Clock is ticking for placement of Camden principals

With 2 1/2 weeks until school startsat least five Camden district principals don’t yet know their placements.

Under a state Department of Education accountability plan created when New Jersey was granted a waiver to federal No Child Left Behind requirements this year, the principal of a "priority school" who cannot produce improved student achievement after three years will be replaced. Seventy-five of the state's worst-performing public schools were labeled "priority schools." Twenty-three of Camden’s 26 schools received the designation.

In a letter sent to the district in June, State Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf ordered the principals at Woodrow Wilson High School, Charles Sumner Elementary, East Camden Middle School, and Henry L. Bonsall Elementary replaced by the start of the school year because of consistently low performance.

Those administrators don’t know yet where they will be reassigned in the district and no one has said what principals at other city schools will replace them, potentially causing a chain reaction, said Calvin Gunning, president of the Camden principal’s union.

The principal at Lanning Square School also wilreceive a new assignment, the result of the district’s decision last month to merge the Lanning Square, Wiggins,and Whittier schools.

“Our contract says by Aug. 15 we need to know where all of our employees will be,” Gunning said last week.

On Monday, he still had no clue.

“I’m a little disappointed our principals don’t know,” he said Monday.

Though principal assignments are not on the agenda for Tuesday’s special school board meeting, Gunning said he was to meet with acting superintendent Reuben Mills Tuesday afternoon to discuss the transfers. Gunning is hoping the transfers are subsequently approved at Tuesday’s meeting.  

At last month’s meeting, board members approved the return of Joseph D. Carruth, whom the board terminated as principal of Dr. Charles E. Brimm Medical Arts High School six years ago. Carruth, 44, has been assigned to be principal on special assignment under the school’s safety-and-security department. He declined to comment on the position.

Carruth, 44, sued as a whistle-blower under the state's Conscientious Employee Protection Act, alleging that district officials fired him for publicly reporting in 2005 that he had been asked to tamper with students’ state test scores.

The drawn-out court process came to an end last year when Carruth was awarded an $860,000 settlement. In March, an arbitrator ruled that the school district should reinstate him as a principal by July 1. But the school board recently voted to reinstate him for the school year beginning in September.