After a life spent mainly in the Chicago area, I relocated to Trenton in late fall 2011. Following two years of teaching abroad, I decided it was time for something new, so I moved into a delightfully diverse mid-19th century neighborhood called Mill Hill. I regard it as a little piece of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, which was my home during the 1970s while I was a magazine and book editor and mother of two young children.
Among Trenton’s attractions are its history and its current set of challenges – urban America in microcosm. Soon after arriving, I became an adjunct professor of history at Mercer County Community College, took a tour of the State House, became a docent, and joined Save Our Schools New Jersey, an organization dedicated to preserving public education. All have been marvelous opportunities to educate myself about schooling and politics in New Jersey. Shortly thereafter, I started attending meetings of the Trenton Board of Education – and found them to be lively, well-attended sessions led by an incisive, engaged, and philosophically inclined president. Thus, a new project, this blog, began to take shape.
I bring to this and other education projects a varied set of experiences – as a young parent, I wondered why my mother had received a far more solid basic education in the rural schools of the Dakotas than my daughters’ babysitters were getting in the public schools of Manhattan. Addressing that question led me to delve into the history of education, first at Teachers College, Columbia, and then at Northwestern and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where I received a Ph.D. in 2005. And now, it’s led me to study the public schools of Trenton.
Growing up in Winnetka, Illinois, I was fortunate to attend schools widely regarded as among the nation’s best – Crow Island School, noted for its influential architecture as well as its structured student-centeredness (see photo of my sixth-grade classroom), and sprawling, storied New Trier High School (about which I have more ambivalent feelings).
Decades later, after years as a journalist and an administrator of education and civic improvement projects, I began observing meetings of other boards of education. By contrast with those of Trenton, they were staid, seemingly scripted affairs. In Trenton, a civic leader has suggested that state education officials might focus on helping to improve the capital city’s current schools rather than undermining them with additional state controls — I applaud that idea. Thus, this blog will consider schooling in New Jersey, focusing on how state and national policies, plus local input and initiatives, affect Trenton’s schools and the educational opportunities they provide the city’s children and youth.