NJ State Board of Ed Approves Chris Cerf as Newark Superintendent in Split Vote

By Briana Vannozzi

It’s rare to see dissent among the state’s Board of Education, but four members voted against the nomination of former education commissioner, Chris Cerf to lead Newark’s public schools.

“My vote is no,” said Dorothy Strickland, a member of the NJ State Board of Ed.

In the end it wasn’t enough. Cerf was approved 6-4.

“It’s the second time it’s happened. We had dissent when we appointed Paymon [Rouhanifard] as superintendent of Camden,” said New Jersey State Board of Education Vice President Joseph Fisicaro.

Fisicaro deliberated before ultimately voting yes.

“Well I spent 35 years in Philadelphia and six of them under the state controlled school district. I know what’s going on in Newark and I appreciate it. My major concern is to get Newark back as quickly as possible,” he said.

“I wholeheartedly endorse him to fill this unique role. He has the integrity to focus on doing what what is right for the children of Newark. He has the strength to stand up to inappropriate influences,” said New Jersey Education Commissioner David Hespe.

“This was not a popular decision I know that but I really believe that the best person that’s best equipped to do what every person in Newark wants, which is to get local control back, the person that’s best equipped to do that and put himself out of a job the quickest is Chris Cerf,” said New Jersey State Board of Education President Mark Biedron.

As expected, education representatives from Newark were displeased with the nomination.

Those who supported Cerf coming to Newark, you’ve drawn yet again another line in the sand. You’ve definitely slapped the students and the parents of Newark public schools. this is the person who was the boss of the former superintendent of public schools, and who is the mastermind behind all of this reform,” Newark public schools advisory board member Donald Jackson Jr. said.

When asked how he expects Cerf to carry out these plans Biedron said, “I spoke to Chris for 2 hours just the other day and he said to me that he intends to really radically differentiate himself from what’s happened in the past.”

Cerf put out a brief statement today saying, “I am honored by the trust the state board has shown in voting for me today. I look forward to working with the mayor, the board and the community on continuing to improve education for Newark students and families.”

The state also heard the long awaited review of Common Core. In May, Gov. Chris Christie called on the education department to revamp the entire system. Today, Assistant Education Commissioner Kimberly Harrington said they’ll focus on math and language arts only.

“We will not be tearing down and starting over but rather looking critically,” Harrington explained.

The department will set up a 23-member standards review committee, with an aggressive six-month timeline to get input and create revisions to the curriculum.

“Working underneath that stands review committee will be three sub-committees,” Harrington said.

There will be 98 committee members in all. Applications and nomination forms for the committees will be available starting next week, which is just in time because members have to be finalized by the end of the month.