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State of New Jersey stepping in to run Camden's troubled schools

By Laura Ly, CNN
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon March 25, 2013
Camden city schools are among the lowest-performing in the state of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said at Monday.
Camden city schools are among the lowest-performing in the state of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said at Monday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gov. Chris Christie: "We're taking the lead because ... Camden has failed its children"
  • The city schools' graduation rate fell to 49.27% in 2012, down from 56.89% the year before
  • State intervention will include monitoring school progress and financial guidance, Christie says
  • "I always knew this day was coming," the school board president says

(CNN) -- The state of New Jersey is taking over administration of the troubled public schools in the city of Camden, Gov. Chris Christie announced Monday.

A recent Department of Education investigation found Camden city schools are among the lowest-performing in the state, Christie said at a news conference at Woodrow Wilson High School in the city.

"We're taking the lead because for too long, the public school system in Camden has failed its children," he said. "Each day that it gets worse, we're failing the children of Camden, we're denying them a future, we're not allowing them to reach their full potential."

The poor student performance, a lack of a districtwide curricula, inconsistent and haphazard school staffing, lack of central leadership, and a failure to provide student support services has resulted in "full state intervention," the governor's office said in a news release.

Christie said the decision to partner with Camden school officials was not one made easily or quickly.

"I waited three years because I really felt like I wanted to give the folks in the city of Camden the chance without having to enter into a partnership with the state," Christie said.

The issues with student achievement and institutional administration do not stem from a lack of financial support. Camden is receiving more than $279.5 million in state funding, an increase of $3.6 million from last year. During the 2011-12 school year, Camden spent $23,709 per student, compared with the statewide average of $18,045, the governor's office said.

Statistics published by the New Jersey Board of Education show that school graduation rates in Camden are among the lowest in the state. In 2012, the city's graduation rate fell to 49.27%, down from 56.89% the year before. This is well below the state average graduation rate of 86.46% in 2012.

From 2011 to 2012, only 2% of Camden students scored above a 1550 out of a possible 2400 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), compared with 43% students nationally. Only 19% and 30.4% of third- through eighth-grade students tested proficient in language arts and in math, respectively, both numbers well below the state average, the document say.

Christie said the state intervention will include close monitoring of school progress as well as guidance in financial decisions.

"We will exert whatever control we need to exert to try and bring success," he said.

The mayor of Camden, Dana Redd, also spoke at the news conference, affirming her readiness to work with officials on both the state and local levels.

"I welcome this new era in full cooperation and partnership because I want to see our children excel in the classroom," Redd said.

The president of the school board, Kathryn Blackshear, said she is in the toughest spot she has ever been in.

"I always knew this day was coming," she said. "After I looked at the research and the numbers, and praying over it, I said, 'well, Lord, change is here.'"

Camden is not the first city in New Jersey whose school district has been taken over by the state. Schools in Jersey City, Paterson, and Newark also currently operate under state control, according to Barbara Morgan, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Education.

It's unclear how the nearly 14,000 students enrolled in Camden city public schools will feel the impact of new state intervention.

"I can't be a guarantor of results, none of us can," Christie said. "But just because we can't guarantee a positive result or because there have been some mixed results in the past, should not be used as an excuse for inaction."

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