The indictment of conditions in the city's public schools drew a call from Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard - recently appointed by the state after it took over the district this year - "to implement dramatic changes."
"It cannot be incremental," he said in an interview.
But a parent advocate cautioned against reading too much into the desire of students to attend a different school, saying children generally don't like attending classes in run-down buildings. He feared this could be used to fuel the push for more charter schools in the district, a move on which residents are divided.
The survey was conducted by the school district in partnership with the Bloustein Center for Survey Research at Rutgers University. About 6,300 students and staff in 25 schools responded in June to queries seeking to identify their concerns, and the results are seen as a baseline for changes, officials said.
School Board President Kathryn Blackshear could not be reached Monday evening.
Kevin Barfield, who has one child in a district school, said the results underscore the need for engaged parent groups in schools to lobby for students' needs.
Rouhanifard said the survey results show the urgency of the need for change in the beleaguered district, most of whose schools are among the state's worst-performing.
The superintendent, who is in the middle of a 100-day listening tour, said the district would unveil its broader strategic priorities by December.
He said the "pronouncements of some of the students surprised me," pointing in part to responses on both the level of safety, such as in elementary schools, and of instruction.
Nearly half of 2,500 students in grades 3 to 5, and a third of 1,750 students in grades 6 to 12, said they do not always feel safe in hallways and bathrooms, according to the survey. The district was cited last year by the state for previously underreporting acts of violence and vandalism.
The unsafe feeling was worse in eight of the 21 middle and high schools, including Woodrow Wilson High School, where more than 50 percent of students reported not feeling safe. Nearly a quarter of school staff across the district also said they did not feel safe.
Rouhanifard, who was appointed in August, said he had moved to tackle school safety first. The district has worked to update all school security plans for the first time since 2006 and is installing more than 100 new cameras, officials said.
Mayor Dana L. Redd and Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson are instituting a "safe corridors" program, which would map routes to and from school bus stops and walking routes, and increase police presence there.
The routes should be operational in about two weeks, the superintendent said.
In February 2012, the state Department of Education sent a team to the district after a Camden Courier-Post article called into question the accuracy of the district's reporting of violent incidents through the Electronic Violence and Vandalism Reporting System over the previous two school years.
The state then listed recommendations for improvement, including properly training employees on the electronic reporting system.
Rouhanifard said that the district had been collaborating better with the police and that he had made it clear to principals that violence must be reported.
Barfield, secretary and former president of the district parent advisory council, said the survey results pointing to a lack of educational materials affirmed what he had seen over the years.
Only half of the students in grades 6 to 12 said they had all of the textbooks they needed for class, and just 55 percent of students said they had computers available to them for classwork. Roughly half of school staff said they had the necessary materials, the survey showed.
Barfield recalled that when his son was in fifth grade, he was sent home with a third-grade science book. Barfield wrote a letter to the teacher, and the next day, his son brought home the correct book.
"Over the years, I've definitely been concerned about the textbook issue," Barfield said. "You go into the classroom and you see kids have old, ripped-up textbooks."
Rouhanifard said the district had pumped $5 million into buying new textbooks and technology. Students in all literature classes and kindergarten and elementary math classes have a textbook to use in school and another at home, the officials said.
About half of the educators said some students cannot be motivated to do schoolwork. On the other hand, around half of the students queried at Camden and Woodrow Wilson High Schools said they would like to be at a different school.
"There is a lack of instructional rigor, coupled with the fact that the culture and climate are not where they should be," Rouhanifard said.
He said students don't have "a choice in high-quality schools."
Barfield said he, too, wants to see the district schools improve and is operating with a sense of urgency:
He said he is keeping his younger son, a 13-year-old, at Cooper B. Hatch Family School, a district school, because of the staff there. But he enrolled another son, a 14-year-old, in Pennsauken Technical High School in September after sending him to Camden public schools throughout the elementary and middle school years.
"I don't have time to wait for the school district to get our education system right with our traditional high schools," he said.