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Directors Hired for Regional Achievement Centers Overseeing Low-Performing Schools

Departures at DOE continue, this time the assistant commissioner who was to head the RAC effort.

The Christie administration yesterday rolled out the staffing of its new Regional Achievement Centers (RACs) for turning around New Jersey’s toughest schools, at the same time confirming another top education official will be leaving the administration.

The additional staffing will be the hiring of six executive directors to head the new RACs that will serve as the department’s satellites for helping the lowest performing schools with training and technical assistance.

Their selections have been closely watched. The new directors are mostly a collection of public school leaders from inside the state, all overseeing nearly 100 people who will staff the new centers. Among them are a former assistant superintendent in Newark schools, a former county superintendent in Salem, and the leader of two charter schools in Brooklyn.

The subtraction is the departure of the woman who was to head the new effort: assistant commissioner and chief academic officer Penny MacCormack. On the job in Trenton for only a year after being an assistant superintendent in Hartford, Conn., MacCormack was named last night as the new superintendent of Montclair schools.

Her departure is another jolt to Cerf and the administration, as she was not just overseeing the RACs but also other major state efforts for a new model curriculum and assessments that are underway.

She is the third top state education official announced to be leaving Trenton in the last two weeks, just as Cerf was solidifying his staff. Also leaving are deputy commissioner Andrew Smarick and chief of staff David Hespe, a former commissioner who is going on to be president of Burlington County College.

The commissioner’s office yesterday downplayed MacCormack’s departure and at the same time announced a new deputy chief academic officer will be hired to oversee the RACS. The new deputy is Tracey Severns, a former principal in Mount Olive.

“We are thrilled whenever any of our colleagues has to the opportunity to take on a new leadership position, and we have a number of talented people at the Department who are ready to step up and continue our work at a high level,” said Barbara Morgan, Cerf’s press secretary.

The changes continue the whirlwind of activity for Cerf and his makeover of the state Department of Education, as the Christie administration tries to begin making a real imprint on the 200-plus low-performing schools that it has long said would be the prime target of its efforts.

Mostly in the state’s urban districts, the targeted schools are the so-called Priority and Focus Schools that are either among the lowest performing overall or have the widest gaps of achievement between different socio-economic groups.

“Failure is not an option for our lowest-performing schools, and so we are making a huge investment in them by providing expert educators to work every day, on the ground, to implement proven school turnaround strategies,” Cerf said in a press release announcing the new staffing.

“With flexibility from No Child Left Behind, we are able, for the first time, to prioritize our resources on the schools that need them most,” he said. “We are thrilled that we have been able to hire some of the best educators from New Jersey and across the country to assist in this work.”

The six new directors hired and their RACS are the following:

Region 1 & 2: Bergen, Morris, Passaic, Sussex, Warren counties Office location: Paterson Number of Priority and Focus Schools: 50 Executive Director: Scott Rixford, former superintendent of Woodland Park schools and formerly an assistant superintendent, principal, and teacher in Paterson.

Region 3: Essex, Hudson counties Office location: East Orange Number of Priority and Focus Schools: 72 Executive Director: Gayle Griffin, former assistant superintendent, and associate superintendent in Newark. She is a former principal in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Region 4: Hunterdon, Mercer, Somerset, Union Office location: Trenton Number of Priority and Focus Schools: 41 Executive Director: Tim Capone, former principal at Howard High School of Technology in Wilmington, Del.

Region 5: Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean counties Office location: Neptune Number of Priority and Focus Schools: 33 Executive Director: Mario Barbiere, former superintendent of Bethlehem Township, principal and assistant superintendent in South Plainfield.

Region 6: Burlington, Camden counties Office location: Camden Number of Priority and Focus Schools: 27 Executive Director: David Hardy, founding principal of Achievement First East New York Middle School in Brooklyn, NY.

Region 7: Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Salem, Gloucester counties Office location: Clarksboro Number of Priority and Focus Schools: 35 Executive Director: Bob Bumpus, former executive county superintendent in Salem County, and superintendent in Woodstown-Pilesgrove Regional and Cumberland Regional School District.

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