Greg Meece and student at ribbon cutting

Congratulations to Dr. Gregory Meece, who is soon to retire after eighteen continuous years as Director of  Newark Charter School, now the school with the largest enrollment of all pre-collegiate schools—public, charter, or private—in the state of Delaware.

Back in 2000, when the school was still in the planning stages, few might have anticipated such growth. While Newark Charter had the backing of committed and enthusiastic parents, it lacked a few things—as Greg recalls, “We didn’t have any money, didn’t have any curriculum, didn’t have staff, didn’t have a building.”

Greg, who was hired as School Director from the start, scrambled to find a facility—“We had no track record, and we couldn’t get a loan because we had no collateral.” But at least he found a curriculum. A parent on the founding committee asked Greg if he had heard of Core Knowledge. Indeed he had.

In a graduate course at the University of Delaware, Greg had recently read E. D. Hirsch, Jr.’s The Schools We Need and Why We Don’t Have Them. Looking back, says Greg, “I suspect the book was assigned as a contrast to the other curriculum models” represented in most of the readings in the course. After reading Hirsch’s book, Greg’s response was, “This makes perfect sense.”

What made perfect sense to Greg also made sense to prospective parents of the new charter school. “From the very beginning,” he says, “when I was going around neighborhood to neighborhood talking about Newark Charter School, long before we had any teachers, before we had a facility, I talked about Core Knowledge—and I could see the parents’ heads going up and down as I explained the concepts behind it.”

Greg told parents how Core Knowledge “sets the bar high, how it works for any kind of learner, how the topics are integrated within a grade level, and how they build carefully year to year to avoid gaps and unnecessary repeats, giving kids the ‘intellectual Velcro’ that lets them gain new knowledge more easily because they have a good foundation, a good background.”

Parents, says Greg, “basically understood Core Knowledge from the beginning, and we’ve stuck with it because we’ve had so much success with it”—success borne out by the school’s state test scores, consistently among the highest across Delaware’s schools, as well as two National Blue Ribbon Awards for academic excellence.

While Greg is proud of the school’s high scores, he says, “I don’t wait to see what our state test scores look like to see if we’re successful. I listen to what parents tell me their kids are talking about at the dinner table. If they’re talking about history and literature and art and music, I know we’re already successful. Because once kids are tuned in and they enjoy learning, they’re going want to do well and do more of it. The instruction in the classroom, the classroom environment, and the content of the curriculum all have to stimulate the kids to get them interested and get them wanting to learn more.”

Under Greg’s committed leadership, Newark Charter School has grown steadily. When the school opened in the fall of 2001 it served 450 students in grades 5-7, housed in rented trailers. Now it serves 2,400 students in grades K-12, and the campus consists of three buildings owned by the school, with a fourth building in the planning stages. Moreover, says Greg, there are about 3,000 students on a waiting list to attend Newark Charter. Admission to the school, notes Greg, is by lottery. “We have all kinds of students here,” says Greg, representing a cross-section of income and ability levels.

One thing, says Greg, that has consistently encouraged him during his time at Newark Charter is seeing “our students rise to the occasion and enjoy learning about topics that are daunting to adults.” He recalls a special education class in the school’s first year, with “about six or seven students who met in half a trailer next to my office. They were studying Shakespeare’s tragedy Julius Caesar. The teacher called me over and said, ‘My kids want you to come see what they can do.’ So I stepped over, and here were these kids, dressed in togas and with laurel wreaths on their heads, and they acted out scenes from Julius Caesar. They could tell you the story, tell you who the characters were, tell you about Shakespeare. These kids were only 11 years old, and they had learning disabilities, and they were enthusiastic about Julius Caesar—and I’m thinking, holy cow, this is really amazing!”

As amazing, perhaps, as eighteen unbroken years of steady leadership and dedicated service—for which, Greg, the Core Knowledge Foundation offers sincere thanks and all best wishes for the years ahead!

7 comments on “Steady Leadership and Success at Newark Charter”

  1. 1
    Karyl Rattay on June 9, 2019

    Thank you, Greg Meece! Delaware children and families are so fortunate to have benefitted from your amazing vision and leadership!

  2. 2
    James Whaley on June 11, 2019

    It never ceases to amaze me how young people take an interest in Shakespeare and, like the author states, take on adult topics which are traditionally challenging to… well adults. This is a great story of dedication to and understanding one’s real constituents.

  3. 3
    Luani Nedd-Sealey on July 18, 2019

    Hi  Dr. Gregory Meece,

    Thank you for service and dedication. It is amazing the impact and change that can be made in an institution as a result of a great leader. I love the way you view success, not based on students’ scores but rather what they are talking about around the dinner table. I have learned over the years as a teacher that once students are excited about learning they will share it. Thank you once again for your positive contribution to the lives of the students and your school environment.

  4. 4
    arun on July 21, 2019

    I have learned over the years as a teacher that once students are excited about learning they will share it. Thank you once again for your positive contribution to the lives of the students and your school environment. This is a great story of dedication to and understanding one’s real constituents.

  5. 5
    Pietro Meli on September 18, 2019

    Thank you for the inspiring story and thank you to Dr. Meece! I would like to know what other planning considerations he prioritized that led to the school’s success. A Carnegie Foundation study identified 10 areas that are essential to the health of a school and Dr. Meece definitely tackled “shaping the curriculum” (Ackerman and Mackenzie, 2007). Did educators have a meeting to establish budgetary priorities? How was teacher performance measured? Was technology prioritized over discussions, presentations, note-taking, and more personal classroom activities?

    References
    Ackerman, R. & Mackenzie, S. (2007). Uncovering teacher leadership: Essays and voices from the field. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

  6. 6
    HWalker on September 18, 2019

    I wholeheartedly agree that the instruction in the classroom, the classroom environment, and the content of the curriculum is all-important when teaching students. Many of our students with and without disabilities want to learn. It takes the dedication of teachers to learn how their students learn and cater their instruction to meet their needs. In a world of data-driven results, it is good to hear that learning is determined based on students abilities to share what they have learned instead of a number dictating their ability. I wish this way of thinking would filter over to public schools.

  7. 7
    C. Corbett on October 14, 2019

    Newark Charter’s story is a typical example of what leaders do. Dr. Meece accepted a challenge, created a vision and took action. Charlotte Danielson (2006) listed several characteristics that leaders own. Greg recognized an opportunity and took action without having a building or teachers. He started gathering resources (Core Knowledge) which helped him gain the support of the community and stakeholders. As educators, we have the knowledge and insight. How successful can we become if we took the risk and start to develop ideas of our own?

    Reference
    Danielson, C. (2006). Teacher leadership that strengthens professional practice. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

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