State and city officials to Camden School District: Aggressive action is needed

The state Department of Education and Camden Mayor Redd are losing patience with the lack of progress in the Camden School District.

The list of failures is long, starting with low graduation rates, high drop-out rates, and the 23 schools (out of a total 26 in the district) that were placed on the state’s new priority list, which features the worst 70 schools in the state. Those schools on the list will likely see intense state intervention next school year.

“We need all hands on deck,” Redd said yesterday when I asked her about her plans to turn the tide in the school district. Many in the district are saying the current leadership is not working (check out my story Tuesday). The state chimed in too.

“Camden schools have not been serving their students at the level they deserve,” said state Department of Education spokesman Justin Barra. “Our preference is to work with local officials to drastically improve outcomes in Camden, but we will take aggressive action to make sure that every student in Camden has the opportunity they deserve.”

Redd wants district leaders and board members to be innovative and willing to change the status quo.

Because of that, she says, she is taking her time in finding a replacement for former board member Jason Gonzalez, who stepped down in June.

She wants to keep the diverse balance of the board by filling the seat with another Latino but does not want to rush the decision. She says she wants someone free of any political agenda and who really wants to improve the district and is willing to make tough decisions that will benefit the students.

"Education is one of the key measures to overcoming poverty," Redd said.

The mayor has no veto powers, she said,  so the board usually has the last say on most issues.

She asks that those interested in the open board seat send their resumes to her office. In addition to Gonzalez’s seat, Redd will have to fill two other seats by April. The three-year terms are up for  Board President Susan Dunbar-Bey and Barbara Coscarello, both of whom were the last gubernatorial appointees.

Since the state take-over ended in 2010, Redd has been given appointing powers. Besides Gonzalez, she appointed Sean Brown and Ray Lamboy to the nine-member panel in 2010. In May, Redd reappointed Martha F. Wilson and Sara T. Davis, each of whom has served more than 10 years on the board.  She selected Kathryn Ribay, a former science teacher at the city's Woodrow Wilson High School, to replace longtime board member Jose Delgado, who chose not to seek reappointment.

"We have a lot of work to do in the district and I expect everyone to step up," she said firmly.