The city of Camden will become a ward of the state of New Jersey beginning next year, as Governor Chris Christie announced the state will takeover the vastly underperforming district.
Gov. Christie plans to announce Monday that he is taking the extraordinary step of putting the educational and fiscal management of the Camden School District under state control, The Inquirer has learned.
As part of the takeover of what the state considers the worst-performing district in New Jersey, Christie will appoint a new superintendent and leadership team, shifting the school board to an advisory role, according to Christie administration officials briefed on the plan.
The Republican governor's move nonetheless has support from at least a few school board members and key Democratic leaders in the South Jersey political establishment, some of whom are expected to join Christie at the takeover announcement Monday in the city, officials said.
Camden will become the fourth urban district under state control, after Paterson, Newark, and Jersey City. This is the first takeover initiated by Christie, who will add the severely challenged district to his education portfolio less than eight months before his reelection bid.
Though the news will likely be greeted with relief by those who believe the district is permanently broken, critics will cite the state's previous - and largely unsuccessful - interventions in Camden schools, government, and law enforcement.
In an odd bit of timing, the takeover comes as Camden school board members were closing in on selecting a new superintendent. As recently as Saturday, they were interviewing candidates, and a meet-and-greet for the public with as many as three finalists was scheduled for Tuesday night, school board member Ray Lamboy said last week.
Lamboy, who served on the board subcommittee charged with finding a new superintendent, said he wasn't sure what the board had spent on the search. Some of the candidates have been flown in, and a search firm has been hired.
That process will now be moot.
Officials said a national search would be conducted to find a leader for the district, which has a 49 percent graduation rate, second-worst in New Jersey.
Three of the district's schools are the lowest-performing in the state, and 90 percent are in the bottom 5 percent. Less than 20 percent of fourth graders are proficient in language arts literacy, and just 28 percent of 11th graders are proficient in math.
This isn't failure, it's catastrophe. When you consider that two other school districts - Jersey City and Newark - are performing just as badly and needed the state to move in, those stats for Camden are shockingly bad.
It's good to see some Democrats backing Christie in this move. What the teachers unions think about it is another question. Also, you have to wonder what the state can accomplish in reforming the district. What ails Camden and other urban school district isn't a lack funding as much as it is a lack of community. Nobody cares about the success or failure of these kids. Precious few parents take an interest in their kid's progress. Teachers go through the motions. Administrators are shell shocked.
At bottom, this isn't a job solely for government. Revitalizing the sense of community is what is needed - a spiritual awakening if you will. And as competent as Christie may be, he can't offer that.