Q&A: Dr. Frank A. Newton of the Newark Charter School
Oct 07, 2019 02:38PM
By J. Chambless
This September, after a 25-year administrative career at the
University of Delaware, Dr. Frank Newton began a new chapter of his dedication
to academics by becoming the School Director at Newark Charter School. He
replaced school founder and longtime director Greg Meece, who had championed
the school from its humble beginnings 18 years ago to an award-winning,
independently operated institution dedicated to student effort, achievement and
decorum for children in grades K-12.
Dr. Newton may be new to his position, but his ties to Newark Charter School extend back more than a dozen years. He spent six years on the school board of directors, a three-year term as board chairman, and he and wife Amy saw their two children attend and graduate from the school. In late August, three days before the start of the 2019-20 academic year Newark Life met with Dr. Newton to discuss his new challenge, the many strengths of Newark Charter School and who he’d like to see at his ultimate dinner party.
Q.: Let’s talk first about who you are succeeding – Greg Meece – and how his vision made Newark Charter School what it is today.
A.: The beginning of Newark Charter School started when Greg would host community forums, and have conversations with parents. He would say, “We are going to create this school. I don’t have any teachers or textbooks yet, but here’s our vision.” He said the school was going to create a motto of excellence wrapped around student effort, achievement and decorum. Literally and figuratively, Greg has been infused in every bit, piece and decision that has taken place in this school, dating back to the time it began in September 2001 with trailers, or modular classrooms as they were called.
You’re the new kid here. How are you adjusting and what’s on your early road map as you begin a new academic year?
It’s been sort of a whirlwind. We had our extended school year, so our students with special needs continued for a part of the summer, and I got a chance to meet and work with the some of the students and the faculty. There is a great team here, led by the principals in our elementary, middle and high schools. They have been phenomenal, as has the rest of Newark Charter School community, in welcoming me.
It’s actually a great time to step in as school director. A lot of times when communities are faced with finding a leader, there are issues or trauma associated with that change – that require the need to fill in the hole or rebuild trust. I’m lucky because I don’t have any of that. There’s nothing to fix. It’s a well-oiled machine. My key mission this year will be to help the greater Newark community understand that we, like all great educators in the state, are really focused on making sure that every child in Delaware receives an excellent education.
In a broader sense, in what ways will you continue to move Newark Charter School forward in the future?
We have amazing strengths here, which allows us to have several places where we can take our mission to higher levels. One of the places I am looking at is determining where the school can continue to partner in the local community, which includes businesses, industries, other schools and the City of Newark. It will be about finding those places and those people who can help enrich the value of the education our students are receiving.
As a recent example, we were lucky enough to receive a grant from the Chemours Company, which will allow our students to meet and gain an appreciation of scientists from underrepresented populations and non-traditional backgrounds. In addition, we also have the connections of 250 employees here, and many of them are involved in local organizations, not to mention our students and their families, who are also involved in this community. It’s a wellspring of connectivity.
What was it about Newark Charter School that convinced you and Amy to send your children here?
Like everyone else, Amy and I wanted the best education for our kids, and we wanted to find a place where our kids could thrive. We have two very different children – one is very math and science oriented and the other is attracted to the arts – and we wanted to find a place where both of these interests would be both taught and embraced. Tom started in third grade and Abby started in first grade.
It was about looking at options and alternatives. I am public school kid born and raised. I believe in public education and I’ve worked at public institutions my entire career, so we saw Newark Charter School as a wonderful opportunity for our children to receive the best public school education.
You just spoke to the staff at a ‘Welcome Back to School’ event. What did you say?
I spoke about the many people we have impacted, and the many people who have impacted us. There’s a song in ‘Wicked’ entitled “For Good” that says, “You’ll be with me, like a handprint on my heart.” Having spent 25 years at the University of Delaware, I had the opportunity to interact with many colleagues who changed some of my foundational views and my place in the world. We’re the handprints on the hearts of a lot of young people, and we’re shaping those lives here.
It can be as simple as a smile and a welcoming face for a kid who needs that on a particular day. Some of our students don’t have strong support systems outside of school, so in some cases our school is the most stable part of their day. Having those foundational pieces in place enforces the belief in our teachers and staff that they are both educators and leaders.
Who impacted you?
In my young life, my family moved multiple times, so from pre-K to the second grade, I was in five different schools. I was always the new kid. Mrs. Borden was my second-grade teacher, and she was the first teacher who made me feel like I belonged. She allowed me to know that I had gifts and talents, in a way that other teachers had not.
Education is the differentiator, and it’s what makes the difference and levels the playing field. It’s critically important to me to figure out how we as educators can make that accessible to our students.
It is the aspiration of every public school system to be able to have the resources to provide more individualized teaching. In a school of 2,400 students coming in next week, that’s not always an easy thing to achieve at Newark Charter School. Talk about what the school is doing to reverse this.
We added another reading specialist in our fifth through eighth grade to provide assistance to students who require it. We’re also addressing how we can best help students with learning concerns. The reality is that we have students who are coming to us with social and emotional issues that hamper their ability to learn, so we help them how to navigate through these issues, through innovation and technology. It’s figuring out new approaches and pedagogies.
It’s very safe to say that students now are far more impacted by the outside world than they were, say, decades ago.
We may have had the duck-and-cover drills back when you and I were in school, but the impact of the outside world wasn’t coming at us 24-7. It wasn’t coming to us on our phones and in our houses and in a 24-hour news cycle. Our kids are inundated with this in a way that we were not. It creates a greater global awareness, but on the other side of the coin, that they also understand that the world is not always a safe place all of the time.
We are also not assaulted by social media, either. If we had a bad day, we could retool at home. We could have a parent talk with us. Now, it’s the last thing we see before we go to bed. It’s the first thing we see when we get up in the morning, and in between, social media may have blown up about what may have happened to that child that day.
Here at Newark Charter School, we incorporate technology in a way that’s helpful and positive to our students. It’s our mission to give kids access to positive resources and the way to navigate through them. It’s a way of providing different life lessons, and our staff does that extremely well.
What is your favorite spot in Newark?
I have three. I really like Main Street. As a location, it has a really cool vibe to it; it’s hip, small-town America but with a lot of different flavors. I also enjoy the Newark Free Library, for what it brings to our community, and I also enjoy Chapel Street Players.
Frank Newton tosses a dinner party. Who do you want around that table?
I would love to have Maya Angelou at the table. In all of the interviews I’ve seen of her, her voice and cadence and the way she uses language pulls me in, and I could listen to her for hours. Stephen King fascinates me as an author. I’m also a big Rachel Maddow fan. I find her takes on political situations insightful, but also accessible.
What food or product can always be found in the Newton refrigerator?
Many different kinds of ice cream. It’s my undoing, and I take full responsibility. From another perspective, I would also like to include peanut butter.
To learn more about the Newark Charter School, visit www.NewarkCharterSchool.org.
– Richard L. Gaw