News from Camden: All Schools Must Rise and So This One Must Close

This week Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard announced that Charles Sumner Elementary School, which serves 210 K-6 students and employs 57 staff members, will close at the end of this school year.

School closings are hard on communities. But this one is a no-brainer.

First, academic performance is dismal, despite multiple interventions and total cost per pupil of $25,027.  Only three percent of students reached proficiency in language arts and math, according to the district’s Information Card, which earns it the lowest possible grade of “underperforming.” The annual community survey reveals that only thirty-two percent of students consider the building safe and fewer than half the staff believes that the school supports “overall instructional quality,”  The building itself was constructed in 1926 and lacks many of the amenities of newer facilities; it’s also subject to recurring flooding.

Students were leaving anyway. At one point the school enrolled 500 students but parents voted with their feet, sending them to higher-performing traditional, charter, or hybrid charter/district schools.

Where will the remaining kids go? From today’s Philadelphia Inquirer:

Students enrolled in Sumner will be guaranteed seats at Cream, [district spokesman Brendan] Lowe said, as well as at one of two public-charter hybrid “Renaissance” schools, Camden Prep or KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy, but the district will work with families on deciding which of the city’s schools is best for each student. Officials also hope to move many of Sumner’s 57 full-time staff members with the Sumner students, Lowe said.

The community is aware of Sumner’s failings through the district’s new emphasis on transparency, which includes much outreach from Superintendent Rouhanifard. And district officials have been working to ensure that the old Sumner site doesn’t become another vacant lot in the Liberty Park section of the city; they’ve already reached out to local groups, including renaissance schools that may need more space.

All in all, a win for students, parents, and academic improvement in New Jersey’s most troubled school district..

There’s another school is in its last year in the city: Camden Community Charter School, which currently enrolls 679 student in grades K-8. Acting Commissioner Kimberly Harrington wrote in a letter to the school’s board that “ the school is not offering its students a high-quality education,” that instruction “was focused on the acquisition of factual knowledge rather that the application of knowledge to investigate problems,” and classrooms were characterized by “low levels of student engagement and disruptive behavior.”

While student performance at the charter was higher than Sumner — student proficiency rates are 13% to 15% — charter school are subject to higher degrees of accountability in exchange for higher degrees of autonomy. (The school is also one of N.J.’s two for-profit charters; the other one, run by the same managing group  CSMI, has another school in Atlantic City. We like our charters non-profit in New Jersey.)

Like at Sumner, Camden Community Charter students will have access through Camden’s universal enrollment system to traditional schools, renaissance schools, and old-fashioned charters.  “As difficult as a school closure is, I truly believe both students and staff will be better situated next year,” said Superintendent Rouhanifard.“This will put them on a better track.”

What do you think?

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