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behind the scenes
August 22, 2018
How Newark’s former schools chief used a ‘victory lap’ and privately paid consultants to cement his legacy
Former Newark Superintendent Chris Cerf's administration used private money to tout their policies and manage the district's transition back to local control.
June 23, 2018
Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over
About 30 Newark Public Schools officials and administrators were given the option Friday to resign or face termination.
behind the scenes
Updated June 8, 2018
‘It may not bode well.’ State lawmaker intervened in Newark’s superintendent search, its first under local control
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz pressured officials to replace a member of the superintendent search committee and to allow an extra candidate, sources said.
June 6, 2018
Three lessons Newark’s new schools chief can learn from New York City’s retired chancellor
Roger León will soon take over a district still reeling from past changes. Former NYC schools chief Carmen Fariña knows what that's like.
'It's a new day'
May 25, 2018
In Newark, will homegrown change replace outsider-led reform?
After controversial reforms enacted by outsiders, Newark has chosen a homegrown leader. Can he create a new model of change?
May 23, 2018
Former principal Roger Leon chosen as Newark’s new superintendent
Leon, a Newark native and veteran of the school system, was picked by the school board in a unanimous vote Tuesday night.
May 2, 2018
For the first time in a generation, Newark will pick its own schools chief. Meet the interim leader hoping to get the job.
After working in Newark schools for two decades, Robert Gregory thinks he's ready to lead the district. But he's not the only one vying for the top job.
February 1, 2018
‘All eyes are on Newark’: As the city regains control of its schools, a look at what’s to come
A 22-year state takeover of Newark's public schools is over. Now, local decisions about leadership, spending, and more, begin.
February 11, 2014
Chris Cerf and Joel Klein, together again at Amplify
New Jersey education commissioner Christopher Cerf is stepping down and reuniting with Joel Klein, his old boss at the New York City Department of Education.
August 21, 2013
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.”
December 13, 2011
To one panel, unions are both moribund and living obstacles
Chris Cerf, Evan Stone and Seth Andrew at a Manhattan Institute panel this morning. Even though he received 6,000 applications to fill 60 teacher positions last years, charter school operator Seth Andrew said he still has trouble hiring the right people for the job. Andrew, who runs four Democracy Prep Charter Schools in Harlem said even the promise of a $65,000 starting salary – 50 percent above that of a city teacher's – did not attract the kind of teaching talent he wants for his schools. The reason, he said this morning, was that state laws — he called them "barriers" — require most prospective teachers to earn an education degree before they can to teach in a classroom. He said those degrees did not assure that a teacher would be effective, echoing an argument frequently made by advocates of non-traditional teacher training programs. "It doesn't matter how you enter the classroom," Andrew said. Andrew was one of four panelists at a breakfast sponsored by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, that was held to celebrate the release of "Teachers Matter," a new book authored by senior fellow Marcus Winters. Ex-Schools Chancellor Joel Klein delivered a keynote address lauding the role school choice plays in school reform.
March 10, 2010
Chris Cerf returns to the education private sector — but in Brazil
Since helping Mayor Michael Bloomberg win his third term last fall, former deputy schools chancellor Chris Cerf has almost completely disappeared from the New York City education landscape. Perhaps he wanted warmer weather — Cerf is now the head of the new American arm of a Brazilian science curriculum company. The company, Sangari Brasil, currently sells an elementary and middle school science program to school districts in Brazil and Argentina. It's part of a larger international group that promotes science education, and recently donated $1 million to help the National Science Teacher Association build a science education center in Northern Virginia. The position is in some ways a return to Cerf's roots. Before his stint masterminding the politics of the mayor's sweeping and frequently controversial education reforms, Cerf headed Edison Schools, Inc. (now called EdisonLearning), one of the United State's largest for-profit school management companies.
October 26, 2009
Thompson and Cerf debate the next four years for city schools
With little more than a week before the mayoral election, candidate Bill Thompson and Christopher Cerf, an adviser to Mayor Bloomberg's reelection campaign, touted their future plans for the city's schools on WNYC today. Given half an hour each on the Brian Lehrer Show, Thompson and Cerf took questions on school safety, the accountability structure, and what major changes they (or their candidate — Cerf hasn't said whether he'll return to the Department of Education after the election) would put in place over the next four years. Throughout the interview, Thompson emphasized his interest in lowering class sizes and shifting school administrators' focus away from standardized tests. Cerf spoke at length about the importance of using technology to cater to students' different learning styles. Neither offered clues to how the city would pay for these changes. Asked by host Brian Lehrer to name the greatest innovation he'd bring to the city's schools, Thompson had one word: curriculum.
