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9-30-14 Reactions to Urban Hope Act Bill Passed by Assembly Yesterday Afternoon

NJ Spotlight - Explainer: Getting Inside the Urban Hope Act -- and ‘Renaissance Schools’

John Mooney | September 30, 2014

Opening the way for charter networks to gain a toehold in the city, new law could transform education in Camden


What it is: The Urban Hope Act was enacted and signed into law in 2012, opening the way for hybrid charters known as “renaissance schools” to open in three cities: Camden, Trenton, and Newark. Only Camden decided to move on this option and now has three networks approved and opening their first schools this fall.

What it does The law allows for charter companies to apply to the city to open and build new schools under certain conditions. For one, they are funded at greater rates than traditional charters -- roughly 95 percent of per-pupil costs in the city -- and given incentives to build new facilities. But they also must adhere to the district’s enrollment patterns, drawing from the neighborhood catchments. Unlike traditional charters, each applicant must also be approved by the local board of education.

Related Links

Urban Hope Act

Urban Hope Act Amendments

Camden Gets Ready for Debut of Renaissance Schools

What it means: The law is a broad change in how charters operate and has the potential to transform Camden, where as many as many as 15 schools are slated to open over the next decade. That has brought heated political debate to the city, especially with the state’s recent takeover of the district. Gov. Chris Christie has also staked a great deal on the law and its potential to transform Camden and is making the city a centerpiece of his education reform agenda.

Not finished: The Assembly yesterday approved changes to the law that would extend the process another year and likely bring still more charter organizations to the city. The Senate approved the changes last week, and they are sure to be signed by Christie.

The three winners so far: The three organizations approved for new schools are KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program), Mastery Schools, and Uncommon Schools. KIPP and Uncommon are two of the best-known networks in the country, as well as strong presences in Newark, and Mastery has been notable in its “turnaround” model in Philadelphia, just across the river.

The Norcross connection: The law’s prime sponsor in the Senate was state Sen. Donald Norcross (D-Camden). The law’s prime supporter in Camden is his brother, George Norcross, the South Jersey businessman and Democratic leader. And it turns out the first school approved and opened by KIPP came with the backing of the Norcross family foundation and the Cooper Health system that George Norcross chairs. The first school is named KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy.

The controversy: There is a lot of debate -- and even a legal challenge -- surrounding the new law and what’s come of it. The New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union, has strenuously opposed it, calling it a “corporate takeover” of the district. Other public school advocates have been equally vocal in claiming that it is drawing funds and resources from district schools. And a group of parents and activists were part of a legal challenge of the most recent changes, which drew an instant rebuke from the NJEA and Save Our Schools NJ, a grassroots group, while drawing praise from the Camden public schools and one of the charter organizations.

The latest changes: The bill approved by the Assembly yesterday and the Senate last week will extend the application process for another year, opening up the way for more charter networks and also allow existing organizations to use district facilities. Previously, new schools had to be built. The original version of the bill was conditionally vetoed by Christie over a clause that would have also provided early retirement benefits for Camden school district teachers in peril of being laid off. Without that clause, the bill still passed overwhelmingly in the Senate and by a 42-12 vote in the Assembly. Democrats were on board in the Senate, but many voted no or abstained in the Assembly.

Key players:

·         Gov. Christ Christie: Camden has become his poster child for urban reforms, not just in the schools but also in police and other areas. The Urban Hope Act is a centerpiece of that, and he is sure to continue trumpeting it as he considers a run for the White House.

·         George Norcross: The South Jersey powerbroker has staked a lot of his promises for Camden’s revival on the growth of not just his namesake school, but also that of the other organizations and the Camden takeover as a whole.

·         State-appointed superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard: Put in his job in 2013 to lead the district schools, Rouhanifard has said that the advent of the renaissance schools is critical to providing quality choices for Camden families.

·         MoNeke Ragsdale: Ragsdale is among a core group of community activists who -- with the backing of statewide advocates -- have challenged the new law both on the streets and in the courtroom. Their success or failure will help determine just how far the law goes.

NJEA, CEA react to passage of Urban Hope amendments by State Assembly

“Let us move ahead to provide stability and equity in public schools”

Published on Monday, September 29, 2014

NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer and Camden Education Association President Robert Farmer issued the following statement on today's Assembly vote:

“Although NJEA and CEA strongly opposed legislation amending the Urban Hope Act, we recognize that nothing – no outcry or reasoned appeal from educators, parents, or the general public – was going to change the minds of legislators predisposed to pass it.

“As a result, we are now focused on ensuring that Camden’s public schools, which still serve the vast majority of students in the city, receive the resources and staffing stability they need to succeed at the highest level.

“For too long, there has been an uneven playing field for students in Camden. Students in traditional public schools have faced understaffed schools and a lack of materials. Technology in the public schools remains abysmal, which is particularly troubling considering the fact that students will be taking the PARCC assessments in the spring, which require a technological fluency which they have not had the opportunity to obtain.  (See examples below.)

“NJEA and CEA are committed to using our resources and partnerships to support traditional public schools in Camden. NJEA’s Priority Schools Intervention and Support program currently operates in five Camden City public schools, and we will work to expand that to additional schools in the district.

