Christie picks Anderson to head Newark Schools

NEWARK – At Science High School, Gov. Chris Christie, Mayor Cory Booker and Acting Education Director Chris Cerf this morning welcomed New Yorker and self-described teacher at heart Cami Anderson as Christie’s selection for superintendent of the Newark Schools System, where 55% of the students graduate from high school and 98% of them have to take college remedial courses.

“We engaged with Commissioner Cerf and other stakeholders on a nationwide search for a new superintendent,” said Christie, who described the mayor as a key ally.

“His involvement in this was throughout the process… very productive,” added the governor, who said his parents took him out of his native city to Livingston in 1967 to find better educational opportunities – unacceptable then as now, Christie said.

There were a number of applicants for the job Anderson finally won.

“Cami Anderson… will be the new superintendent of schools here in the City of Newark” at an annual salary of $240,000.

The governor said he asked Anderson – former New York City schools district 79 super and Teach for America manager – to make a long-time commitment to the city and to the schools system. He pledged the same commitment to her.

“What you will get from her is extraordinary effort, talent and complete honesty,” Christie told a room crammed with Newark insiders, among them North Ward Democratic leader (and charter schools founder) Steve Adubato Sr., Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, and state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29).

There’s history here.

Anderson worked with Booker on the mayor’s failed 2002 campaign. Insiders decribed their relationship as “animated.” Lest anyone get ideas that this is a drone, of Booker’s or anyone else’s, one powerful insider said, “she’s her own person.”

“Although aligned with many of the mayor’s ideas on reform, she’s still fiercely independent,” the insider added.

Chirstie urged a roomful of allies “to get on board.”

Cerf headed up the search for a new superintendent. He gave shout-outs to Rutgers University Professor Clement Price, Schools Advisory Board Chair Eliana Pintor Marin and former Chair Shavar Jeffries.

“There’s a lot of controversy in schools reform,” noted the acting state education commissioner. “My hope is the only challenge we talk about…   whether we are providing equal opportunities to education. If we are focusing on that issue, we can have a very spirited debate.

“…Let me thank Cami for stepping into the breach,” Cerf added. “No one has a higher set of expectations or deeper commitment to equity in education. Second, she knows how to get stuff done.”

Booker followed Christie and Cerf at the lectern.

“It’s a wonder why we are not the number one school district in America,” said the mayor, referring to the talent in the room and recalling Booker’s and Christie’s West Ward police tour of the city, which took them past the house where the governor spent the first years of his life.

“We’ve never taught in a classroom – we had to find a great leader,” said Booker, reflecting on the dual challenge he and the governor faced in finding an education commissioner, Cerf, who stood at attention between Christie and Booker. The mayor praised Christie for the Republican governor’s focus on urban education.

Booker said he’s known Anderson for 20 years.

“I had a chance to work with her ten years ago here in the City of Newark – never met someone who is a better manager and executor,” said the mayor. “…She is an incredible, get-it-done human being.”

The animated Anderson described herself as coming from a blended family. Black husband, mixed-race kids.

“I got one clear message from every single person – we don’t need a hero,” she said. “I thought that’s really good for me. I’m less interested in promises than results. I think it’s the athlete in me. I’m a team person.

“I plan to start this work by listening. I have every intention of squeezing every single lesson out of the heroes who are here right now. Having seen my son walk for the first time, and fall for the first time, I’m keenly aware that there will be good days and bad days. I pledge to work hard for all of you.”

Christie said the state-run Newark shows no track record of being capable to go to local control at this time.

“No comment,” said Booker.

Against the backdrop of charter and voucher education reform – supported by Christie, Booker and Cerf – Anderson said in NYC’s District 79 she closed some schools because she didn’t believe results warranted keeping them open, and didn’t close the door on what she called “a network” of charter schools and other alternatives.

“We need multiple pathways, it’s not the pie chart, we need great schools for every kid,” Anderson said.

In a release, the governor’s office noted that Anderson served as the superintendent of Alternative High Schools and Programming for the New York City Department of Education. District 79 operates 300 public schools and serves 30-40,000 K-12 students and 50-60,000 adults annually “who have experienced challenges in completing school due to a variety of factors, including incarceration, drug use, poverty or academic challenges. District 79 provides these at-risk students with the services and programs needed to complete public school and receive their high school diploma. Under Anderson’s leadership, the district overhauled its alternative GED program and launched several new initiatives aimed at helping overage but under credited teens and adults earn their diploma. Anderson was also instrumental in shutting down a program in the city’s schools that removed pregnant students from the classroom and hindered their education.  Anderson’s efforts to help at-risk students stay in the classroom were major contributors to New York City’s rising graduation rates and declining drop-out rates of the past five years.”

Newark locals recalled Anderson from the 2002 “Street Fight” campaign as an “East Ward-based Booker revolutionary.”  

Christie picks Anderson to head Newark Schools