April 1, 1996
In February of 1996, Union City -- a predominantly Latino, inner city community -- received national recognition when the President and Vice President of the United States came to acknowledge the extraordinary accomplishments of this urban school district. The unique blending of comprehensive school reform, technological innovation, and corporate sponsorship was cited by the President as a model for educational excellence and national inspiration.
Like many urban school districts, Union City has faced serious educational challenges. In 1989, it was placed among New Jersey's special needs districts. The district developed a five-year improvement plan. Its goal: produce a curriculum that supports the development of thinking, reasoning and collaboration skills throughout the disciplines. Students would learn by doing -- demonstrating their proficiencies through writing research papers and carrying out projects. The district also made an investment in upgrading buildings and purchasing additional educational tools, such as books, multimedia resources and computers.
Union City's need to implement a plan for systematic improvement surfaced at the same time Bell Atlantic-New Jersey began implementing its advanced network plan, Opportunity New Jersey. In 1992 Bell Atlantic established a partnership with the Union City Board of Education in conjunction with the Education Development Center's (EDC) Center for Children and Technology (CCT).
The technology trial was first implemented in September of 1993. Computers were supplied at school and at the homes of all 135 seventh-grade students and their teachers at the Christopher Columbus School. The students are now ninth graders at Emerson High School and Bell Atlantic has committed to continuing the home/school connections through their sophomore year of high school.
Students throughout the district, especially those involved in the Bell Atlantic Union City trial, have made positive strides. Progress includes a marked improvement in standardized test scores and writing skills, significant declines in absenteeism, an increase in students transferring in, and a decrease in students transferring out.
In grades where curricular reforms were established, students are systematically performing at or above national averages. Reading and language arts are in the average to best range. Mathematics is in the above average to best range. Union City students are consistently outperforming other urban and special needs districts in the state by approximately 27 percentage points in reading, math and writing scores on the New Jersey's Early Warning Test. This strongly suggests that the new curriculum, coupled with well-supported and judiciously integrated technologies, is making a significant contribution to student performance.
Parents, administrators, teachers and students are using electronic mail to build bridges and break down walls. Teachers see extensive use of this medium playing an important role in supporting the development of student writing and research skills. The trial also has furthered the research orientation of the district's curriculum, prompting students to seek more information and to use resources not readily available in the past.
In 1995 the unique efforts underway in Union City were recognized with a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to fund Union City Online: An Architecture for Networking and Reform. In partnership with the Education Development Center and Bell Atlantic this grant will enable the district to extend the technical infrastructure and develop the human infrastructure to build a comprehensive and sustainable model for school networking.