NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - A year after a schools opening marked by protest and boycott, critics of the policies of the new superintendent in New Jersey's largest city said they're willing to give him a chance.
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A year after a schools opening marked by protest and boycott, critics of the policies of the new superintendent in New Jersey's largest city said they're willing to give him a chance.
This week, there's been praise for the early work of Newark School Superintendent Christopher Cerf, a former state education commissioner. He was nominated in June by Gov. Chris Christie after Cami Anderson left the job after four contentious years overseeing a district's transformation efforts aided by a huge donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Classes begin in the district on Thursday.
John Abeigon, president of the Newark Teachers Union, has a lot of problems with Cerf's background in what Abeigon called the "reform for profit movement" and the policies he favors, but he said he prefers dealing with him to Anderson.
"He's more affable, he's more personable, even when you disagree with him, you can still have a civil disagreement with him," Abeigon said.
Abeigon said Anderson had stopped dealing with the union at all, but that Cerf has met with him in person, spoken on the phone and exchanged emails with him during his first weeks on the job. Abeigon also said he's not planning any immediate job actions even though the teacher contract expired in June.
Cerf and Anderson have similar pedigrees, both spending years as ranking administrators for New York City schools.
His job description includes one key element that wasn't on Anderson's docket: He's to oversee the process of moving the school district out from under state government control.
On Wednesday, Cerf held his first news conference as superintendent, stopping at First Avenue Elementary School to unveil a plan to give each district teacher access to $100 to spend as they wish on supplies. Principals will get $7,500 for needs not covered in their budgets.
The $750,000 for the program came from the Foundation for Newark's Future, which was set up to distribute the $100 million donated five years ago by Zuckerberg to improve education in Newark. The foundation is to sunset at the end of the coming school year, though it has about $30 million remaining to allocate before then.
The extra stipend for teachers is the sort of thing that suburban PTAs do routinely, but it's new for the foundation, which initially focused on systemic changes such as funding charter schools and developing new data systems.
First Avenue kindergarten teacher Denise Rauding said she often spends $1,000 a year of her own money on extra classroom supplies, but said the newly announced grant means she'll be able to do something for her students she would not have been able to otherwise.
Lourdes Rocafort, a math specialist at the school, said the funding and Cerf's appearance at the school to announce it on Wednesday signal a change. "There's a sense of hope," she said.
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, who lives in Newark and chairs the Senate's education committee, attended Cerf's announcement Wednesday. In an interview Tuesday, she praised him for meeting with parents, community members and educators since he came on board.
But Ruiz, a Democrat, wouldn't say Cerf is the right person for the job. "That was the selection of the governor," she said. She added Wednesday: "He's here and we have to be all committed to working with every individual to support all of our students."
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