New Jersey Children’s Foundation Invites Newark District to Add Its Schools to New Common Application PlatformNovember 4, 2022
VIDEO: Newark Parents Explain The Failure Of Their District’s School Enrollment System—And Why They Welcome Newark Common AppNovember 4, 2022
In 2018 when Superintendent Roger Leon first took over the helm of New Jersey’s largest school district, he inherited its universal enrollment system called Newark Enrolls. This platform was created to allow parents to fill out one application for all their school preferences and he was its biggest champion. “Families today go through one system and have one application [that] makes their life a lot less cumbersome,” he told the Board of Education. “It’s our responsibility to make sure that whatever they choose, they get. I believe families make decisions where their child should go and I don’t think anyone should change that.”
Good intentions aside, Newark Enrolls has changed. “We’re in the 21st century,” says parent Jasmine Morrison, “when I can buy a car online and never touch it or go to a doctor’s appointment and never enter an office. But I can’t enroll my child in the local school system and have adequate information about all the options available to me? I’m just at a loss for words.” (Scroll to bottom for video.)
In response to parent concerns about transparency and equity, the non-profit New Jersey Children’s Foundation has joined together with school leaders to launch a new universal enrollment system called Newark Common App. This portal will recreate the district’s original promise of an accessible way for parents to make informed choices about the best school for their children.
“Today, we honor the needs of Newark’s families who deserve an enrollment process that embodies our shared values of equity and access,” explained Kyle Rosenkrans, founder and executive director of the New Jersey Children’s Foundation. “After years of challenges, families deserve an upgrade, and the Newark Common App is a straightforward, family-first process that will be easy for families to navigate and select the school that works best for their child.”
Currently Newark’s largest seven charter networks have left Newark Enrolls and signed up with the new portal. Together they form a critical mass: Of the 20,500 charter school students in Newark (almost 40% of public schools students), 80% of them attend one of those charter networks. The sector has a long history of forging collaboration with the district and that determination remains: Rosenkrans sent a letter (full copy here) inviting “the Newark Board of Education schools to join us in this venture.” Yet, in the end, the best interests of Newark families took priority over precedence. As Rosenkrans told Chalkbeat, “at the end of the day, we think about what matters most and it’s the interest of educators and children.”
So what happened to Newark Enrolls? Why are parents demanding a more streamlined, user-friendly, transparent system to enroll their children in city schools?
A brief history: Shortly after Leon began his tenure as the first locally-appointed leader since the state takeover in 1995, Newark Enrolls started lurching from one mishap to another.
- Spring 2019: The District failed to notify families which schools they were assigned to (parents rank their top 8 preferences) until six weeks after the deadline and prematurely closed access to enrollment, causing chaos and confusion for thousands of families.
- Fall 2019: The District unilaterally and without notice closed the family support center which allowed families to go to one location and include charter schools on their list of preferred schools. Instead, families were told they’d have to travel to the actual charters and enroll without any support.
- Spring 2020: The District failed to give Newark students priority for enrollment in charters over non-Newark students even though NJ’s charter school law prohibits this practice. A state investigation found the district didn’t apply the law properly.
- 2020-2021 School Year: The District created a separate and unequal system for families to choose public charters. While families applying to district schools simply listed their top eight choices, families with charter school preferences were forced to upload proof of residency paperwork (birth certificates, utility bills) in direct conflict with guidance from the NJ Department of Education and in the midst of a pandemic when government offices were closed. This practice disproportionately punished homeless, undocumented, and itinerant children, as well as and families who need school services the most.
- 2021–2022 School Years: The Newark Board of Education failed to ensure that parents had clear and complete information necessary to participate in Newark Enrolls which led to a precipitous drop in participation, from close to 12,000 participants to 7,816. Also, parents were barred from transferring their children from a district to a charter school even when a seat opened up on the waitlist.
- 2022-2023 School Year: the District continued to prevent public charters from opening up seats for students on waitlists until school had already begun, which left families unable to settle on school choices.
More succinctly, when Newark Enrolls launched, most students matched to their top choice, special education students had greater access to high-demand schools like magnets and charters, and parents enjoyed an easy, streamlined application process. Over a five-year period that began with Leon’s tenure, the platform has deteriorated. Parents have had enough.
The purpose of Newark Common App, then, is a return to the mission of a universal enrollment system that promotes equity and access to great schools and allows parents to easily navigate public school options across the city. Its launch follows New Jersey Children’s Foundation’s roll-out of My Schools Newark, a platform that centralizes all school-based data and information for the city’s full menu of private, parochial, charter, and district school options.
Now let’s be clear: Newark Enrolls didn’t have to crash and burn. Camden, with New Jersey’s second-largest charter sector, has a much-celebrated universal enrollment system called OneCamden, a “one-stop shop where families can learn about and apply to Camden public schools” regardless of their governance. As Jasmine Morrison told NJ Ed Report, that’s what parents are looking for: a replacement for “an antiquated system that does not serve our children,” a solution that combines “transparency” and ease of access with “all the information so I can make the choice of what school I want my child to go to.”
Newark Common App seems to be the answer parents need.