comings and goings

Rouhanifard, former NYC official, to head Camden, N.J., schools

Department of Education officials Marc Sternberg and Paymon Rouhanifard spoke to the City Council in 2012. Rouhanifard, who has worked in Newark since last year, was named superintendent of Camden, N.J., schools today.

A former top New York City schools official is New Jersey’s pick to run the Camden school district, which the state took over this year because of poor performance and mismanagement.

Paymon Rouhanifard, who has been a top deputy in Newark since last November, will take over the struggling district as its first state superintendent. N.J. Gov. Chris Christie announced Rouhanifard’s appointment this morning during a press conference at H.B. Wilson Elementary School in Camden.

The choice signals the direction that Christie and N.J. schools chief Christopher Cerf are planning for the 14,000-student, 30-school district near Philadelphia that Christie has called “a human catastrophe.” Since announcing in March that they planned to make Camden the fourth urban district under their authority, officials have overhauled staff, curriculum, and other resources in the district and flooded it with people with experience in education and management.

“Paymon has a proven track record of improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of students in Newark and New York City, and brings innovative leadership that Camden needs moving forward,” Christie said in a statement. “Under his leadership, I know Camden’s schools will improve on the progress of these last few months.”

Rouhanifard, who is 32, went to Newark from the New York City Department of Education, where he started in 2009 been the chief of staff to Deputy Chancellor John White and briefly headed the Office of Portfolio Management last year. Early in his tenure at the department, he overlapped with Cerf, who at the time was a senior advisor to then-Chancellor Joel Klein.

A year after Cami Anderson, also a top New York City official, moved to Newark to take over that district, she recruited Rouhanifard to become her chief strategy and innovation officer, a position upon whose performance the city’s $100 million in Facebook funds reportedly depended. Among Rouhanifard’s accomplishments was creating a single admissions process that includes both district and charter schools.

That experience is certain to be useful in Camden, where charter schools now enroll about a quarter of the city’s students and continue to expand. Rouhanifard will also have to negotiate a new contract with the city’s teachers union and contend with the impact of one of the country’s highest poverty rates on the city’s schools. More than half of Camden’s residents live in poverty, according to U.S. Census records.

Rouhanifard’s appointment in Camden makes him the latest person who worked under Klein to take over an urban school district. Other former city officials who have taken superintendencies include White, who heads Louisiana’s schools after a stint in New Orleans; Anderson in Newark; and Jean-Claude Brizard, who recently moved to the College Board after short-lived terms in Rochester, N.Y., and Chicago.

The New Jersey Department of Education said Cerf had worked with a national search firm to screen 100 candidates for the position in Camden before selecting Rouhanifard. The state’s Board of Education, whose members are appointed by the governor but serve fixed terms, must approve the choice.

Rouhanifard taught at P.S. 192 in Harlem for two years through Teach for America after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2003. Before returning to the Department of Education, he worked for several years in the private sector. A native of Iran, he grew up in Nashville, Tenn., after his family fled persecution in Iran because of their Bahai faith.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.