How many signatures would it take to stop a school closure? 

How many parents coming to meetings would it take to stop a school closure? 

How many parental votes would it take to stop a school closure?

There are no answers to these questions because the Camden School District has steadfastly refused to be accountable in any concrete manner to the parents it claims to serve. But based off of this video from a meeting held at a school being taken over, we do know two things: 1) We know that in Camden, as in Newark, Philadelphia and New Orleans before it, local institutions, teachers and schools are deeply valued by their communities and 2) we have concrete evidence that Camden’s state-appointed Superintendent is incapable of reaching out and being accountable to parents in the schools he is closing

Over and over, these parents express how deeply they value McGraw. One p arent asks why they can’t keep the teachers. Another talks about the wonderful music and arts programs. A third explains that when she was in the Camden public school system, she had a teacher she loved and that that teacher is now the principal at McGraw. A fourth teacher asks why the principal has to leave at all. A fifth parent laments, “why come here and discombobulate our home?”

Right now, there is a raging debate in Camden about what a great school is, but that quote, at 16:47 is a powerful reminder that sometimes schools are more than test-score factories. Camden parents see these schools as home. What a testimony to the value of having long-lasting institutions with deep roots in the neighborhood, and to the value parents find in that very thing. 

It makes a sharp contrast with the newcomers standing in front of the community. Early on in the meeting, a parent asks, “you don’t even know nobody’s [sic] name in here, do you?” (2:29)

This speaks to a larger problem in Camden. The Camden School District central office has been gutted of local educators. What is obvious from this meeting, and from the events of the last year and a half, is that replacing a local educators with young, inexperienced staff from other locations makes it virtually impossible to effectively dialogue with parents. Even if you want to give the benefit of the doubt to these administrators (that they want to listen), they do not have the history, skills or knowledge of the Camden community to make that happen. 

Take, for example, these school closures. Over the past few weeks, the school district held meetings to discuss what was going to happen at “struggling schools.” I attended two of those meetings, and not a single parent from the “struggling schools” stood up to speak. That is a tremendous failure on behalf of the district. While there were parents at those meetings, most of them already attended Mastery Schools. While it is wonderful to give voice to those parents, it is wrong to give them voice at the exclusion of the voice of others. Even if that exclusion is because the district is incapable of reaching other parents, not because of malicious intent. Exclusion is exclusion.

This is the fundamental failure of the Camden School District. The staff and superintendent are only capable of engaging the parents that agree with the District’s new preference for Renaissance schools. Parents and community members who do not are disenfranchised. The new District staff has neither the experience within the community to reach these parents, nor the inclination to give any power to these people. The district is completely unaccountable to its traditional school parents. 

At 18:21 a parent asks, “do we have a say-so [sic]?” Superintendent Rouhanifard responds, “If you talk to parents at the Mastery schools, they are empowered…” but the McGraw parents cut him off and say, “we want you to talk to us.” 

It’s a powerful moment, one that shows how the parents who agree with the district’s vision are empowered, while those who disagree are disenfranchised. 

There is no more clear example of the need for democracy then this, that those with power and privilege are incapable of hearing those without it. It is telling then that when the parent asks again, “do we have a say-so?” Superintendent Rouhanifard responds, “This is a decision that I have made.” 

This is why I stand with Camden parents and call for there to be some democratic check upon the school closure and takeover decisions being made by the district. The job of superintendent is not to be a dictator or a colonialist, it is to work with the people in the district. If this superintendent is incapable of doing that, there needs to be some recourse for parents. 

That could be a parental vote. Or a bar set for petitions that if crossed, would allow schools to remain open.

It is unacceptable to have a central office making decision when it is incapable of reaching or listening to the people it serves. At 34:23, local organizer Gary Frazier stands up and tells Paymon he has a petition with 500 parental signatures from McGraw and East Camden parents, a number that would be a majority within the two schools if true.

How many parental votes would it take to keep the school open?

The inability of the district to answer that question shows that they have no intention to listen to the parents they serve. 


