This week Camden City welcomed a brand-new organization called the Camden Education Fund (CEF), a non-profit focused on talent, equity, engagement, and instructional quality with the end-goal of accelerating the academic progress of Camden City students who attend district, charter, and renaissance schools. CEF intends to create partnerships with experts (examples: the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning and the New Jersey Special Education Collaborative); address the lack of diverse teacher pipelines; offer grants to schools, non-profits, and universities; and develop strategic partnerships that will benefit all students.
Camden student academic growth has been rising since reforms enacted by former Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard and continue under current Superintendent Katrina McCombs. Last summer an analysis by Stanford University revealed that with the addition of renaissance schools —hybrid charter/district schools —Camden students show “significant improvements in math proficiency… as well as other gains relative to the state average for certain demographics.” Compared to 2014 (before renaissance schools got off the ground) students now receive the equivalent of an additional 85 days of learning in math and an additional 30 days of learning in ELA. (See here for more details on the analysis.)
CEF’s Executive Director is Naeha Dean, former Chief of Staff for the Camden City School District. She says,
In my time at the District, I saw what’s possible when educators come together to share best practices and develop solutions that are responsive to the needs of students and families. My vision for this organization is to create more opportunities for collaboration and to provide additional resources to schools, teachers, and community organizations doing great work for students across Camden.
CEF’s first grants confirm this commitment to all Camden public schools, regardless of governance. One grant is to Camden City Public Schools to transition to a more rigorous K-8 math program called Eureka. Rowan University and Relay Graduate School of Education will be developing a more diverse teacher pipeline for the city. Democracy Prep, a charter school with a large number of English Language Learners, will receive a grant to develop a robust bilingual program and the NJ Special Education Collective will be aiding all three types of public schools with customized support, professional development, and technical support.
The funding for CEF comes from The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and The City Fund. Jose Brito, one of the Board members who is a Camden resident and a former member of the Camden City School District Advisory Board, said,
I am so proud of the gains our city’s schools have made — yet significant barriers remain to achieving the kind of results our families want and our students deserve. I am inspired by CEF’s commitment to partner with schools and community organizations to achieve our shared goal of ensuring all students attend a school that prepares them for success.