July 18, 2023


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Newark, NJ—July 18,2023— Mayor Ras J. Baraka, Chief Education Officer Dr. Sharnee Brown, Newark Board of Education Assistant Superintendent, Teaching and Learning Dr. Mary Ann Reilly, The Newark Library Director Christian G. Zabriskie, and other dignitaries launched a citywide 10-point plan to address child literacy starting with prenatal care and expanding through third grade, today, at a press conference at The Newark Public Library, located at 5 Washington Street.


The plan is developed in reaction to the national major adverse academic impact since 2019, due to learning loss during the COVID-19 period. According to the National Center of Educational Statistics (NCES), in 2019 only 35.34% of fourth grade students were at or above proficiency, 33.58% of eighth grade students were at or above proficiency and 37% of 12th grade students were at or above proficiency. In Newark, the 2022 results of the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment (NJSLA) showed only 19% of third graders passed the NJSLA literacy test. In nine schools, the percentage of third graders passing the English exam were in the single digits. In 2022, Newark’s literacy passing rate for all grade was 27 percent. In light of this educational emergency, the Mayor convened a coalition of experts to establish Mayor Ras J. Baraka Brain Trust to Address the Urgent Literacy Crisis. Today’s event unveiled the Trust’s 10 actionable steps that schools, parents, and community organizations will undertake now and in the coming school year to put our city’s students back on track.


“As an educator and former Newark school principal, I know the connection between childhood reading proficiency, high school graduation, and life success with meaningful productive employment. So these scores are incredibly alarming to me,” said Mayor Baraka. “Up to third grade, children are learning to read. But by fourth grade, reading becomes the tool for drawing their learning from the curriculum. Children lacking proficiency by third grade are up to six times more at risk for leaving school without a diploma and on a trajectory toward limited lifetime economic growth. This is unacceptable for the children of Newark. I have charged this Brain Trust with reversing this downward spiral – with support from all segments of our community – to uplift our young students and ensure a bright future for them and our city.”


“Literacy is like building a house. The stronger the foundation of the house the more likely it will be structurally secure in the future,” said Dr. Brown. “Literacy success is attainable! How can we ensure literacy success for every child in Newark? All stakeholders must be involved in building a solid foundation. We hope our researched-based 10-point literacy plan will be a game changer and shore up the next generation to achieve beyond our expectations.”


“Newark Public Schoolsis committed to ensuring that Mayor Baraka’s Pre-Natal to Third Grade 10-Point Literacy Plan is realized,” said Newark Board of Education Superintendent Roger León in a statement. “The district has already taken steps to ensure the first three actions that focus on important work for schools to do, are being done. High-dosage tutoring, culturally relevant texts for all students, and an emphasis on writing are underway and will continue. We join with the mayor and the committee in supporting all of the 10 actions and ensuring that our children develop into powerful readers and writers.”


The citywide plan is organized into 10 points, as follows:


Schools Will


1. Implement one-on-one high dosage tutoring embedded in the school day and after school. Studies show evidence that one-on-one tutoring is the most effective intervention to accelerate reading growth even with struggling readers. Create and enroll struggling readers in reading tutoring for two to three days a week for 30 minutes for most impactful results.

2. Select books that reflect children’s cultural and ethnic background. Studies showed that giving students agency to select culturally relevant texts has shown to increase reading performance in the following areas: critical evaluations, connections and making meaning.

3. Incorporate more writing to improve reading comprehension. Studies recommend three writing practices that enhance students’ reading. Have students summarize, take notes, respond to or interpret text. Also, teach students format, grammar and spelling skills to create specific text.


Parents Will


4. Enroll children in free pre-k3 and pre-k4 programs, and ensure everyday attendance. All pre-k programs offer small class sizes which do not exceed 15 students, proven curriculum, and certified staff. Children receive Newark residents have various pre-k options to choose from in district schools, charter schools, and community-based providers as well as Head Start programming for high quality learning in reading and writing, math, science, visual and performing arts, as well as health, physical education, and social living development.

5. Read aloud and listen to your child read daily, and ask questions. Studied show that reading aloud to children benefits them in several ways: builds vocabulary, improves comprehension, improves active listening, strengthens fluency and reduces stress. Resources such as audiobooks on Audible, Google read and opt out can act as the reading guide while students follow along and keep their eyes on the text. Reading one to five books a day to children can address a million-word gap. Studies show that young children whose parents read one book daily expose their children to 296,660 more words or those who read five books a day expose their children to 1,483,300 more words a day before they enter kindergarten than those who do not. Research shows when readers, parents and teachers ask readers specific types of questions before, during and after reading, it increases comprehension.