  • Rather than take a side or point fingers what is anyone willing to do to assist, develop and implement a solution? Their are many readers/commentators but yet to read an effort to unite and really save the schools. In reading many comments their is a lot of “I” such and such but when will the “We” enter the conversation? Anyone can be a Monday morning quarterback……

  • If the state took over Camden’s school district,and the state is headed by the governor we have…do I need to continue?…I could write for hours, but in a few words…NO ONE matters !

  • I find this blog’s commitment to the status quo deeply troubling. There is a need for significant cultural change in the Camden City Schools- the disrespect towards Superintendent Rouhanifard in this video exemplifies that need. I agree that this issue is emotionally charged, but he is proposing to try something new, which is what needs to happen in these failing schools.

    The school district currently spends more than $27,000 per child per year to educate a child in Camden and yet only 49% of these children graduated from Camden High last year. That is a disservice to the children who are the future of the city. There is not a lack of funding, but a need for a cultural change.

    I taught for six years in a nonpublic K-8 School in East Camden. The principal stood at the front door and greeted each child by name and asked if they had eaten breakfast. There is no cost to building relationships, but the dividends are exponential. It is not the Superintendent’s job to build relationships with parents; that is the job of the building administrators who see those children every day.

    • I find your commitment to convenient statistics deeply troubling. You say “…yet only 49% of these children graduated from Camden High last year.” I ask you what percentage of Creative Arts graduated? What percentage of Brimm Medical Arts graduated? What percentage of MetEast graduated?

      If you want to put out statistics, please do so responsibly:

      According to Jason Laday | South Jersey Times, on February 05, 2015 in an article titled: “2 out of 5 Camden high school seniors didn’t graduate last year, officials say”

      “Camden Schools Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard on Thursday reported that the Class of 2014 graduation rate had been 62 percent, up from the previous year’s rate of 56 percent”

      Now then, with the proper statistics, we can agree that change is needed, but it must be done in an appropriate manner. The overwhelming feeling in Camden Schools is that the king(Christie) appointed a new governor (Rouhanifard) to colonize, quell, and indoctrinate the local population. From my vantage, it is surprising that graduation rates have gone up, because this entire situation has destroyed genuine classroom learning.

    • It is clear that Ms. Duffy is not a parent of a child in a Camden school set to be closed. These children matter…as do their parents, their community schools and the dedicated teachers who understand that!

  • I used to protest every year in front of my Local Public School Administration Building on April Fools Day. Holding up signs and saying Only a Fool teaches children there is no God and End the Theory of Evolution as the only truth. I hope this pagan tradition helps you realize people think it was a fool who hung on a tree 2000+ years ago in April. We are fools for celebrating and embracing an education that denies our Intelligent Design and our Creator who sent Jesus.

  • Like the lesson the community advocates learned from the Camden County Metro Police Petition which got the required number of signatures 15% if the last voting population at the last General election. You can direct funds and fiscal budgets with a referendum but what you are suppose to have is the democratic process of supporting Candidates who support your position and that is the unconstitutional part of the State Takeover that would easily win in court. God knows how I tried to explain to people like Gary Frazier and Ali Sloan. I petitioned for a referendum and argued in my court filings over a 12 year period so I know a little about the subject of how many signatures and what can be asked. I petition for a a moment of silence and ending the theory of evolution as the only truth. It would not have cost the District to give God of the New Jersey Constitution one minute or open Academic discussion to the theory of Creation and our Intelligent Design between students and teachers. I have told those many many advocates who attended School Board meetings over the decade that they had to sue for their right to vote which is of no additional cost to a district to have a normal election that other white majority school districts enjoy in america. They are 98% Black and Hispanic in Camden and if they cannot vote we have a problem in America if that would stand up in court. So Professor you knew the answer and Rutgers has law students who would be happy to take on the opportunity to argue the case of Camden vs the State . You know about the Abbott vs Burke landmark decision for Public School construction and repair that netted the Camden Students a 430 Million a part of the 6 Billion Dollar Settlement for the 12 or 16 minority districts in New Jersey that disappeared in a bankruptcy proceeding. The Public School savior of Camden George Norcross III never cared about the construction of Lanning Square or the parents of Lanning Square because he has profited in savings on the Construction cost using the empty lot as a staging area where once stood the best performing Public School in Camden where my mother worked until she retired 2000.

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