A Newark charter network is the first Essex County recipient of an accolade awarded biannually by the New Jersey Department of Education.

KIPP’s 11 Newark charter schools, spearheaded by its flagship, TEAM Academy Charter School, were together named a “Lighthouse District,” along with one other charter school and nine other school districts across the state, at the education department’s “Equity for All” conference on Wednesday. TEAM Academy is the first Newark school to be selected for the honor.

The designation was started in 2017 by former New Jersey Commissioner of Education Kimberley Harrington Markus as a way to recognize high-performing districts in the state. Charter schools and networks are considered districts under state law.

“We are proud to shine a light on districts who are making important strides in making sure all of our students succeed,” Harrington Markus said Wednesday morning as she took the stage to announce the second cohort of Lighthouse Districts.

Founded in 2002, TEAM Academy was the national charter operator KIPP’s first school in the Newark area. Now the network has 11 schools in the city, with four more planned. Together, the schools post test scores that far outpace the Newark school district’s, offer an intensive teacher training program, and participate in KIPP’s national efforts to increase the proportion of graduates completing college.

“We have teachers and faculty that go above and beyond every day and are relentless in their quest to ensure that all of our kids not only get to college but get through college,” said KIPP Assistant Superintendent Nicole Sherrin Kessler. 

The network plans to add four more schools in Newark in the next few years.

Though Sherrin Kessler says that KIPP is “honored” by the recognition, she said she hopes other schools in Newark get recognized over time as well. Both charter schools and the Newark district made substantial gains over the last decade, according to a recent analysis, although Newark’s citywide test-score growth and district graduation rate dipped last year.

“People should see the incredible work happening in Newark,” she said. 

In addition to KIPP Newark, the 2019 Lighthouse Districts are Little Falls, Long Branch, Ocean City, Paul Robeson Charter, Perth Amboy, Red Bank Borough, Somerville, Waterford, Washington Borough, and West Deptford. For the next two years, educators in Lighthouse Districts will be able to receive diversity and inclusion training and participate in state department education policy discussions. 

“Like lighthouses serve as a guide to ships in the harbor, our districts show our state a way forward and help us navigate challenges faced by schools and educators every day,” Harrington Markus said.