6. Get quality prenatal care and read books to unborn children. Research shows that literacy starts before birth. Studies show that getting prenatal care, eating nutritiously and reading to the unborn child as early as 18 weeks build healthy brain development in the baby and lay an important literacy foundation for the child. Once born, parents should constantly talk directly face-to-face with the baby and read to the baby daily to lead the child down a solid literacy trajectory. If a mother needs prenatal support call the Department of Health and Community Wellness Mary Eliza Mahoney Health Center at 1-800-734-7083. South Ward Healthy Beginnings Program is also available to provide necessary support, quality early childhood programming and an age 0-5 community of practice.

7. Build vocabulary during all ages (newborn to third grade). At every stage of development, parents should use the world around them to name things to practice vocabulary. Encourage students at all ages to build vocabulary. Pre-k, and kids aged three to four should have sight words that parents and teachers are committed to teach them before entering kindergarten. School age children should practice using a dictionary & thesaurus when writing.


Community Partners and Non-profits Will


8. Ensure all afterschool programs have a reading component. Nonprofits and other community partners should mandate that all funding would be relegated to programs and sports that incorporate some level of reading or literacy component. Also, community partners should implement reading tutoring or programs with components embedded in them.

9. Develop literacy initiatives throughout the city. Publish a calendar of literacy events and offer incentives for families to obtain a library card when visiting your local Newark Public Library’s website or other stores such as Source of Knowledge Bookstore.

10. Distribute books for family access to help develop home library. Children growing up in a home with a 500-book home library could boost a child’s projected educational career 3.2 years further in education than growing up in a similar home with few or no books. Ensure funding is provided so that at local events quality books are given to families to help develop home libraries.


“We here at The Newark Public Library (NPL) are thrilled to be a part of this important literacy campaign,” said Mr. Zabriskie. “We know how important these early formative years are for children to cultivate a real love for reading and the crucial role that parents, and all of us in their community, play. NPL welcomes children to a wide range of programs with books, events, and joy for every member of the family. Please join us at story times at all NPL branch locations, be a part of NPL’s Summer Reading program, and participate in the 1,000 Books Before Reading challenge. Whatever your child’s interest, we are here for them and we are here to help you show them how the joy of literacy can lead to a lifetime of success.”


“As the leading provider of audio books and premium audio storytelling, Audible is excited to continue our legacy of education support by exploring how we can leverage our people and product to help Mayor Baraka’s Literacy Brain Trust improve literacy scores and life outcomes for Newark children,” said Audible Vice President of Urban Innovation Aisha Glover.


The Brain Trust participants include:

Mayor Ras J. Baraka

City of Newark, Chief Education Officer Dr. Sharnee Brown

City of Newark, Business Administrator Eric Pennington

City of Newark, Health and Human Services Director Ketlen Baptiste Alsbrook

Newark Board of Education, Superintendent Roger Léon

Newark Board of Education, Asst. Superintendent, Teaching & Learning Dr. Mary Ann Reilly

Newark Board of Education Office of Language Arts Literacy, Director Jazleen Othman

Newark Board of Education Office of Early Childhood, Executive Director Yolonda Severe

My Brother’s Keeper, Executive Director Mark Comesañas

Creed Strategies, CEO Dr. Lauren Wells

The Newark Library, Assistant Director of Public Services Anna Coats

Rutgers University– Newark Urban Education, Director of Field Experiences Dr. Jhanae  Wingfield

Newark Trust, Executive Director Ronald Chaluisan

South Ward Promise Neighborhood, Director of External Relations Khalil Nassiruddin

Brick Education/Southward Promise Neighborhood, Director of Partner Operations Justine Asante

Brick Education Network, Founder & CEO Dominique Lee

My Very Own Library, Director Karen Leach-Toomer

Audible, Director of Community Education Jeff Anderson

Rutgers University – Newark Joseph Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Research, Director Dr. Charles Payne

Rutgers University – Newark Joseph Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Research, Assistant Research Professor and Senior Quantitative Director Dr. Vandeen Campbell


For photos, click here.




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