October 16, 2009
Cerf attacks Thompson for opposing mayor's promotion policies
Mayor Bloomberg's senior education adviser Chris Cerf (left) and former Congressman Herman Badillo touted the mayor's promotion and retention policies on the steps of City Hall this afternoon. Chris Cerf, the former Department of Education deputy chancellor turned senior education adviser to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's re-election campaign, said today that the RAND report released this week on the mayor's promotion policies "completely vindicates" those policies. Flanked by former Congressman Herman Badillo, Cerf said that the mayor's rival, Comptroller Bill Thompson, showed a lack of leadership for failing to support stricter retention policies during his tenure as president of the city's Board of Education. Badillo, who has also served as the chairman of the City College of New York and who endorsed Bloomberg in July, said that he urged the Board of Education to end social promotion throughout Thompson's term to no avail. "I have been against social promotion for decades," he said."In Puerto Rico, where I come from, if you do your work, you pass, and if you don't, you don't pass." Thompson's campaign has pointed out that he voted for a measure in 1999 that required low-performing third through eighth grade students to repeat a grade of attend summer school. Cerf called that opposition to social promotion "halfhearted," and countered that Thompson opposed Bloomberg's efforts to introduce new promotion and retention standards in 2004.
September 23, 2009
One man down, DOE reshuffles its bureacracy
The Department of Education is rearranging its ranks following the immigration of Chancellor Joel Klein's top deputy Chris Cerf to the mayor's reelection campaign. In a memo to colleagues, Klein lays out the DOE's new landscape, noting that it's on an "interim basis," though Cerf has not said he'll return to the department. John White, who is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the Office of Portfolio Planning, will serve as the Interim Acting Deputy Chancellor for Strategy and Innovation. White has overseen various space fights between charter schools and district schools throughout the city, prompting Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer to declare that he has (or had) "the worst job — ever." Debra Kurshan, who is currently the Senior Director of Portfolio Planning, will take on some of White's previous responsibilities.
September 23, 2009
Thompson outlines agenda for better schools in first policy speech
In the first policy speech of his campaign for mayor, Comptroller Bill Thompson announced a ten-point plan to improve the city's public schools. Simultaneously attacking Mayor Michael Bloomberg's schools record and outlining his own priorities, Thompson outlined a plan focused broadly on changing curriculum and school environments, improving programs for under-served groups such as English-language learners and special education students, increasing community participation in schools and improving transparency in the Department of Education. Item number one on the mayoral hopeful's list was appointing a career educator as chancellor, a position currently filled by Klein who is a trained lawyer and does not have a background in education. "We need a Schools Chancellor with a solid and extensive education background," he said, "who not only cares about children, but who understands fundamentally what goes on in the classroom and respects the tough work that teachers and principals perform on the front lines of our system every day."
September 16, 2009
Chris Cerf and the charter school parent vote
You can say a lot of things about Chris Cerf, the top Klein deputy who's now joining the Bloomberg campaign. He's passionate and fearlessly blunt about his view for how to improve schools. He can also be jolly and pragmatic, managing despite his tough talk on teachers unions to craft a solid working relationship with Randi Weingarten. But for someone who falls squarely on one side of a bitterly divided education world, this line just doesn't make sense: Mr. Cerf, a widely admired figure in the education world, Which education world, New York Times? The first thing we can learn from this piece of news is that Bloomberg definitely means to continue trying to shape the education world into the one Cerf supports. But whether Cerf will really be capable of doing what the Bloomberg campaign seems to expect him to do — deliver the charter school parent vote — is a wide open question.
July 23, 2009
Angry senators call for negotiations that are already happening
Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. delivered a speech in Spanish against no-bid contracts. (<em>GothamSchools</em>) The circus around the State Senate intensified today as half a dozen senators gathered to complain that Mayor Bloomberg would not meet them at the bargaining table. Immediately afterward, senators confirmed that negotiations are, in fact, ongoing. "We will not be dictated to, we will be negotiated with," said Senator Bill Perkins, a persistent critic of mayoral control. Joining Perkins on the steps of City Hall were Sens. Shirley Huntley, Hiram Monserrate, Pedro Espada, Eric Adams, Ruben Diaz Sr., and City Councilman Robert Jackson. All of the senators were among those who supported a failed bill that would have curtailed mayoral control. After the press conference, Monserrate acknowledged to reporters that negotiations were already in progress. "We're at the table," he said. "There are some meetings occurring." Those meetings, which began on Monday after mayoral control talks fell apart last week, are being held by Democratic conference leader John Sampson's staff and deputy schools chancellor Christopher Cerf. Senators would not discuss the details of the negotiations today, but they reiterated their support for increased parent involvement, funding for art programs, and fixed terms for citywide school board members. A source close to the discussions described the talks as "fragile."
