Speculation About Who Could Be Next Education Commissioner

By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent

Speculation as to who would succeed Christopher Cerf at the Department of Education has centered on three names.

David Hespe was commissioner during the Whitman era, served as chief of staff to Cerf and is currently president of Burlington County College.

Rochelle Hendricks was interim commissioner after Bret Schundler left the Christie administration and is now secretary of higher education.

And Brian Zuchowski is the North Brunswick Schools superintendent and a friend and neighbor of Chrisite’s in Mendham.

At the headquarters of the NJEA in Trenton, they want someone who understands schools from the inside.

“Well, we’re hoping for a more traditional type of commissioner, one that’s been a superintendent in schools, definitely have taught in schools for a good amount of time,” NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer said.

Down the street at the New Jersey Association of School Administrators (NJASA), the feeling is the same.

“I’d like to see someone who actually has school-based experience. I think that’s important. The reason I say that is we’re moving from an era of ideas about how to improve schools to the time of implementing ideas. So having someone who’s walked in the halls, I think to work with people to acutally make change would be critically important,” said NJASA Executive Director Richard Bozza.

Zuchowski has not been approached about the job.

Hendricks is well-ensconced at higher ed.

Hespe draws the most attention. He has spent 20 years in the Trenton education world and was superintendent in Willingboro, not an easy district.

“He’s a person who really knows the operations. He’s a person on the inside who during his time as chief of staff was able to make things happen,” said Bozza.

The next commissioner will face a demanding situation.

“Well, he’s definitely walking into a storm I would say,” Steinhauer said.

A new teacher evaluation system, a new statewide student test, new common core standards, plus a governor calling for a longer school day and longer school year. And turmoil in Newark and Camden add up to plenty.

When asked what the next commissioner walks into, Bozza said, “A lot of anxiety. There’s so much going on, so much up in the air.”

The word on the street is, the education commissioner’s job is Hespe’s if he wants it. But that would mean leaving the presidency of Burlington County College just a year and a half after taking that job.