The New Jersey Black Mayors Alliance for Social Justice (NJ-BMASJ), along with top-ranking school officials and administrators, met on April 7 at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) to establish a statewide partnership and dialogue between their municipalities and schools to prepare students for education and work in the digital environment of the 21st century.
The event, "Digital Learning, Revolutionizing Traditional Education," engaged the participants in a new partnership with the Future Ready Schools-New Jersey (FRS-NJ) program designed to promote digital learning throughout the state's elementary and secondary public schools. The FRS-NJ program will be housed in the Collaborative for Leadership, Education and Assessment Research (CLEAR) at NJIT under the leadership of Dr. James Lipuma and Dr. Bruce Bukiet. Bukiet, associate professor in NJIT's Department of Mathematical Sciences and associate dean of the College of Science and Liberal Arts, moderated the event and commenced the day with opening remarks from NJIT President Joel S. Bloom.
President Bloom cited the exceptional professional opportunities available to all young men and women who earn a degree in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, with the majority of 2015 STEM graduates having multiple, high-paying job offers. As New Jersey's public polytechnic university, Bloom went on to say that the number of NJIT students from the communities represented at the meeting should be even greater. But the challenge, he added, is to create an effective partnership for encouraging students to pursue STEM careers and providing the resources at the elementary and secondary levels, including the digital resources, essential for preparing students for the rigorous academic requirements of STEM degrees.
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, chair of the NJ-BMASJ, commended NJIT for the outreach and pre-college programs that have increased the number of his city's residents at NJIT. He also said that this effort in Newark aligns with the goals of the NJ-BMASJ to promote social justice and opportunity throughout New Jersey. Accordingly, he described the FRS-NJ initiative as an "incredibly important" component of improving elementary and secondary education so that students can succeed in rigorous STEM studies in college. "It's vital that we improve the preparation of students at every level in our communities," he said.
Newark Superintendent of Schools Chris Cerf cited the strides that the city had made toward such improvement, particularly with the opening of the new Central High School and Science Park High School. "Nonetheless, we are on the cusp of much greater change, with the digital revolution that has already transformed fields such as medicine and engineering offering the potential for equally great transformation in education," he said.
The NJ-BMASJ, in partnering with NJIT, the state Department of Education and the New Jersey School Boards Association, convened the leadership from municipalities and schools to discuss the digital opportunities and challenges and to help launch the FRS-NJ program. The NJ-BMASJ mayors hope that school districts in their communities will be the first to be recognized by the state and nationally for completing a comprehensive self-assessment of their "digital readiness" with input from administrators, teachers, students and parents.
FRS-NJ will provide guidance and resources to school administrators, school board members and other school leaders, helping them identify gaps in districts' preparedness for digital learning, then directing them to resources that can help address those gaps. FRS-NJ is modeled after the successful Sustainable Jersey for Schools program, and aligned with the national Future Ready Schools program.
In Cerf's estimation, every student can thus engage with the best teachers in every subject, and do so in an effective interactive manner. Students are already deeply and enthusiastically engaged with the digital world outside of the classroom, he said. Bringing this engagement into the classroom not only promises to improve the quality of instruction but enthusiasm for learning as well.
The potential and enthusiasm that Cerf mentioned was evident in the demonstration of VoiceThread that those attending shared with a group of 11th-grade students using the collaborative learning software in a classroom in another NJIT building. VoiceThread integrates multimedia content with face-to-face interaction between teachers and students, and very personally on April 7 with the NJ-BMASJ representatives present from the students' communities.
The program also included a presentation of national, state and local perspectives on digital readiness that highlighted requirements and strategies for moving ahead toward digital goals in education. The overview was given by Sara White Hall, vice president for policy and advocacy digital learning for the Washington D.C.-based Alliance for Excellent Education; Laurence Cocco, director of the New Jersey Department of Education Office of Educational Technology; and Patrice Maillet, director for business development and director of the Educational Leadership Foundation of New Jersey and the New Jersey School Boards Association.
To close the meeting, Angela Garretson, director for policy and partnerships in the NJIT president's office and mayor of Hillside Township, presented an FRS-NJ digital-learning pledge. Acknowledging the challenges of providing the highest-quality education for every student in the communities represented by the NJ-BMASJ members, Garretson said that the pledge signifies a commitment to clear self-assessment of community digital-learning needs, and to initiating collaboration for achieving improved student outcomes statewide. In the concluding words of the pledge, the commitment to FRS-NJ participation is a "focal point for our collective efforts to lead our communities to a better tomorrow."
In addition to mayors, superintendents and students from the City of Newark and Hillside, those attending included Mayor Derek Armstead of Linden, Mayor Dwayne D. Warren of Orange, Mayor Tony Vauss of Irvington, Mayor Andre C. Daniel of Westhampton, and Mayor Nat Anderson from Willingboro, as well as board members and administrators from East Orange, Orange, and Linden.
One of the nation's leading public technological universities, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is a top-tier research university that prepares students to become leaders in the technology-dependent economy of the 21st century. NJIT's multidisciplinary curriculum and computing-intensive approach to education provide technological proficiency, business acumen and leadership skills. With an enrollment of 11,300 graduate and undergraduate students, NJIT offers small-campus intimacy with the resources of a major public research university. NJIT is a global leader in such fields as solar research, nanotechnology, resilient design, tissue engineering and cybersecurity, in addition to others. NJIT ranks fifth among U.S. polytechnic universities in research expenditures, topping $110 million, and is among the top 1 percent of public colleges and universities in return on educational investment, according to Payscale.com. NJIT has a $1.74 billion annual economic impact on the state of New Jersey.