Two more Newark high schools get career academies, a crucial element of the district’s improvement plan

Two Newark high schools launched career-focused “academies” this week, bringing Superintendent Roger León closer to his vision of revitalizing the district’s traditional high schools and preparing students for college and careers.

Barringer High School now offers a law and safety program that includes a JROTC chapter. Students in West Side High School’s new business and finance program will choose from five specialties, including accounting, sales, and supply chain management. Each program is paired with a magnet school in addition to a university and industry partner, with the goal of providing role models and potential advocates who may one day help students land jobs.

The new programs are meant to improve career education in the district, and also make two of the city’s comprehensive high schools more attractive to students. Higher-achieving students mostly enroll in the district’s selective magnet high schools, leaving the non-selective comprehensive schools to educate the city’s neediest students.

León has been talking about plans for the academies and improved career and technical education since his tenure began in 2018.

“This is important work that could not be accomplished without our partners,” León said in a press release announcing the new programs. “They bring invaluable experience and a unique perspective to our students and provide game-changing opportunities for them and their families.”

West Side Principal Akbar Cook said the new programs are essential for making sure students graduate with marketable skills and certifications.

“We have to stop throwing every kid at the college route and think they’re all going to stick to the wall,” Cook said. “They’re not.”

East Side High School was the first school to announce an academy, with a focus on teaching, last year through a partnership with Montclair State University and the American Federation of Teachers.

Under the academy structure, students benefit from a blended curriculum that features out-of-class learning experiences, specialized courses to earn industry certifications, and skills to land internship opportunities in Newark and beyond. The district says it has spent nearly $375,000 bringing facilities and infrastructure up to speed in the schools hosting the new programs.

“The goal is to diversify the course offerings so much that we have something for every student,” said Jose Aviles, Barringer’s principal. “I think people get stuck on having one pathway and we want to increase as any pathways as we possibly can.”

Wednesday marked the official unveiling of the William J. Brennan Courtroom, named after the former Supreme Court justice, Newark native, and Barringer graduate. Students will have class and participate in mock trials led by Rutgers Law School staff and McCarter and English attorneys. University High School, which already has a law program, is Barringer’s magnet high school partner, meaning that Barringer students will be able to take classes there.

Barringer had an existing career and technical education program offering students specialized elective courses in carpentry, computer applications, graphic design, and more. Carpentry students built the bench and judge’s box.

Classes began this fall though faculty and partners continue planning a comprehensive curriculum. First-year students learn about civics and civil law; the programs for subsequent years are still being developed, Aviles said.

Students will have the opportunity to visit the Rutgers Law School campus McCarter and English law firm to observe classes and experience a day in the life of a practicing attorney. In the future, the program could expand to include a paralegal certification and options for college credit through Rutgers Law School.

Attorneys will meet with students to talk about their interests and expose them to different legal fields. Students will receive mentorship and support which is especially important for those who may not have a lawyer in their family or may not have talked to one, said Robert Mintz, managing partner of McCarter’s Newark office.

“A lot of where people tend to end up in their career paths has to do with they’re exposed to in their educational journey from high school and college,” said Mintz. “We’re giving students the opportunity early on to think about their careers now even before they’re going to college.”

At West Side’s business and finance academy, students will get support from Rutgers Business School and the opportunity to earn credentials with Google Creative Labs. The school is partnering with American History High School, a magnet school.

The school already offered career and technical education electives. West Side also operates a Capital One bank, which Cook said is the only student-run branch in New Jersey and one of four in the country.

Classrooms have been renovated to be set up like corporate conference rooms and students have the opportunity to participate in virtual enterprises where they hire C-suite executives to run a business to compete with other students from over 40 countries.

“I want the first floor of my school building to look like a mall,” said Cook, who said he’s using entrepreneurship to lure students away from the temptation of fast money and street life.

He envisions a program where students start on campus at the school store and eventually have the opportunity to become partners in business outside of school.

Part of the developing curriculum features partnerships with local businesses and competitions for student to pitch their own business ideas for startup money, said John Impellizzeri, a Rutgers Business School professor with decades of experience in supply chain management.

Impellizzeri advises the academy and believes in the program’s power to attract more students to combat West Side’s declining enrollment and develop top talent.

“Give this a chance and it’s going to become an amazing place for young people and to cultivate not just the next generation of RBS students,” he said. “But the future CEOs, CFOs, and entrepreneurs of this world will come out of West Side High School. I can promise you that.”

Correction: Nov. 11, 2019: This story has been been corrected to reflect John Impellizzeri’s status at Rutgers Business School.