EDUCATION

Christie touts state takeover of Camden schools as a success story

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

While fifth graders worked on math word problems across the hall, Gov. Chris Christie took a verbal victory lap in the multipurpose room of Camden’s newest renaissance school — KIPP Whittier Middle School. It’s been four years since the state took over Camden’s schools, and Christie praised the results.

“We’re got strikingly different results to talk about about. Forty-nine percent graduation rate back in 2012, a 70 percent graduation rate in 2016,” Christie said to applause.

The governor’s visit to the public school that was built in 1910 and just renovated and reopened by KIPP demonstrates a remarkable change to the face of education in Camden, where three nonprofit groups now operate. The number of students enrolled at charter and renaissance schools has more than tripled since the 2009-2010 school year and test scores keep climbing. Christie cited one charter: Uncommon Schools’ Camden Prep.

“In math, those very same students went from 2.8 percent being proficient to 49 percent being proficient,” Christie said. “Don’t tell me a great teacher, in a great school, with involved parents can’t make a difference. That’s the only thing that will make a difference.”

Christie also noted that the state shut down failing charter schools. He lavished praise on his hand-picked superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard and outgoing Mayor Dana Redd, but warned parents to beware of politicians who advocate for moratoriums on charter and renaissance school expansion.

“Any prohibition on the growth of school choice in our state should be met with nothing but resistance. They’re committing a sin, a sin, by stopping our children from reaching their God-given potential. No one has the right to do that,” he said.

New Jersey’s largest teacher’s union, the NJEA, retorted saying, “Gov. Christie’s terrified of a moratorium because he knows that when people see what is really happening with charter and renaissance schools in New Jersey, they will know that his failed strategy is hurting New Jersey students and communities.”

NJTV News asked Camden parents their opinion on charters.

“They’re amazing,” said parent Judith Mota. “My kids can read more proficiently, they write better, their math scores are amazing. I love it.”

Aretha Turlington said she prefers her child’s public school.

“I’m just not a fan of some of the charter schools, personally. My daughter attends Camden High and I think I like that school better,” she said.

The governor promised he’ll keep his eye on Camden even after he leaves office.

“I’ll be moving from a front row to the cheap seats, but I look forward to watching it. And all the while, be assured that I’ll continue to do exactly what I’ve done for the last eight years — I’ll be rooting for Camden,” he said.

Even as the governor warned parents against the evils of political influence, the governor’s seat and the whole Legislature’s up for election in November. Keeping politics out of education in New Jersey is highly unlikely.