THE BLOG
11/19/2012 12:45 pm ET Updated Jan 19, 2013

As Goes Newark, So Goes...

Newark teachers had an opportunity to dramatically alter the future of its city's education system Wednesday. As widely reported Newark teachers voted for a new contract, which will introduce innovative approaches and incentives to promote teacher performance and effectiveness, approaches which are commonly used in other professions to drive innovation and celebrate achievement.

There is wide consensus that teachers hold the keys to transforming Newark schools -- and we must invest in them. At the same time, we know that teachers face unfair burdens. As Newark Mayor Cory Booker stated recently, "We have a teacher compensation problem in America." I see it every day. I know how tirelessly committed teachers in Newark are to the success of their students. I know that teachers have to go above and beyond the call of duty in many circumstances -- dipping into their own pockets to ensure classrooms are properly equipped or spending countless hours of extra time to ensure that their students are learning adequately. But, like other professionals, they want to have access to professional development and pay scales which take into account their abilities, their talent, and their commitment to their students.

So many of you may be wondering, what's next?

This is a great day for Newark and we must pause to take it in. It is a momentous opportunity to improve education for children and families in Newark and remake what it means to be a teacher in this country -- respected, protected, encouraged and held to the highest standards. The contract really is a manifestation of the alignment between teachers, union leadership and our district, and ultimately will ensure that Newark schools benefit kids for years to come. This contract incentivizes professional development for teachers and ensures there's a quality teacher in every classroom with the support they deserve, so that every child in Newark benefits -- regardless of what school they go to or what community they live in.

And while there will always be healthy skepticism and guarded optimism, this agreement is focused on inspiring the best performance in teachers. We know firsthand that there are tremendous examples in this community now of teachers who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to effectively educate children. We believe this contract will make that the norm, while providing additional support to those remarkable educators.

A critical hurdle in reaching this deal was honoring compensation commitments the system had made to teachers. For the past two years, teachers have not been getting basic cost of living increases. Under this new contract, teachers will receive their fair share and the promises the city made will be honored. This investment will enable Newark to make a remarkable shift towards a fair teacher pay scale that is tied to student progress. The district could no longer afford to pay teachers on a salary scale with guaranteed raises, regardless of performance and apart from whether students were or were not learning. These funds enable the city to make a remarkable shift to a fair system tied to student success and sustainable for the long term.

The Foundation for Newark's Future continues to support the superintendent in her bold efforts and her blueprint for our schools. As a Newark-based philanthropy, our job is to provide the education community with the resources they need to drive innovation and turn Newark into a symbol of educational excellence for the whole nation. We take that commitment very seriously.

We remain steadfast in our commitment to early childhood issues and programs for out-of-school youth -- and will continue to engage the strong leaders in this community on teacher and school leader development. On behalf of our donors, including Mark Zuckerberg, Pershing Square and many more, we are delighted to be able to support the city and know there is much more to be done. To the degree that this contract and this alignment between the NTU and the Newark Public Schools District is instructive about how you do that well, we believe this agreement can be a model for other cities. Many communities in this country are faced with similar challenges. This agreement sends the message that both union and district leaders can come together on behalf of children and work hard to ensure that there is a high-quality teacher in every classroom.

This country, this school system, this community is only as effective as its ability to effectively educate its children. The strength of a community and of this country rests in our ability to educate our children effectively.

When I hear teachers talk -- both ones I've had in my own life and those I've been fortunate to work with in this community -- they yearn for crisp and clear professional development opportunities. They talk about being linked to a master teacher and being a part of a network where they can grow their craft. Whether those are principles that are active in the private sector or not, we think it really does grow the teaching profession in Newark.

At the heart of the matter is children's success. And while there is lots to do, we have made a huge step toward ensuring that every child in Newark graduates ready for college. What we need now more than ever are for Newark's parents, teachers, administrators, civic leaders, foundations to come together and work on behalf of this city's teachers and children so that there will come a day when every child in this city, regardless of where they live or what school they attend, will have a fair chance to get a great education.