Norcross Seeks ‘Wholesale Changes’ for Camden Schools and South Jersey Higher Ed

Last week, the state Department of Education released a list of school performance. Twenty three of the Camden school district’s 26 schools were among the worst in the state. Camden is the home turf of Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Donald Norcross (D) who sat down with Managing Editor Mike Schneider to speak out about what needs to happen with Camden’s schools. He also shares his views on what the future holds for Rowan University and Rutgers-Camden.

Norcross says that he initially took the news of Camden’s worst schools status with anger but then looked into why it was happening. He says that Camden invests almost $300 million a year into its schools and receives the worst outcomes in the state. It’s disappointing to say the least, he says, and urges wholesale changes.

“If a team had lost all its games, the first thing you do is you replace the manager and that’s what were calling for today.”

He says the Camden school administration is a failure by any measurement and that children are paying the price for their failure.

“Out of 2500 schools in the state of New Jersey, we have the lowest 23. If you can’t make changes now, then what are you waiting for? We’re playing Russian roulette with our children’s future and its time to make the change.”

Norcross says the bill that he introduced during his first term in office — the Urban Hope Act — was a result of looking around to see what was working and what wasn’t, and to give hope to those who have none.

“There’s only a few schools in the entire city that aren’t chronically failing. It is time to change. Our children need help and they’re not getting it.”

He says the blame for educational failure can’t be laid entirely on high crime rates and poverty issues.

“Newark doesn’t have the problems that we do. They have failing schools but only to 21 percent. Eighty five percent of the schools in Camden are considered chronically failing. That means one third of those children can’t even pass a proficiency test.”

When asked about the prospects of the controversial merger plans for Rowan University and Rutgers-Camden, he says the state is headed in a direction where it’s a win for all of New Jersey and not just for certain areas.

“Rutgers needs to remain in southern New Jersey but it needs to remain under a new set of conditions – not going through the filter where they take 45 cents of every dollar and keep it in New Brunswick. We need to make that change down here and make sure that we have our own governance. And then the linkages between Rowan University and Rutgers can grow stronger and create a research corridor between the two towns.”