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April 19, 2019

Building an education system for Camden’s future

New superintendent: 'We have to be bold, and make decisions that put our young people first'

Opinion Education
Katrina McCombs Camden Superintendent 04192019 Source/Camden School District

Katrina McCombs is the superintendent of Camden City School DIstrict.

As a graduate of Camden public schools, and a 26-year educator in the district, my personal and professional purpose has never been more clear: to do all that is within my power to give young people in my City the best education possible.

This week I was honored with the privilege of being appointed to serve as your state superintendent. I enter into this role with a singular focus on making decisions that benefit students and families in our city.

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The challenges our district faces are decades in the making and will not be resolved without continued partnership and support from the state, city leadership and our community. When the state of New Jersey took over our school district in 2013, we faced a $113-million budget shortfall, and 23 of our 26 schools were in the bottom five percent of the state. We have made progress since then, with a 20-point increase in the graduation rate, dropouts and suspensions down, and student reading and math scores rising steadily each year.

Despite this progress, we are still working to build a solid and sustainable foundation that will allow our schools to be successful when we return to local control.

I am responsible for building a public school system that serves our city’s needs today, and into the next decade. With that goal in mind, my administration is building Camden’s first dual-language public school and creating a second district early childhood center for South Camden families that is desperately needed.

For young people born in poverty to be successful in school, access to high quality pre-K education at age 3 is critical. Right now, there are not enough high quality pre-K options for residents living in South Camden. My plan to convert an under-enrolled elementary school, where only two in five seats are full, into an early childhood center of excellence will offer hundreds of families in Centerville, Whitman Park and the Branch Village housing complex a safe, reliable neighborhood pre-K center for their young children.

Changing demographics in our city show that Latinx population is growing, and more Spanish-speaking residents are calling Camden home each year. By consolidating our resources to build a district public school that leads with a bilingual English-Spanish curriculum, we will prepare our students for the changing global job market, while also serving the growing Hispanic population in East Camden and beyond.

These decisions, derived from community input and focused on upgrading facilities, retiring antiquated buildings, creating new neighborhood-focused curriculums and expanding new early childhood education, are imperative to student success. Furthermore, these tough decisions were not arbitrary, but were thoughtfully crafted through a listening tour with families, students and staff, taking their input and insight and implementing it into a roadmap for the future.

These are hard first steps to initiate our collective vision for a more modern and well-resourced public-school system for Camden City and continue the academic progress we have made over the last five years.

That is why this week I met directly with the students and families at those schools impacted by these changes, and will hold public meetings across the city this month to hear from all residents about their vision for our schools, and find ways to work together to give all Camden students access to a high-quality education.

Together, we can continue to move Camden forward – with better schools, more jobs and safer neighborhoods. But to do this, we have to be bold, and make decisions that put our young people - the future of our city – first in our hearts and minds.

Katrina McCombs is the state superintendent of the Camden City School District.