Hoping for a Strong Comeback, Governor’s Schools Prep for 2013

John Mooney | December 3, 2012 | Education
Two prestigious academic summer camps start to recruit top high school juniors

Six years after tough budget cuts sent its summer programs reeling, a slimmed-down Governor’s School is preparing to continue its comeback next summer, with hopes it can regain at least some of its former glory in the years ahead.

Nomination forms went out last week to New Jersey high schools for the two Governor’s Schools that will be back next summer: the School of Engineering and Technology at Rutgers-New Brunswick and the School in the Sciences at Drew University.

First launched 30 years ago, the schools are month-long academic summer camps hosted on college campuses for select high-school juniors.

Each high school nominates up to three students, depending on enrollment, with 80 students to be selected for each program.

That’s a far cry from the six schools serving more than 600 students up until 2007, when former Gov. Jon Corzine cut funding by $1 million and left their future in doubt.

The programs were saved in the short term by an unprecedented private fundraising campaign led by Corzine and former Gov. Tom Kean. But from a high of 625 students, the schools were closed one by one.

Last summer, the two remaining programs operated with major funding from corporate sponsors, serving 80 students each and lasting three weeks. Under Gov. Chris Christie, the state contributed a total of $100,000 for both programs, and it is expected to do so again for next year.

The Governor’s Schools are now operating out of the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education. The program’s board of overseers — appointed by Christie and almost completely replaced this past May — said the current structure has reached some stability. The board hopes it can start bringing back at least some of the other schools in 2014.

“We are in so much better shape than we were a few years ago,” said Laura Overdeck, the board’s vice chairman and a Governor’s School alumna who was a key benefactor following the budget cuts.

She said the program for the arts and one for environmental studies, previously held at the College of New Jersey and Stockton College, respectively, were the likeliest to be brought back due to the expected interest of corporate and nonprofit sponsors.

“I think we can do that now,” Overdeck said of reopening at least some programs. “We can start having that conversation.”

The arts school at TCNJ — along with the science school at Drew — was one of the first Governor’s Schools when the program was launched in 1983 under Kean. The very first was the school of public policy at Monmouth University, but Overdeck said it may be more difficult to attract sponsors for it.

Higher Education Secretary Rochelle Hendricks, the board’s chairman, has called the survival of the Governor’s Schools a priority, and she praised the progress that has taken place in the past few years.

“We intend this year to continue to raise awareness of this important program and to attract more non-traditional students,” she said in an email.

“We are pleased that Gov. Christie reinvigorated the program this year by appointing a new board to guide the schools, and we look forward to continued enhancement and possible expansion of the program in the future.”

The deadline for schools to submit their selections is January 11, with students to be notified of admission in April.

Editor’s note: The original version of this article incorrectly reported that there were no Governor’s Schools in 2011. The two schools held at Rutgers and Drew University have remained open throughout.