“NJEA and CEA will work with the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning to replicate its success in Newark, Irvington, Jersey City, and other urban districts in revolutionizing how math and science are taught.

“In addition, we will continue our already committed work with grassroots partners such as the Boys and Girls Clubs to provide afterschool homework help and the ‘Blessings in a Backpack’ program to ensure that no child in Camden goes hungry.

“But it is imperative that the same legislators who are approving the Urban Hope Act amendments understand that NJEA and CEA cannot make these commitments without an equal commitment to educational stability and equity in Camden.

“That must be embodied through immediate settlement of the school employees’ contract, and through appropriate resources and staffing levels, both among teachers and administrators. Only then can we all work together to achieve our common objective: great public schools for every child in Camden.”

Examples of the ‘Camden Promise’ Not Fulfilled


Brimm Medical Arts High School:

  • Vacancies in teaching positions – Mandarin and Business

Camden High School:

  • Excessive class sizes
  • Staff vacancies

Cooper’s Poynt Family School:

  • Staffing shortage
  • No inclusion teachers for in-class support of special education students (possible violation of state requirements)

Davis Elementary School:

  • Vacancies in teaching positions (5)
  • Science teacher does not have curriculum guides and no fire extinguisher in room.
  • Half of self-contained special education class comprised of students who were mainstreamed in prior school year (possible violation of special education requirements)

Forest Hill Elementary School:

  • No Technology  supplies
  • Physical education does meet state requirements
  • Staff vacancies
  • Staff harassment
  • Special area teachers are teaching two different levels at the same time 6 periods per week, requiring two separate lesson plans for each class

Molina Elementary School:

  • No librarian
  • No books/ workbooks
  • No photocopier

H B Wilson Elementary School:

  • No computer teachers for lower grades (in which the skills are needed for MAPP testing)
  • Missing math and reading workbooks
  • Missing 8th grade science/math teachers and 3rd grade, being filled by Source4Teachers
  • Broken Smartboards
  • Lack of computers and printers

Woodrow Wilson High School:

  • Inability to access Genesis /Easy IEP system (used for tracking delivery of services to special education students)
  • Scheduling issues
  • Lack of instructional materials
  • No assistance to resolve technology problems
  • Vacancies in teaching positions

Yorkship Elementary School:

  • Vacancies in teaching positions – kindergarten (see below), fifth grade (2), sixth grade
  • Four kindergartens reduced to three w/87students (violates state limits)
  • Excessive class sizes in other grades
  • No school social worker
  • Facilities problems – leaky pipes; stained/broken ceiling tiles, etc.
  • Teachers have been unable for weeks to access OnCourse to do lesson plans
  • Classes have scheduled library time but no librarian
  • Either no books at all or not enough for entire class; no teacher guides
  • No workbooks for phonics, math, spelling, grammar
  • One custodian now doing the work of three (two vacancies)

- See more at: http://m.njea.org/news/2014-09-29/njea-cea-react-to-passage-of-urban-hope-amendments-by-state-assembly#sthash.HOlSwJWE.dpuf



JERSEY CAN letter re: Assembly Passage of Urban Hope Act, September 29 2014 ‘S2264 will help renaissance schools grow and better serve students, ultimately giving more families access to high-quality schools.’


Today, the New Jersey State Assembly voted in favor of the students and families of Camden by passing S2264. The bill now awaits a signature from Governor Christie to become law.

Thank you to those of you who took action on Friday or over the weekend by telling your Assembly members to vote YES. Thank you to the Assembly members who voted for this bill, and thank you to Assemblyman Troy Singleton for sponsoring this bill.

S2264 will help renaissance schools grow and better serve students, ultimately giving more families access to high-quality schools.

Renaissance schools are free public schools that serve all students who live within the immediate neighborhood. The current renaissance schools that have opened in Camden this year are being run by three nonprofit school organizations with strong track records of success. Uncommon Schools has operated high-quality public charter schools in Newark for over 15 years, and KIPP has operated in Newark for over 10 years. Mastery has operated high-quality public charter schools in Philadelphia for over 10 years. Their track records speak for themselves:


·  Over 85 percent of Mastery’s graduating class of 2013 was accepted to a four-year college.

·  Test scores increased an average of 40 points in Mastery turnaround schools after four years.

·  Schools that partnered with Mastery saw an 80 percent drop in violence.


·  Approximately 90 percent of North Star Academy graduates enrolled in four-year universities after graduation.

·  100 percent of Uncommon 11th graders scored advanced or proficient on the English-language arts HSPA exam and 96 percent scored proficient or higher on the math HSPA.

KIPP schools in New Jersey:

·  78 percent of students who were with KIPP in NJ in eighth grade matriculated to college.

·  KIPP schools in New Jersey have successfully retained 92 percent of their students.

We at JerseyCAN are pleased that this bill is just one step away from becoming law, and we thank the Assembly and Senate leaders and members for helping the legislation advance this far. We look forward to seeing it signed by Governor Christie.





Sincerely, Janellen Duffy
Executive Director