Camden public schools have often found themselves at the center of New Jersey’s debate over how to improve the education offered in one of the state’s poorest cities. And there’s no indication that its unenviable position is about it about to change anytime soon. If anything, the situation will only grow more contentious — or even combative — with Gov. Chris Christie announcing that the state will take over the troubled district (much as was done in Newark).
But the troubles assailing the Camden school don’t end there. More than 20 schools are already on the state’s watch list for “turnaround” — a radical remaking of an educational institution that can involve anything from replacing staff to shutting the school down entirely.
Meanwhile, Camden was about to become the first test case for the Urban Hope Act, which will open the door wide to charter schools, most likely starting with the national KIPP network in partnership with the Cooper Foundation and its chairman, George Norcross.
This NJ Spotlight Roundtable: Camden Schools and the Future of Urban Education in New Jersey explored the challenges facing Camden’s schools, the range of possible solutions, and the ways these answers may map to struggling school districts across the state. With Camden outspoken Camden residents in the audience and eager to ask questions and express their point of view was at-times tempestuous and always a free exchange of ideas.
Moderator: John Mooney, education writer and cofounder, NJ Spotlight
George Norcross III, chairman, Cooper Health Systems
Patricia Kenny, assistant superintendent, Camden schools
Pam Garwood, Priority Schools Initiative, NJEA
Ryan Hill, founder and executive director, TEAM Charter Schools
Karen Douglass-Collins, math leader, Pyne Poynt Middle School (Camden)
Moneke Ragsdale, Camden community and parent advocate
Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, LEAP Academy University Charter School
Kathryn Ribay, former member, Camden school board
DVDs and digital downloads of this NJ Spotlight Roundtable can be purchased here.