Principals, Administrators of Camden Schools Get Ready for a Pivotal Year

John Mooney | August 14, 2014 | Education
Leadership workshops foster broader vision as state has its own people in key posts for first time since taking over troubled district

Camden Schools Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard, center, takes part in professional development workshops being held this week for principals and other administrators.
Amid all the debate over state control and the big expansion of charter schools, Camden schools administrators were busy doing their homework this week.

They were putting in long hours in professional-development training for the new school year, as the new state-led administration sought to put its imprint on the one area it can affect most. Taking part were school principals, as well as new “educational leaders,” a coaching position now in place for every one of the district’s 26 schools.

This year, the school administration under state-appointed Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard will for the first time have its own people in leadership roles, including new principals in close to a dozen schools. All but one of the new principals came from within the district, Rouhanifard said.

“Great schools begin with great school leaders,” he said yesterday. “It’s about making sure they are equipped with the skills to be able to set vision and direction for their leadership team.”

The training sessions, held at the H.B. Wilson School, have been intensive school leadership workshops in which the principals and other administrators are versed on every thing from setting school values to the intricacies of overseeing teacher evaluations.

For example, participants spent two hours yesterday afternoon laying out the leadership values for their individual schools. Such soul-searching is not unusual for corporate retreats, but Rouhanifard said he hoped it would provide some benefit in Camden schools, too.

He said that while there are plenty of specific tasks required of school principals, he hoped the workshops would help them at the broader picture.

‘These two weeks are very much about moving away from the compliance-oriented tasks we ask of principals,” Rouhanifard said.

The experience was not lost on the Camden school administrators, some of whom noted the difference compared to their experiences in the district over the last decade or two.

“We used to get binders and binders of things we had to do, and now it’s hands-on activities,” said Maricarmen Macrina, the new principal of the Dudley Elementary School and a 25-year veteran of the district. “It’s probably the best (training) I have had in 25 years.”

“Why didn’t we have this before?” she asked. ‘It is so basic.”

And while the new principal said she recognized there is plenty of controversy and debate over the state’s takeover of Camden’s school, she suggested that it might be a necessary prod to action.

“We had to be pushed,” Macrina said. “We talked a lot about change, but until this happened, we weren’t forced.”