Picture of a computer-generated rendering of new buildings (beyond Williams Street, buildings in foreground are existing ones) in a “Teachers Village” along a new retail corridor on Newark’s Halsey Street in Newark, New Jersey.

Teacher Villages for charter schools: Medieval castles for the educational company store

Meet Ron Beit, a New York developer, fresh from gaining approval from the New Jersey City’s Landmarks & Preservation Commission for a huge corporate development set to house teachers.  Beit is is pressing ahead with a “Teachers Village”, anchored by charter schools and apartments marketed to educators in New Jersey.  The idea is reminiscent of a medieval castle where teachers do not venture out of the castle walls much but get to sleep in the ‘stable’ when not working as serfs for the new charter investors.

Beit has been seeking approval to build the project, called “Teachers Village at Four Corners,” for sometime and he seems to be on his way.  The project calls for constructing seven buildings, the rehabilitation of a nine-story shell and the demolition of eight largely vacant buildings dating from the 1870s in the Four Corners Historic District in New Jersey.

Ron Beit said back in March of 2010, after the historical landmarks panel gave its blessing to the project:

“We look forward to the next step. We hope to be before the planning board April 6.  Hopefully, we’ll get approval right out of the gate (‘Teachers Village’ project in Newark passes historic hurdle. March 11, 2010.  NJ.com, http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/03/ny_developer_moves_forward_wit.html).

The city planning board had no problem or hesitation in voting to approve construction of a four-block-long mixed-use development back in April of 2010.  The decision was barely noticed outside a small circle of civic boosters and of course, deep pocketed investors.   But it was a turning point in the career of the project’s architect, Richard Meier (The By the Architects, for the People: A Trend for the 2010s, NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF. New York Times, May 3, 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/04/arts/design/04meier.html?_r=1).

In all, “Teachers Village” would include three charter schools with some 1,000 students and 221 units of so-called workforce housing (ibid).  Company stores for the busloads of Teach for America kids that will be expected to come in, non-unionized of course, and work and breathe within the company’s enterprise.  Private management of the ‘villages’ will be the cornerstone of rentals and thus privatized housing will undergo a marriage with privatized charter schools.

Planned for the downtown geographical site is the creation of a new “retail corridor” in ground-floor shops and a marriage of two the city’s more vibrant venues:  University Heights — home to Rutgers University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology, among others — and the Prudential Center, the 18,000-seat arena known as “The Rock.”

Beit — a 36-year-old Englewood Cliffs native and attorney whose RBH Group owns more than 25 properties in Newark’s downtown core — said he hopes to break ground this summer and complete work by June 2012.

Beit’s RBH group states at their website:

“Located in Newark’s downtown district south of Market Street, SoMa is a design and planning project that addresses the area’s current and future needs. The master plan creates innovative teacher communities and integrates schools into mixed-use developments with residential, retail, and arts spaces. Both city residents and school user’s benefit: The regular influx of students, parents, teachers and staff becomes integral to the urban fabric. Increased pedestrian activity attracts new investment and businesses to the area. Simultaneously, teachers from the various school typologies will benefit from the camaraderie of their community through after-school interactions that are particularly critical for nascent teachers who often begin their careers in urban areas.

Working with SoMa’s developer and planner, KSS Architects is designing a daycare and three charter schools in the development. Serving the Pre-K, K-4, 5-8, and K-8 populations, the schools will be located in two four-story mixed-use buildings with retail space on the public ground floor.

The novel project has presented interesting design challenges, such as the creation of a secure and safe “front yard” presence for students and parents in the active urban dynamic. The design team also must address city street constraints to coordinate busing and parent drop-off need” (RBH Grou, SoMa Teacher’s Village, Website, http://www.kssarchitects.com/content/project.php?type_id=34&project_id=292)

Stefan Pryor, Newark’s deputy mayor of economic development under Mayor Corey Booker was giddy about the project, stating that:

“This phenomenal project is becoming more real every day.  We’re glad it’s advancing through the approval process, and we’re pleased that this thoughtful design, crafted by native Newark architect Richard Meier, is being recognized by the historic commission as fitting for our Four Corners Historic District” (‘Teachers Village’ project in Newark passes historic hurdle. March 11, 2010.  NJ.com, http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/03/ny_developer_moves_forward_wit.html).

The issue of gentrification and urban removal cannot be separated from the new turnaround artists and their plans for increasing charter schools.  They work with developers on plans to not only centralize the exploitation of both labor and students, but they are also conscious of the need  Wall Street has for plans to make a mountain of money off the construction of capital projects in the form of what can only be seen as a post-modern insidious company store.

The New York Times went on to note that:

“Despite the project’s modest budget of $120 million, its tautly composed and thoughtfully laid out forms reflect the same intelligence and care found in most of Mr. Meier’s work. City officials are hoping its design — along with its location, a dilapidated neighborhood between City Hall and a cluster of college campuses — will help contribute to a much wider urban revival” (ibid).

According to Beit:

“When we started to look at the area again, we realized that the middle-income had really been left out.  There were already 1,000 charter schoolteachers here, and another 5,000 in public school.  They’re highly educated and urban, so they were a natural fit” (ibid).

Idea already in Turkey

Teachers who are placed in schools in rural eastern villages in Turkey, where accommodation is often very basic, are having modern, furnished housing provided as part of a social-responsibility program by one of Turkey’s leading conglomerates.  The conglomerate is not some non-profit organization or NCO, but is Çelebi Holding, a private conglomerate and large corporation.  The company launched the effort to build, restore and furnish homes for teachers in 2008, as part of the company’s 50th anniversary celebration, and as part of its recent focus on education in its social-responsibility work.

Ten houses were finished in the eastern and southeastern provinces of Diyarbakır, Erzincan, Erzurum, Kars and Mardin in 2009 and another 10 are planned for this year (Village teachers in Turkey set to receive modern housing, April 20, 2010. CEYLAN YEĞİNSU. ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News, http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=social-responsibility-project-this-time-for-teachers-2010-04-08).

The company’s deputy chairwoman, Canan Çelebioğlu Tokgöz, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an interview back in April of 2010:

“There are many projects geared to help students, but very few for teachers, which is what inspired us to make them our focus. Providing teachers with comfortable living conditions improves their performance in the classroom and thus ultimately benefits students as well” (ibid).

Celebi Holdings pegs itself as:

“a group of companies that create demand by pioneering innovations in the service sector, extend their success into the international arena, seek to expand and shape the areas of endeavor in which they are active, and create synergy by supporting and complementing each other” (http://www.celebi.com.tr/en/yazi.php?id=11).

Whatever the hell that means.

One thing we do know it means is that the company is a large corporation made up of conglomerations of companies out to make a buck within the service sector and with the rapid privatization of education throughout the world, assuring housing or slave quarters for the new charter school teachers will be essential to lure them to the low wage, autocratic environment of pre-packaged kits and corporate learning.  There, they will confront a highly regulated and privately managed ‘village’ where when they are not relaxing or sleeping, they will be ‘training’ students for the new capitalist world order that Turkey hopes to become a part of.

The important issue is that privatization of education is not only gearing up for more financial promises and profits for the corporations that will run it, but it is serving as an opportunity to engage in actual gentrification and urban planning on the part of large multinational corporations.  Without public control of schools, urban planning remains a challenge to the new beefed up private developers out to invest in educational architectural developments.

It seems Beit might have caught the idea from Turkey and is now implementing it in New Jersey.  Either way, look for the new medieval castles for students and teachers all over the world as public education becomes the object of increasing privatization.