Camden Superintendent Says He’ll Advocate for Schools

Education Commissioner Chris Cerf is leaving his position and Camden Schools Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard told NJTV News Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he is going to vigorously advocate for the Camden schools that deserve better resources.

Rouhanifard said his district is going to miss Cerf. “He has been a tremendous advocate for children across the entire state. We are going to miss his leadership but we are going to keep our heads low and continue to do the good work here in Camden and looking forward to seeing who the next commissioner is going to be.”

Rouhanifard said that he is not concerned about who will replace Cerf. He said that he will continue to work with Cerf’s team and they have promised that the transition will be seamless.

Rouhanifard said that he sat down with Charles McKenna a couple weeks ago to release a strategic plan the delivers five critical promises, one of which focuses on facilities and making sure that the School Development Authority delivers on their promises.

“We are going to vigorously advocate for our schools and a number of our schools in particular deserve better resources. A number of our buildings are dilapidated. In fact, half of our buildings in Camden were developed before 1928. Camden High School in particular has seen a number of issues over the years as the building has deteriorated,” explained Rouhanifard.

Rouhanifard said that he began his term with a 100-day tour that involved four open town hall conversations, eight focus group conversations and dozens of small group conversations, which informed the priorities that make up his strategic plan. He said the conversations will continue.

“Roughly one out of four students attends a traditional charter school in Camden. We have also released a request for proposal to consider the creation of new renaissance schools, which are hybrid charter district-like schools. One of those schools was actually approved last year prior to my arrival and the way that we are thinking about it is we want a rich tapestry of different types of school models so that our parents have options of various types of schools that best align to their students’ needs,” said Rouhanifard.

Rouhanifard said that he has been working to implement an ambitious plan in Camden and most of the goals are short-term in nature. He said this is because he believes in immediate, intractable and tangible goals that parents can connect with, but it’s too early to tell if the plans are working.

“There are some tremendous bright spots also in the district that a lot of students and a lot of alumni who have really defied all odds to get to where they are as far as having graduated from a four-year college and built meaningful careers. What we are reflecting on and what we are trying to move on is that it shouldn’t be that hard and we are trying to make it a lot easier for our students and we have got a long road ahead,” said Rouhanifard.

When asked what the greatest strength in Camden is, Rouhanifard said, “I think our greatest strength is just the resilience of the city itself. There’s just a tremendous sense of grit, of spirit, of resilience and really those qualities match the best qualities of any city in this country and we want to build upon what’s working. We also want to rethink what hasn’t been working and we want to build upon this community sense of resilience. We are really looking forward to continuing those conversations with the community.”