools into productive community hubs. After an intensive planning process the schools began implementation during the 2016-17 school year. Metis Associates was retained to conduct a rigorous independent evaluation of the SWCSI. As documented in Metis’s evaluation report, there were a number of significant contextual obstacles during the implementation period that made it difficult for the participating schools to implement the project with fidelity. For example: after 23 years, the Newark Board of Education regained local control from the State of New Jersey during 2018; there were numerous leadership changes at the district level; at the initiative level, the Newark Trust for Education (NTE) replaced Newark’s Strong Healthy Communities Initiative as the managing intermediary organization; and at the school level there was significant turnover.

Yet despite the many challenges to faithful implementation, the evaluation documents a number of school/community successes (e.g., more inclusive decision-making, stronger use of data to inform decisions, more involvement of caring and supportive adults, and others), as well as some significant impacts on student attendance, credit accumulation, graduation rates, and academic achievement. In our opinion, it is likely that the participating schools’ successes in overcoming the many contextual hazards, is evidence of the schools’ tenacity as well as the power of the Community Schools model.