As Camden prepares for its first school board election in more than five years, local leaders have come together to launch a new political organization to support a slate of candidates.
The new group, Campaign for Great Public Schools, was formed in part by Bryan Morton – executive director of local nonprofit Parents for Great Camden Schools – along with Stephanie Fisher and Nohemi G. Soria-Perez. Unlike Parents for Great Camden Schools (PGCS), which is a 501c3 organization and cannot get directly involved in campaigning, the new organization will be able to support candidates for the board.
Morton said he was motivated to help found the new organization to make sure the progress in all Camden schools continues.
“When the state took control of Camden’s schools, less than half of the city’s high school students made it to graduation and parents were jumping through hoops for a chance to get their children into one of the city’s handful of good schools. After decades of struggles, many parents had lost hope that Camden’s public schools would ever improve,” said Morton.
“However, a lot has changed over the past five years in Camden classrooms, and studies show that our students are learning more in safer schools,” Morton said. “District schools have made great progress, with students in our renaissance and charter schools even outpacing their peers across the state in reading and math growth. Now is the time to sustain the progress we are seeing in our schools by electing excellent school board members.”
According to results released at a District press conference earlier this week, the majority of Camden’s district, renaissance, and charter schools improved their results on the New Jersey state test in each of the last four years.
Camden Superintendent Katrina McCombs has highlighted that this progress is consistent with other signs of improvement. Last year, the graduation rate rose to 67 percent, up from 50 percent five years ago, while dropouts fell to 12 percent.
The Campaign for Great Camden Schools is supporting the “Education for Everyone” slate comprised of Troy Still, Nyemah Gillespie, and Falio Leyba-Martinez, three of the nine candidates running for school board seats. Also running are three candidates as part of the Camden Votes slate and three independent candidates. TAPinto Camden recently profiled all the school board candidates.
In a statement, Campaign for Great Camden Schools that it believes the Education for Everyone slate has the experience needed to help the school district continue this progress.
“Ultimately, our leaders should be focused on lifting up students in all the schools across the city, and we believe that the Education for Everyone slate will bring people together to do just that,” said Stephanie Fisher, formerly the chief of staff to Freeholder Riletta Cream and the president of the Campaign for Great Camden Schools Board.
Organizers said their goal is to ensure that city schools continue to make progress as the District transitions to an elected school board and disclosed that it had requested and received funding from Public School Allies, a national organization that provided support in Newark's most recent school board election, backing a slate endorsed by Mayor Baraka, Councilman Anibal Ramos Jr., and local education reform advocates.
Nohemi G. Soria-Perez, local Democratic activist and founding board member of the Campaign for Great Camden Schools, said it was important for residents to elect the right leaders to guide city schools.
“We have a special opportunity not only to elect our own school board for the first time in many years, but to show others across the State of New Jersey that we can put the right people in place to make progress for our students,” Soria-Perez said. “All children in Camden should have access to a high quality school that is safe, has great educators, and will prepare our children for the future.”