With another school year behind us, it’s the right time for Camden parents and families to reflect on how our schools are doing, and to think about what we can do to make sure they continue to get better results for our kids.

First and most importantly is the question of how our children are progressing academically. Just last week, a study was released out of Stanford University that shows Camden students are achieving the approximate equivalent of 85 days more of learning in math and an additional 30 days more in reading than they were in 2014-15. The study shows that the decision made locally in 2015 to adopt a new school model has paid off; as students attending the Camden Renaissance networks (KIPP, Mastery, UnCommon) are outperforming their peers statewide in terms of annual student growth in both math and reading. In addition to these partner schools the Camden City School District also has shown significantly student growth and improvements across district schools during this period.

These promising trends add to a growing body of evidence that show the collective efforts of our city, district, community, and parent leaders over the past five years are leading to real gains for our children. However, this is no time to rest on our laurels. Despite this significant progress, the number of students leaving our schools prepared to succeed in college or career is still too low.

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Reminding us all that we have a long way to go before we get to a place where all of our children have the same level of opportunity as their peers in our surrounding communities.

If we are to move Camden in a direction which ensures that all students succeed parents across all school types must work collectively with the newly appointed Superintendent of Schools to accelerate progress. In May, I wrote that we should let our superintendent deliver for our children. I think it is fair to say that she has done just that in some very important ways this year. This year, under McCombs’ leadership, the district launched its gifted and talented program, expanded Algebra I offerings for eighth graders, and opened the Tiger Cafe at Woodrow Wilson High School, a coffee shop staffed by students with disabilities to provide them with a real-world learning opportunity.

In addition to this immediate progress, McCombs has shown that she is committed to sustainable success for the district over the long-term. She has pushed for facility investments to give our students the learning environments they deserve, She has overseen the groundbreaking at her alma mater, Camden High School, and last month, McCombs advocated for and won additional funding from the state that will allow Vets school to stay open for one more year, and allowed the district to refrain from having to make additional layoffs.

With the permanent appointment to superintendent this past April for McCombs, a Camden native who has been with the district for 26 years, we have a great opportunity to build on the progress being made and to create a vision for a sustainable future for our schools. 

Looking forward toward this coming fall; Camden parents have for the first time in a decade the ability to elect our own school advisory board, we as parents now have even greater responsibility to ensure our schools continue to improve. In order to fully empower McCombs, we must collaborate with our leaders and vote for the best candidates to make sure that we have an advisory board in place that not only is ready to support her in accelerating progress, but is also prepared for the responsibility of eventually fully governing our schools.

In years past, we may have looked at the progress being made in our schools, along with the ground left to cover, and simply hoped that someone else — the state, the superintendent, or others — would keep things on track or make improvements.

Now that power sits with us as parents!  With a home-grown superintendent and the transition to a locally elected school board though, we now have an opportunity and responsibility to take ownership of this progress, learn from what is working and what isn’t, and to collaborate with district and local leaders to chart a path forward that builds on this foundation to create a bright future for more and more Camden students each year.

Bryan Morton is the executive director for Parents for Great Camden Schools. Since 2015, the organization has worked toward ensuring high-quality education for all Camden students.

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