State hires new superintendent for Camden schools

CAMDEN – The Camden schools, subject to state intervention because of their record of under-achievement, have a new superintendent.

Gov. Chris Christie today introduced Paymon Rouhanifard, a native of Iran who overcame great hardship to relocate to and succeed in the United States, as the new schools chief here.

Rouhanifard, whose family was smuggled out of the country in the dead of night when he was a youngster, wants to bring this long-troubled school district out of its own long period of darkness.

Addressing an audience of state lawmakers and local officials, he said a student’s ZIP code should not become a barrier to achievement.

This is what he seeks to reverse in Camden:

*Over 70 teaching vacancies in two years and an average of 20 percent teacher absences a day;

*Over 345 dropouts last year, with 10 percent of them re-enrolled;

*Twenty-three of the state’s 26 worst-rated schools are in the Camden district.

He has taught in Newark as well as West Harlem, a district that he said went through three principals in two years, one of whom was arrested.

Christie talked of the state’s “moral obligation’’ to figure out how to maximize the unique abilities of students.

“It’s no secret the situation in Camden has been very, very challenging,” he said. In the new superintendent, Christie said, the district has visionary leadership and a willingness to question the status quo.

“No longer are we going to allow any of the children of Camden to be failed by an education system that didn’t work for them,’’ he said.

Christie, Rouhanifard and Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said the district has hired five new principals, will begin the school year with new computers for hundreds of students, and procured new textbooks for K-12 literature and K-5 math and replaced other books.

Rouhanifard most recently was the Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer for Newark Public Schools. 

He said that after the revolution in Iran, his father lost his job, their possessions were confiscated, relatives of his were tortured and executed, and in the dead of night the family hired someone to smuggle them into Pakistan.  They endured time in a refugee camp before eventually coming to the United States and settling in Tennessee.

His words made it clear he understands hardship, and he said he will be committed to helping students here who face hardships daily to have the opportunity to excel.

State hires new superintendent for Camden schools