Community partner spotlight: Princeton Public Schools

To extend our community outreach, the library partners with many of the municipal, non-profit and business organizations that make Princeton such an extraordinary town. This month, Princeton Public Schools are in the spotlight and we spoke with with members of the PPS leadership team including Superintendent Steve Cochrane and Assistant Superintendent Annie Gonzalez Kosek to learn more about this partnership.

The library collaborates with Princeton Public Schools throughout the school year. All kindergarteners visit the library in the spring to tour the library and receive their library card (if they don’t already have one). Our team of librarians visit each elementary school to meet with students to talk about the  summer reading program at the library. We work with the middle school librarian to bring in authors (recent authors include Jerry Craft, Sharon Draper, Jerry Spinelli). Each fall our librarians go to John Witherspoon to talk about the exciting books that are coming out in the coming months. We collaborate with Princeton High School on a variety of initiatives. In addition, we go to new-parent orientations at the schools whenever possible. We support the school curriculum by providing access to online research databases We are looking forward to future collaborations between our two organizations, including the upcoming African American Read-in in February.

How long has Princeton had a public school system?

Public education in Princeton dates back to the 1800s and the history of education in this town is a long and interesting story. Our district has six schools, including four elementary schools (Community Park, Johnson Park, Littlebrook and Riverside), in addition to the John Witherspoon Middle School and Princeton High School. We have a cordial relationship with Princeton University and many private schools in the Princeton area. We feel honored to be part of a community where education is so valued.

What is your primary area of focus?

Our primary area of focus is educating the approximately 3,900 students who attend our six schools, and, in accordance with our mission, preparing them to lead lives of joy and purpose as knowledgeable, creative and compassionate citizens of a global society. As an active partner in this community we are honored to join with others to make life better for the children and families in our town.

Why do you like partnering with the library?

We love partnering with Princeton Public Library!

When the library describes itself as Princeton’s living room, it’s really true. On any given day, more than 150 of our students visit the library to read, research, relax and socialize. Summer programs, reading groups and tutoring are just a few of the ways the library and our schools are working together on behalf of the students we share. Our elementary students visit the library and become familiar with how it works, and the amazing staff from the library are frequent visitors to our schools. The PPL librarians are in conversation with our school librarians to find ways that they can work together and share resources. In addition, the library offers programming for the parents of our students, and it regularly hosts forums on topics that inform and benefit the schools and the community.

With whom do you work most in the community?

At some point, we work with almost all community groups. We have a productive and warm relationship with the municipality and we share many services with them. We communicate regularly with Princeton University, the Institute for Advanced Study, and other schools and educational groups, often engaging in innovative projects that may benefit our students and faculty. We have important grant relationships with the YMCA and the YWCA. We also work with the Princeton Children’s Fund, Princeton Educational Foundation, Sustainable Princeton, the Arts Council, the Witherspoon Jackson Development Corporation, Not In Our Town, HiTops, and sometimes with private businesses and charities. We like to partner with anybody who has a good idea that will benefit our students.

What is something that you do that people might not know about?

Our academics, our arts programs, our student athletes and our community service projects get a lot of attention in the community. In recent years, we have also been working hard to help vulnerable students and families as well as under-served communities. This is more important now than ever. While we want to–and do–celebrate the many successes of all students, we also want to make sure we are supporting children in need. That’s why partnering with the many excellent organizations in this community who share similar goals is so important to us.

Is there any project or event that you are particularly excited about at the moment?

We have been having ongoing conversations about equity and in that context we have some very bold goals. One goal is to transform the definition of success. In a world that may focus on AP scores and Ivy League admission rates, we are focused on preparing all students to lead lives of joy and purpose.

Our definition of success is equity-based; we know that every child has their own story and their own pathway to fulfillment. Our definition is based on a belief that kids come with a wide variety of interests, skills, capacities, and cultures.

A “successful” student isn’t one who trudges–or even marches–through school with straight As but never has a chance to develop as a whole person, to embrace new perspectives or to establish meaningful relationships. Instead, a truly successful student is one who is genuinely engaged academically, someone who loves learning, and also someone who is emotionally healthy, globally aware, able to think critically and creatively, and able to act independently and ethically.

Further Reading

Staff members Mimi Bowlin, Amanda Chuong and Marissa Warren also contributed to this post.

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