This week, Christie is touring schools with a softer approach. He's goofing with first graders and assuring superintendents he wants to collaborate on new state standards.
After Tuesday's stop at Sharp Elementary in Cherry Hill, I half expected him to pass out cupcakes. Clearly, the governor digs kids. Now, he's offering olive branch snacks to embattled teachers.
Schools, Christie insisted, "need less top-down management from Trenton." Eliminating regulations and easing testing mandates will let teachers "do what they do best."
Meeting his match
Sarah Anderson and Kathy Gilmour already met my benchmark: One week into the school year, the Sharp teachers commanded enough respect to keep 23 first graders quiet and still as they waited for their VIP guest.
Governor Gruff melted in the students' presence.
When a boy recalled visiting the Battleship New Jersey, Christie nodded approvingly without mentioning that he slashed the historic site's state funding. When a girl said she read Junie B. Jones books all summer, he applauded even though parents secretly loathe the obnoxious title character.
"You hit a shark with your surfboard? You're a hero!" Christie raved to an adorable tale-teller named Mason, who shared accounts of his beach bravery. "I gotta take you back to Trenton. People try to bite me all the time."
The media were ushered out before the students tackled their math lesson: counting to 40 using a number line. That's new to first graders across the state. But not for long.
In the school library, Christie touted the reason for his visit: promoting new state educational standards, the only reform he can muster as long as the Legislature is otherwise focused on reelection.
In June, New Jersey became the ninth state to adopt the Common Core State Standards, a set of expectations detailing what children in each grade should know as they march toward college and careers.
The standards movement stresses achievement and progress over policy and test scores. But high school seniors will ultimately take new exit exams - and the results could tarnish the state's reputation.
"I'm tired of giving out fake diplomas," Christie said. With common core standards, "we'll know the truth" about just how well New Jersey educates its youth.
Contact Monica Yant Kinney at 215-854-4670, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @myantkinney on Twitter. Read her blog at philly.com/blinq