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Head of New Jersey Charter School Office Steps Down

After less than a year on the job, Carly Bolger leaves for position in Chicago.

Credit: Mary Harold

New Jersey's charter school director, on the job for less than a dozen months, will be stepping down at the end of this year to take a new job in Chicago public schools.

Carly Bolger, director of the state Department of Education's charter school office, said her decision was "100 percent personal," since she is moving because of a relationship in Chicago. Finding the right job as director of Chicago's New Schools Office helped determine the timing, she said.

"My time here has been an incredible experience," she said yesterday. "I have worked with great people and created a great team, and I think really charted the course for where New Jersey is heading with charter schools."

Brought on board by acting commissioner Chris Cerf 10 months ago, Bolger oversaw the state's charter school office through maybe the movement's most tumultuous time since the experimental schools first launched in New Jersey 15 years ago.

Gov. Chris Christie has pressed for the expansion of charter schools and led the way for more than 20 new schools to be approved in the past year. Cerf has also sought to step up the state's oversight and doubled the size of the charter office to 11 people, including Bolger.

But the controversy over charters has been fiery, especially from suburban districts that haven't welcomed the schools into their communities and have argued that state oversight is inadequate. Several legislative bills remain pending that would significantly tighten restrictions on charters.

"The level of the debate is justified, given the importance of the issue," Bolger said yesterday in an interview.

She added, "In New Jersey, more than other places, the tone of the debate has gotten beyond the real issues. Personally, I would like to see it return to the quality of the schools."

Bolger said she would remain through the end of the calendar year, and also assist in the sometimes controversial review of charter applications. The department over the past year has been criticized for using outside reviewers, whom it has refused to identify but turned out to be largely charter school leaders and advocates.

Charter advocates were not fans of the latest process, either, calling it a vague and poorly designed system that led to just four of more than 50 applications being approved in the latest round. A report by the Washington-based Center for Education Reform yesterday slammed the application process for what it called its lack of transparency and objectivity.

Outside reviewers from around the country will be part of the current application process as well, Bolger said, but the names will be released after the process is finished. The reviewers also will not be paid this time, officials said.

Cerf said in a statement that he was sorry to see Bolger leave, and his office said a search has begun for her replacement.

"While we are sad to see Carly go as she embarks on the next stage of her career, we are grateful for the work she has done not only to develop the systems we now have in place, but also to build capacity in the charter school office to implement these systems in the future," Cerf said in a statement.

"Carly has assembled a top-notch team of 10 outstanding individuals who will continue the important work of ensuring that every child in New Jersey has great educational options available to them."

The head of the state’s charter schools association also had praise for Bolger.

"Her work has helped usher in a new era of quality authorizing by creating a rigorous approval process," said Carlos Perez, executive director of the association. "She has provided a strong foundation for developing much-needed quality public schools to serve our most disadvantaged students."

Editor's note: The initial version of the story mistakenly reported that Carly Bolger announced her departure in a "tumultuous press conference." That is not true, and Bolger's quotes were from an interview that was not tumultuous at all. There was a mix-up in the wording, and we regret the error."

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