May 14, 2009
TFA, Fellows won't get extra help; new schools under debate
A top city school official is reassuring union president Randi Weingarten that teachers in alternative-certification programs like Teach For America will not get a preference over graduates of education schools. But whether new schools will be able to work around the hiring freeze, as school officials initially declared, appears to be under debate. The note to Weingarten, from Deputy Chancellor Christopher Cerf, followed a letter she sent yesterday urging the Department of Education to treat all teachers outside the system the same. Cerf's note says the department will do that. But it also includes a new twist in the story: an acknowledgment that the hiring-freeze exception for new schools, who Chancellor Joel Klein said could hire anyone they wanted, is now "under discussion." Cerf did not offer me clarification on what exactly that means, though he did say that Weingarten and the teachers union have no role in the discussions. One clue is that, in addition to Weingarten, Merryl Tisch, the head of the state Board of Regents, is also voicing concern about the idea of holding new schools exempt from the hiring freeze. In a short telephone interview today, Tisch said that the policy could hurt her goal of sending the most qualified teachers to the hardest-to-staff schools. New schools are actually easier to staff than existing struggling schools, she said, so why should they be the only ones to get free reign on hiring?
April 6, 2009
City Council moves to regulate city's placement of charter schools
The former chair of the City Council education committee, Eva Moskowitz, talked to the current chair, Robert Jackson, before today's hearing on charter schools. Moskowitz runs a charter school network, while Jackson said he is skeptical of charter schools. (<em>GothamSchools</em>, Flickr) City Council members today moved to regulate the process of placing charter schools in public school buildings, introducing a resolution that they said would avoid conflicts between families at neighborhood schools and new charter schools placed inside of them. Right now, Department of Education officials offer some charter schools space in public school buildings on their own, but the space-sharing arrangements are sometimes contentious. (Charter schools receive public funding, but operate outside of the DOE watch and are not guaranteed space in public school buildings.) The Council resolution would force the department to follow some kind of a regular procedure — probably involving a requirement to work with members of a neighborhood — before it could place a charter school in a public building. "Make community stakeholders part of that process," City Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo, of the Bronx, said. "You fail miserably at including the people that have to deal with the fallout of the decisions that you make." Council Member Jessica Lappin of Manhattan, who chairs the council's work on public land use issues, said that charter schools should be placed in the same way that new traditional public schools are placed. "I have worked very hard to bring community members, principals, and the Department of Education together so that we can resolve the issues that inevitably arise," Lappin said. Why, she asked, shouldn't charter schools be placed in the same way? Testifying before the council, Department of Education officials said they agree that they need to improve the way that they bring in new schools, but they declined to support the resolution that would force them to follow a new procedure when doing it.
March 25, 2009
Sparring over how much test prep happens, and what prep means
A lineup of Department of Education officials challenged Assemblyman Mark Weprin's assertion that the public schools are overrun by excessive test prep. <em>GothamSchools</em> Another snippet…
March 23, 2009
Hearings leave lawmakers more turned off to mayoral control
Technology constraints prohibited me from live-blogging Friday's Assembly hearing on mayoral control of the city schools, which (for those not following along) is the policy that in 2002 handed near-total education authority over to the mayor — and which is up for renewal this June. The strong thrust of Friday's hearing, the last of five that have taken Assembly members on a tour through the boroughs, was that lawmakers are not happy with the system they created. Some have become even less happy during the hearings in every borough over the last few months. A few flubbed exchanges with lawmakers have not helped the Bloomberg administration's case. One such embarrassing moment happened one Friday, when officials failed to produce the graduation rate for black males. Here are some of the highlights from Friday: Thirteen Assembly members attended the hearing, one of the largest showings so far, and I didn't hear any of them speak positively about mayoral control. Two members made their dissatisfaction most clear. "I can assure you that my opinion has changed a lot in these hearings," Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell of Manhattan declared, after angrily chastising Department of Education officials during a question-and-answer session. "Talking to my legislative colleagues over the last three months, the question in my mind is no longer if we're going to make any changes to the law. It's going to be what changes are we going to make," declared Mark Weprin of Queens.
