Gov. Christie's announcement Monday of his takeover of the Camden school district was met with support from a few board members but also with complete disagreement from others, including one board member who simply quit on the spot.
Here are two opposing views on the topic. First is board member Felicia Reyes-Morton's speech in which she expresses support for the governor's plan. Second, is board member Kathryn Ribay's resignation letter in which she expresses disappointment in the governor's decision.
Felicia Reyes-Morton :
"I have given thought on what I would say if I ever had the opportunity to meet you sir. Secretly I am an admirer of the passion and uncompromising commitment to reality with which you carry out the duties as Governor of NJ.
I remember when you came into office many chose to simply focus on the shift from Dem to Rep, But what I heard was a governor who through his experiences as a Prosecutor understood law and the fact too often it had been misapplied or abandoned to peril of the very people they were enacted to serve or protect.
With that you’ve equipped municipalities with tool kits to become more fiscally independent of state aid, sought to resolve the fundamentals inequity of Public Education by reforming tax code.
So today while the room is quiet and still I add my voice to this Grand conversation on what education in Camden City could look like for if Urban Boards of Educations are to succeed the playing field must be even; an educational tool kit that includes the
1. Ability to Recognize and Reward excellence an innovation within the district, empowering us to become fiscally leaner and granting us the contractual Flexibility to do so.
2. We need the power to Re-program the current system and Release ourselves from contracts, methods and models that no longer has as a primary concern, ___ the educational achievement of Camden’s Children.
3. The governor’s plan today provides time in transitioning the existing structures into a cohesive system that integrates the interest of Boards Of Education, Renaissance Schools and Private Charters with managed outcomes that benefit specific interests of children and families. I often wonder how can Urban BOE’s function or plan long term in relation to the various educational systems that function around them without communication.
4. Let us take advantage of this opportunity to Construct our interest and come together to map out the future of Urban Education so that my child and her generation of leaders are not sitting out at the table resolving issues that we left incomplete. "
March 25, 2013
It is with great sorrow that I am resigning from my position as member of the Camden City Board of Education, effective immediately. My heart and soul are in education, not politics. I believe firmly in the intelligence and capability of every child in the city of Camden, as well as in the critical need to bring our schools up to the standard that they deserve. I am not unqualified in this role- I began my career as a classroom teacher in the city of Camden, a position which gave me a unique perspective of the daily challenges facing our students, teachers, and principals. I have dealt with the barriers to achievement in our schools in a very real, and often frustrating, way. In addition, I hold an Ed.M. in School Leadership from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. During this program, I took many courses on the current state of school reform, particularly in urban areas. All this is to say I know education- academically and practically- and I am passionate about the critical importance of a quality education in the life of a child.
I will work with anyone whose goals align with mine. I do not care if that person has a traditional public school background, a charter school background, or a non-traditional background- I respect people who work for kids and I will work alongside them because the work is hard and requires many hands. However, I cannot work with those who would put politics ahead of educational practice. The state has, since the implementation of the Regional Achievement Centers and the appointment of additional Highly Skilled Professionals, been essentially in control of the district. This sudden symbolic move, perhaps driven by a fear of the strong, independently minded finalists chosen by the board in its superintendent search, is more focused on publicity than academic options.
I cannot participate in the continued disenfranchisement of the city of Camden. Real school reform is hard, slow, and not very glamorous. I could point out that the Regional Achievement Center is understaffed and unable to carry out its mission due to a lack of state funding. I could point out that the state’s idea of a “model curriculum” is a joke among education professionals across the state. I could point to the continued low achievement present in districts currently under the management of the State Department of Education. However, there is no joy gained from pointing out any of these missteps because the stakes are too high. The school district needs leaders who will think critically and creatively to address the gaping issues in the Camden public school system- leaders who will have honest and critical dialogue with each other to move the district forward. However, the system currently being instituted by Governor Christie will result in leaders who are afraid to criticize for fear of losing their appointments. The children of Camden deserve better.
It has been my honor to serve the citizens of Camden as a school board member, and I plan to continue to work- however I can- towards educational equity in the state of New Jersey.
Kathryn I. Ribay"