This May Be The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship: A District Embraces a Charter School

Just one year ago the Hoboken Public Schools District (HPSD) was locked in a years-long battle with one of the state’s most successful charter schools, the Hoboken Dual Language Charter School, or HoLa. On Friday the superintendent of Hoboken Public Schools joined HoLa for a celebration of an honor awarded to only five public schools in the state.

What a difference a year makes.

Over the last two years the HPSD has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money on lawsuits trying to stop the popular charter school from expanding to 8th grade from a K-6 school. By the time the State Appellate Court ruled in favor of the charter school last June, the first set of HoLa students had already graduated from 8th grade.

Fast forward one year as the Superintendent of HPSD, Dr. Christine Johnson, attended HoLa’s celebratory assembly last week marking HoLa’s latest award: its designation as a Model Program for its dual-language curriculum.

“We’re here to celebrate what HoLa has accomplished through the years,” said Mayor Ravi Bhalla.”When we look at Hoboken, we always want to be ahead of the curve and be an example, and HoLa is leading the way.”

The Mayor‘s remarks reflect this exceptional moment: As other superintendents across the state battle the charter schools in their district (see, for example, Princeton Regional Public Schools’ unending crusade against a small expansion of Princeton Charter School), here we have a case of the district’s educational leader embracing a public charter’s honor and, by extension, its students and educators.

“I think Dr. Johnson’s presence shows that we as a community have turned the page and we are coming together to work together,” the Mayor said as HoLa parents interrupted him to burst into applause. If there were any time a community that was sick and tired of the charter-district divide, it’s this one.

“There are great things happening in the district schools, great things happening in the charter schools and what really matters is that we start having a conversation and continue that conversation so that we are working together, because at the end of the day we are one community,” the first Sikh mayor in the city said. “We can all learn from each other and I’m so proud that HoLa in its own distinct way is not only a model for Hoboken but for the entire state of New Jersey.”

Jennifer Sargent, HoLa’s Executive Director and lead founder of the school said that “it is incredibly meaningful to all of us here at HoLa to have representatives from the state, the county, the city and our local district schools here together in one place to celebrate along with us.  This really is an inspiring glimpse of what public education can look like–coming together in support of all of our students: those here are HoLa, in our neighboring schools throughout Hoboken and across the state.”

She also led all of the students, families and elected officials in a long standing ovation for the teachers of the school, “who are the backbone of the success that HoLa has demonstrated.”

HoLa serves about 400 students in grades K-8 and it was the first charter school to petition and win approval from the DOE to create a low-income preference in the lottery. This year, the school led the state again, this time by increasing its low-income preference in the lottery to 3 times from 2 times. It also added a preference for English language learners for the first time.  

The population mirrors the city of Hoboken, with nearly 40% of its 390 students identifying as black or Latino. Its teachers, who must deliver content in two languages, are nearly all Hispanic, bucking the oft-mentioned crisis in public education over the lack of diversity in teacher ranks. Nationally, fewer than 20% of teachers are black or Latino.

And while the students learn 50 percent to 90 percent of their content in Spanish, they beat the state average in the standardized tests (in English) by 20 percentage points in English language arts and 30 percentage points in math. Last year at HoLa 73 percent of  students reached proficiency in math, compared to 43 percent statewide; 78 percent of HoLa students reached proficiency in English Language Arts, compared to 55 percent statewide.

“One of the most powerful things we can do as human beings,” remarked Dr. Johnson at the assembly, “is recognize the strengths and accomplishments in others; I think it’s good for the soul and for community building, and great for education. On this very special day and beyond, I feel great about celebrating your accomplishments and know that I’m personally very proud of the things you’ve accomplished.”  







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