In January 2014, the Camden City School District published a strategic plan called the Camden Commitment to guide its attempt to improve education across the city. Officials say that had an intentional shelf life, and now they want to update it.
To do so, they are holding a series of public meetings to ask parents, students, community members, and staff about what problems they think the district should tackle in the upcoming school year.
“It’s so important to build trust with the community and to make sure that the families here feel empowered to drive change and make critical decisions,” said Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard.
“We need to hear directly from them in order to build our plan and to set priorities.”
Wednesday night, Rouhanifard led a public meeting at Cooper’s Poynt Elementary School in North Camden.
He asked the crowd of more than 40 about the main points laid out in the Camden Commitment — safety, school building infrastructure, student support and education, communication with parents, and the administration. He wanted to know if the district had delivered on those promises and how it could improve in the future.
Many of the parents, including Alicia Rivera, whose daughter attends East Camden Middle School, said the district is improving.
“We know that we’re having good changes,” she said. “As a parent, we do support the changes in here.”
But others, such as Mary Jane Timbe, who has four daughters in Camden schools, said the district could be much better.
“They need improvement and, with the help of Rouhanifard, he’s striving for that,” she said. “But there is a lot that need to gets done in the school district before we can even compare it to any other school district nearby.”
Though Rouhanifard touted improvements in the last 18 months, he also acknowledged that the district had fallen short in some areas, too.
“In spite of the progress we’ve made, two out of five students still aren’t finishing high school. So we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. But it’s always really encouraging when you see this type of turnout, and you hear directly from families as to what’s important,” he said.
The district, which includes about 15,000 students, will release its updated strategic plan in the fall.