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Newark schools superintendent believes in her plan to improve education

Craig D. Frazier | 5/15/2014, 4:24 p.m.

When Cami Anderson took her job as Newark schools superintendent, she was convinced she could help turn around a state-run system in a poverty-ridden city where 41 percent of ninth-graders failed to graduate on time.

Appointed by Gov. Chris Christie in 2011, Anderson says she is determined to create “100 excellent schools” by boosting achievement, despite dealing with declines in enrollment, crumbling buildings and a $100 million gap in a $1 billion budget over the next three years.

This year, Anderson faces criticism from clergy members, the city’s teachers’ union, mayoral candidates and some parents over her “One Newark” plan that consolidates some schools, sells property and launches public charters in district buildings.

In February, she asked for the state’s permission to consider quality and seniority in regard to teacher layoffs, which could come this summer. Opponents staged rallies calling for her termination. Critics said she ignored community input.

However, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker backs Anderson. “Change in any environment is very, very difficult,” he said. “She’s creating the foundation for long-term student success.”

Anderson says bold action is required to fix a system where only 20 schools are considered good, as judged by tests showing students’ proficiency and growth.

“It still feels, despite all the challenges, so doable,” she said. Anderson noted that about 1,000 more children have enrolled in preschool and graduation rates have risen to 68 percent, up from 59 percent in the spring of 2011. “We are looking for obviously much bigger gains across the board,” she said. “I honestly believe we can do it.”