Cornel West joins Newark Collegiate Academy, city officials at ribbon-cutting for new facility
After years of borrowing classroom space and at times operating without desks and chairs, the students of Newark Collegiate Academy cut the ribbon on their new school today, and were welcomed by one of the country's most influential thinkers.
"You are representing not just the academy, not just Newark, not just America," Cornel West said today to a roomful of students, teachers, and policy makers. "You are representing the best of the human spirit."
West, a best-selling author and professor of African American studies at Princeton, joined Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Robert Treat Academy founder Stephen Adubato Sr., and a host of charter school officials to officially open the academy's new high school facility at 909 Broad St. where students began the academic year in August.
"The revolution that's going on is a revolution in our schools," Booker said today, and told students that they were "on the front lines" of a battle for academic achievement in Newark, where schools have struggled for decades. "Your teachers, your principals recognize your beauty and they recognize your brilliance."
The academy is one of four TEAM schools throughout Newark that operate under the banner of the Knowledge is Power Program, a nationwide organization of charter schools. Since the school's inception in 2007, TEAM students have performed above district and state averages on language and math proficiency tests, despite what administrators describe as difficult circumstances.
"Our school's origins were as humble as any I can think of in Newark," said academy principal Nathan Smalley, adding that when they first opened in 2007, the high school shared space with TEAM's middle school and were without chairs and desks for several weeks. A deal brokered by Booker won the students space in the Newark Vocational School, which they occupied for over a year.
Charter schools are given funding for pupils by the state, but no funding is given for facilities, which is often the biggest challenge facing charters. Thanks to financing help from Prudential and City National Bank, the school finally secured its own facility. Building owner Ron Beit renovated the facility to accommodate the school. Students and teachers say it has brought a renewed sense of purpose to the school.
"We were on the top floor of a public school. We had half of a hallway," said Spanish teacher Ilyan Nunez. "Now we're in our own home."
The school occupies the second through fifth floors and overlooks Newark City Hall. It features two science labs, customized classrooms, and a college admissions counseling center.
Students today said the new facility makes academic life more enjoyable.
"There's much more school spirit just in terms of having your own building," said junior Natasia Harp, 17. She said the school recently hosted a party for students that featured several major Newark disc jockeys and said she was looking forward to an upcoming talent show. Students also gave rave reviews for Cornel West's talk.
"I feel as though he gave me inspiration," said Briana West, 15, after students gave West a standing ovation, following his remarks.
West spoke at length, culling themes from Plato to Sly Stone and stressed the importance of self worth and service. He cited author Philip Roth and jazz singer Sarah Vaughan as examples of the talent that Newark has produced and spurred students to strive for similar heights.
"The challenge with young brothers and sisters is that you have too many echoes in your generation and not enough voices," West said. "When you walk out of here you're not going to be a copy, you're going to be an original."