Thursday, September 18, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Three plans in the works for Camden schools

Putting a plan in place to address the significant problems plaguing the Camden City School District is proving to be a challenge. Or maybe it's simply a tale of disorganization. A June 1 deadline already passed and the school baord hasn't even received the material necessary for an improvement plan. In the meantime, the school board is hosting community meetings this week for input for its five-year strategic plan.

Three plans in the works for Camden schools

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Putting a plan in place to address the significant problems plaguing the Camden City School District is proving to be a challenge.  Or maybe it’s simply a tale of disorganization. 

When the state Department of Education sent the district its final decision on Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) scores in early May, the state Department of Education’s chief performance officer, Bari Anhalt Erlichson, stated that a district improvement plan for each of the five categories was due to the state by June 1. (Read that story HERE.)

That date has come and gone, and DOE officials told me Monday that the district asked for an extension, given the number of “indicators” the plan needs to address. Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf granted an extension through June 30. 

QSAC is a district evaluation involving a self-assessment of five main categories (with more than 300 subcategories) by the district, followed by the state. Under it, the state has the authority to intervene in problem areas or mount a full takeover if a district scores less than 50 percent in all categories. 

The district did a self-evaluation in 2011 and gave itself a perfect 100 percent in personnel, 98 percent in operations, 78 percent in fiscal management, 67 percent in governance, and 61 percent in instruction and program. 

State officials went into the district to do their own QSAC assessment shortly after in the spring and had completely different scores. The district appealed and in a letter to district Superintendent Bessie LeFra Young, dated May 8, Erlichson gave its final scores: instruction and program (9 percent); operations (47 percent); personnel (19 percent); and governance (33 percent). It received 79 percent in fiscal management, which acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said was mostly because the district was checked daily by a state-appointed fiscal monitor. 

Parallel to the state’s decision on any kind of takeover, if any, the district must provide a plan to correct its deficiencies. 

Whether the district is even working on a plan is unclear. As of last week, school board members had not even been officially presented the final QSAC results. 

“I haven’t seen anything,” board president Kathryn Blackshear told me after Tuesday’s meeting. (The board was supposed to have been given the results at a special meeting in mid-May.) 

Though under amended QSAC regulations, the state could take over the Camden district (because of the low scores), a DOE spokesman said it would be “premature” to discuss any possibility of a takeover, following the release of the May 8 letter.

So, the state is still working on its potential intervention plan. The district/board should be working on its corrective action plan. And now, a board subcommittee led by Ray Lamboy is working on a five-year district strategic plan.

Lamboy, along with folks from the board-hired consulting firm Urban Policy Development, are holding community meetings at various district schools this week to get input from parents and other stakeholders for the strategic plan.

More than 100 parents showed up for Monday’s meeting at Octavius V. Catto Family School. To start off, they  gathered in groups of six or eight and made a list of things they thought were good in the district. Sometime after I left, the groups did a strength and weaknesses analysis of the district, as well.

Tuesday evening’s meeting was at Brimm Medical Arts High School. The remaining meetings are:

  • 6 p.m. Wednesday at Pyne Point Middle School
  • 6 p.m. Thursday at H.B. Wilson Elementary School

Once the community meetings are over, the strategic planning committee will try to wrap up the five-year plan. Lamboy said he hopes to present the final plan to the board by August. Maybe by then, the district will have its improvement plan done and the state will also have completed an intervention plan?

 

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About this blog
Julia Terruso started covering Camden and its residents, agencies, government and school district in September 2013. Previously, she worked at the Newark Star-Ledger covering the criminal justice system in Essex County and prior to that Union County.

Julia is a proud graduate of Syracuse University, originally from the Philadelphia area. Email tips, concerns and story ideas to jterruso@phillynews.com or reach her at 856-779-3876 or on Twitter @juliaterruso. Reach Julia at .

Julia Terruso
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