The future site of the Teachers' Village development in downtown Newark, New Jersey was visited by Newark Mayor Cory Booker and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie – with a cohort of private developers and investors — to see how the groundbreaking and innovative project is progressing.
The mixed-use development, a project six years in the making, will include expanded space for three existing public charter schools and a private pre-school; 200 moderately priced apartments reserved for Newark public, charter, and private school educators; and space for retail establishments, including restaurants and possibly a supermarket, writes Dana Goldstein at The Nation.
"The project's designer is the Newark-born architect Richard Meier, best known for the Getty Center in Los Angeles and, locally, the all-glass luxury condominium building at 1 Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn."
The eight-building project – which cost $150 million – was funded publicly with support from federal, state and city government grants.
"Its progress is evidence of Booker and Christie's continuing cooperation, across party lines, on a school reform agenda focused on the expansion of the charter school sector."
The state's charter school system has been criticized by civil rights organizations and teachers' unions for serving a lower proportion of special-needs and English-language learner students than traditional public schools.
Booker and Christie could temper critics by placing school reform in the broader context of urban revitalization in the Teachers' Village concept, with support from education advocates from across the ideological spectrum.
The project is being led by the RBH Group, and RBH Group president Ron Beit said that the idea of concentrating housing for teachers from charter, public and private schools would encourage "socializing and the exchange of ideas.â¦ It's like an artists' enclave or a technology cluster for businesses, but here it's for teachers."
But would teachers want to live in the area? As data shows from a recent RBH Group survey shows, they haven't been in the past, with only 19 percent of Newark teachers living in the city proper, while 29 percent live in the New Jersey suburbs, 19 percent live in New York City and 10 percent live in Jersey City.
As in many American cities, the uneven quality of Newark's public schools may be keeping teachers from enrolling their own children in the district, writes Goldstein.
"The best way to convince Newark teachers and other middle-class professionals to live in the city might be to focus less on building teacher-specific housing and more on overall school improvement efforts across the city, in both charter and traditional public schools."
Another option would be to increase parents' involvement with their children's education by co-locating schools with housing reserved for low-income families.
Full-service children's centers – like the Brooklyn Kindergarten Society – include pre-schools and family support services that work closely with city social service agencies.
However, as Goldstein adds, there is less profit to be made in a project like this than building market-rate housing for middle-class teachers.