With this year’s toxic presidential election, it was easy to forget that other important local races were in progress. Here’s one: In a race for Camden School Board, the slate “Education for Everyone Team” swept the election, running on a platform for maintaining the progress of the last five years.
The Education for Everyone Team is comprised of incumbents Wasim Muhammad and Karen Merricks, who ran with new board member Clayton Gonzalez. They were backed by the Camden Democratic Party.
The other slate, “One Camden United,” lost the election. They were backed by the Camden Education Association, whose president is Keith Benson, a paranoid conspiracy theorist who claims that the terrorist attack on 9/11 was a massive government plot and that that public school reform in Camden is a conspiracy among money-grubbing reformers and “oppressed natives” who are afflicted with a “psychosis” that leads them“to improve their own subjugated standing by attempting to join the ranks of those who do the oppressing.”
This wasn’t just another school board race, just as Camden City isn’t another school district. In 2013, after decades of dismal student outcomes and administrative corruption, former Gov. Christie had the state take over the district and appointed Paymon Rouhanifard as superintendent. Until that time, as NJLB reported, one million dollars “disappeared” under Board-appointed superintendent Annette Knox, students at Camden High were bullied for speaking Spanish, and “the best hope for families,” a Camden resident told me, “was being selected for a magnet school or attending a charter or Catholic school.”
Rouhanifard opened up the books to the community, made tough decisions about school closures and oversaw the inauguration of “renaissance schools,” hybrids of traditional and charter schools, enabled through a law called the Urban Hope Act. Among the 15,000 public school students in Camden, 6,800 students attend Camden City School District’s 18 district public schools, 3,850 students attend renaissance schools run by KIPP, Mastery, and Uncommon Schools, and 4,350 students attend regular charter schools in the City.
Here are the most recent student outcomes for Camden:
- Graduation rate: 66% (up from 49% in 2012)
- Drop out rate: 11% (down from 21% in 2012)
- 11:1 staff to student ratio
- 250+ high school students are taking college credits at Camden County College this year
- 45% increase in SAT participation
- 53% fewer out of school suspensions in 2016/17 compared to previous years
- 11 new or significantly renovated school building projects launched, 10 of which are serving students this year
- $336 million investment in new school buildings since 2012
This sits well with Camden parents. Apparently it doesn’t sit well with Camden Education Association’s leadership.
Never mind. Congratulations to the Education for Everyone Team. Camden isn’t there yet but it’s trajectory is looking mighty fine.