Camden Takeover to Proceed with Interim Super in Place

June 24, 2013

The state’s takeover of Camden public schools will start this week with an interim superintendent, while the Christie administration continues to look for the individual to lead the district.

The State Board of Education on Friday approved the appointment of Peggy Nicolosi, the state’s Camden County executive superintendent, to be at the helm on Tuesday as the state’s takeover of the district officially begins.

The takeover is the state’s fourth, adding to the list of Newark, Paterson, and Jersey City.

Nicolosi has been a key player in the state’s transition to full control. And with the required superintendent’s certification, she was a natural pick to serve as a place-holder as state Education Commissioner Chris Cerf continues the search for a new superintendent.

“She is extraordinarily qualified individual who has really been rolling up her sleeves in working the transition in Camden,” Cerf said in announcing the interim appointment on Friday.

Cerf said he expected to have the final appointment in place by the opening of school in September, and Nicolosi was not a candidate for that job.

The extended search may not bode well for the local school board’s three finalists, who were in the pipeline before Gov. Chris Christie announced the takeover this spring.

“We are in the midst of a comprehensive national search for a superintendent, and that process will not be completed before June 25,” Cerf said.

In addition to the top superintendent position, the start of state control also means that new assistant superintendents will have to be hired, but officials have said those positions would likely wait until the permanent appointment was made.

In a brief comment on the move Friday, state board President Arcelio Aponte asked Cerf that if a final appointment is not secured by September then Nicolosi should come back before the board at the start of the school year to update on her progress.

The appointment was a late addition to the agenda for the state board’s unusual Friday meeting, called as an emergency to vacate the administration’s proposed special education regulations.

The regulations have been controversial on a number of fronts, and Cerf said he was willing to continue to review the concerns before the new rules are formalized.

But the emergency action was then needed before the existing regulations expired, which would effectively leave the state with no regulations at all. Now the existing guidelines are authorized to remain in effect for seven more years, although officials said they expect a new proposal for revisions in the coming year.

Board members said they heard the concerns raised in public testimony, and Cerf was making the right decision to slow the process down. Much of the worry centered on proposals to loosen requirements on districts, something that family and teacher advocates said would mean potentially fewer or delayed services for students.

“The testimony was very poignant and very valid,” said board member Edith Fulton. “This is the right thing to do.”