Camden Update: "Our Students Have the Potential to Change the World"

I graduated from Camden schools, and the quality of the education my children were getting has been far below what I received. I’m glad that the District is finally making some changes, and I’m glad that parents like me have more and better options to choose from.
That's Camden parent Mary Jane Timbe, an alumna of Camden Public Schools who has a child at Mastery North Camden and another at Woodrow Wilson High School. She made that comment at Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard's “State of the Schools” report yesterday at Woodrow Wilson High School.

Indeed, the district, New Jersey’s neediest, concurs with Ms. Timbe’s assessment. Superintendent Rouhanifard, appointed eighteen months ago when the State took over the long-failing district, noted in this most recent of his quarterly updates to the community, that “the School District is falling short. He went on to itemize the steps he will take to move the district forward, particularly at the high school level and with student and staff engagement.”

There is good news to report, although Rouhanifard was careful to note that the occasion of his update to the community “is not a celebration, but a public accounting."  Graduation rates are up 6%. Students feel significantly safer in the hallways and bathrooms. High school freshmen and sophomores  are beginning to spend more time on reading and math and the district is in the midst of overhauling its vocational programs.  (According to the Star Ledger, “absolutely zero high school students earned a vocational program certificate last year, despite hundreds of students enrolled in vocational education classes.”) Next week the Rouhanifard will begin a series of “Teacher Roundtables” and the week after that he’ll  launch “Student Leader Roundtables” in order to enhance collaboration with stakeholders.

"However,” cautioned Rouhanifard, “most students are still entering their grade level significantly behind in literacy and math. We also made some real investments in parent engagement, but there's still more to do, and too many students are going to school in dilapidated buildings."

According to the just-released School Performance Report from the State Department of Education (which cover student growth during the 2013-2014 school year), 90% of the students at Camden High School are economically-disadvantaged and 37% are classified as eligible for special education services. Sixty-six percent of students fail the state standardized basic skills test in language arts and 81% fail in math.  (Most students are exempt; only 19.3% actually took the test.) No student received an SAT score over 1550 (the school average is 325 in reading and 352 in math) and no one took an A.P. course.

Rouhanifard remarked,
Camden students have the potential to change the world, and our schools must do better at tapping into that talent and making the most of it. We’ve made significant progress this year, and I applaud our principals, teachers, partners, and parents for all their hard work to improve classroom instruction and build more positive school cultures. However, when I talk to recent graduates, or look at how many of our students are still not reading at grade level, it’s clear that we have a long way to go until all of our students are receiving the excellent education they deserve.

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