Should remove all principals of failing schools

Chris Cerf (AP Photo / Mel Evans)

It’s a shame that it took federal action before four Camden principals whose schools are failing could be removed.

The move, allowed under New Jersey’s waiver of the federal No Child Left Behind law, is an overdue step in transforming one of the state’s worst school districts. It also falls in line with President Obama’s plan to close 5,000 troubled schools nationwide and reopen them with new teachers and principals.

Of Camden’s 26 schools, 23 were among the 75 in New Jersey that made a “priority” list for transformation. The principals of four Camden schools that failed to make adequate progress over three years were the only ones ordered removed by state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf.

In a letter to the district, Cerf ordered the principals at Woodrow Wilson High, Charles Sumner Elementary, Henry L. Bonsall Elementary, and East Camden Middle School replaced. That’s the type of direct action that other struggling districts on both sides of the Delaware River need to hold educators more accountable.

Defenders of the reassigned principals are saying three years was not enough time to get better academic results. But Camden students have waited too long already to get a real education. Too many have graduated without actually having the basic skills needed to succeed as adults.

Besides, the affected principals’ reputations may be the only place where they take a hit. Having been shuffled into newly created jobs as “principals on special assignment,” they will retain their salaries of about $116,000 plus benefits to review academic policies and work in departments that already have heads.

Interim Camden Superintendent Reuben Mills said he had few alternatives because contract rules make it just as difficult to fire bad administrators with tenure as it is to fire tenured teachers. That’s a familiar lament that’s heard across the country when union rules unduly limit a school district’s ability to remove educators who aren’t educating.

But if Camden has to continue paying these principals their high salaries, it sure seems like Mills could have found something more meaningful for them to do in a district where 76 percent of the students scored below proficient in language arts, and 69 percent did just as poorly in math.

In that same regard, the district should find a better assignment for Joseph D. Carruth, a talented former principal who lost his job amid false allegations in a test-cheating scandal. Carruth won an arbitrator’s ruling last spring, but instead of being given a school, he has been assigned to the safety and security department