Another Camden principal may be reassigned

Posted: June 21, 2012

The principal of a fourth underachieving Camden public school must be reassigned by fall, according to a revised letter sent by the state Department of Education to city School Superintendent Bessie LeFra Young.

East Camden Middle School joined Henry L. Bonsall Elementary, Charles Sumner Elementary, and Woodrow Wilson High School as the only "priority" schools in the state whose students failed to demonstrate sufficient improvement on New Jersey's standardized tests during the three-year period that began in fall 2008, according to the Education Department.

The 75 worst-performing schools in the state were designated "priority" schools under an accountability plan developed this year. Under the measure, a principal must produce adequate improvement on student scores within three years or face reassignment within the district.

On Tuesday, the top administrator at one of the schools cited in the letter from state acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said that three years was not enough time to turn around a persistently failing school.

"I was brought here in 2008. . . . It took a while to change the culture and get order," Sumner principal Janis Kauffman said.

Sumner, in the Centerville neighborhood, is a "legacy" institution, Kauffman said. Students' parents and grandparents have gone through the same doors, which fosters a sense of community and pride, she said.

In the 2011-12 school year, Sumner made significant strides in meeting federal No Child Left Behind academic progress guidelines, though it still was categorized as a "school in need of improvement."

"Our scores are coming up slowly but not fast enough for new regulations," Kauffman said.

None of the schools slated for principal reassignment has met its federal average yearly progress (AYP) goal in several years. Sumner has come closest, distantly trailed by Bonsall, East Camden, and Wilson, which showed no improvement in either of the last two years.

Principals at the other three schools could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Young, who did not return calls from The Inquirer on Tuesday, could have appealed the reassignment order by demonstrating that the principals are capable of leading the turnaround efforts, according to state officials. The state has not received any appeals from Young, they said.

"I would like to have at least another year . . . but the law is very clear," Kauffman said.

Because of its large bilingual population - 120 out of 400 students - there may be six reading levels in one grade, and a lot of students are in remediation, Kauffman said. "It's very challenging," she said.

The state should evaluate a principal's abilities in turning around a school after the five-year mark, Kauffman said.

"When a school is in the bottom 5 percent of schools in the entire state, we have a responsibility to determine whether we have the right people in place in order to lead a turnaround effort," state education spokeswoman Barbara Morgan said.


Contact staff writer Claudia Vargas at 856-7793917 or cvargas@phillynews.com, or follow her on Twitter @InqCVargas. Check out her blog, "Camden Flow," at www.philly.com/ philly/blogs/camden_flow/

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