March 13, 2009
Live-blogging the Bronx mayoral control hearing
The state Assembly is having its penultimate hearing on mayoral control today, this time in the Bronx. Philissa is at the hearing, and I'm going to post some live updates as she e-mails them to me. 4:27: Cathy Nolan, the education committee chair, and other Assembly members are trying to figure out what the requirements are to get into a middle school gifted and talented program, Philissa reports. 4:26: Parents and teachers are finally testifying, Philissa writes. On the same panel, a teacher and parent from two Bronx schools that are slated to close are testifying against mayoral control, while a parent and principal from a big middle school are saying mayoral control helped their school. The pro-mayoral control parent, Teresa Jordan, went slightly off message to say that district parent councils should have more power. (Many have complained that the councils have been deprived of power under the mayor.) If the opposing sides created any tension, it's defused by the fact that only a handful of seats in the audience remain filled. Several Assembly members have also left. But there could be an after-work-hours revival: April Humphrey from the Campaign for Better Schools says over 100 parents plan to arrive at around 5:30, and the chair, Cathy Nolan, says Lehman College will be keeping the auditorium open long after its normal 6 pm closing time.
March 13, 2009
DOE: Lowering class size by 10% would cost "tens of billions"
Lowering class size by just a fraction of the degree sought by class-size reduction…
January 22, 2009
Top DOE official enrolling in elite superintendent training program
Garth Harries The top Department of Education official who is set to review the city's special education system is adding another job to his plate: He's joining a national program designed to produce top-notch urban superintendents. Garth Harries, who until the end of this month is the chief executive of the DOE's portfolio department, is one of 12 people accepted into this year's Broad Superintendents Academy class. The academy, which is based on business executive training programs, is run by the Broad Foundation, which also gives out the annual Broad Prize for Urban Education. New York City won the Broad Prize in 2007. As a Broad fellow, Harries will stay on at the DOE but will leave the city for six multi-day retreats throughout the year. He'll also have regular homework assignments. (Already, Helen Zelon at Insideschools has chimed in with concern about just how much Harries can cram into his calendar.) We asked Harries for a statement, and got this response from Chancellor Joel Klein instead: Garth's selection reflects the extraordinary work he's done in New York and his potential to be a great superintendent in the future. The Broad Academy says it expects its graduates to seek superintendencies, but of the DOE officials who have gone through the program, most still work in the city.
January 16, 2009
DOE reorganization: Fewer officials to report to chancellor
The same person who will lead the Department of Education's review of special education masterminded the internal reorganization that's currently underway at the department. DOE spokesman David Cantor told me Garth Harries, who came to the DOE from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, devised the new organization as a way to make the department more efficient. At a time when cuts to schools and "potentially hundreds of layoffs" are on the horizon, "we had a strong feeling we need to be as efficiently organized as possible," Cantor said. With only a few exceptions, the new organization simply adds a level of reporting between managers and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who until now has had more than 20 DOE officials reporting directly to him, Cantor said. "When the dust settles, there's not really anything that's notably different about it," he said. One place where changes are more substantive is in the Office of Portfolio Development, currently run by Harries, where responsibilities are being dispersed among several different managers.
December 9, 2008
Tilson says Cerf investigation reflects "madness" of the ed world
In his daily school-reform-report e-mail today, Whitney Tilson, the hedge fund manager by day, education entrepreneur by night, defends Deputy Chancellor Christopher Cerf, the subject of a 2007 investigation that just came to light last week. The investigation concluded that Cerf had stretched conflict-of-interest lines by soliciting a charitable donation from a Department of Education vendor while he as deputy chancellor. But Cerf later took back the solicitation, and no actions were taken against him. Tilson describes the investigation into Cerf as a trying experience that turned Cerf's life "upside down" — all for naught, because it ultimately found no evidence of wrongdoing. His take-away is that "truly no good deed goes unpunished" in the education world, which is characterized by "madness," he says. The full e-mail is below the jump.
December 5, 2008
The full (still redacted) report on Deputy Chancellor Cerf
Regarding this morning’s news, here’s the 11-page investigation, in PDF form. Note: This post has been updated with a Scribd embed, rather than…
December 5, 2008
The investigation into a top school official that you never read
A page from the investigators' heavily redacted report. The big news of the day is this story in today's Daily News and Times, about Christopher Cerf, a deputy schools chancellor who is one of Joel Klein's closest aides. The News reports that investigators last year concluded that Cerf had violated city law, by improperly using his position to extract a $60,000 donation from a company on contract with the city at the time, Edison Schools. The donation would have gone to a charity on whose board Cerf sat and which he told investigators he was trying to save. Ultimately, after being questioned by investigators, Cerf decided not to pursue the donation. The violation is noteworthy, especially given the other conflict-of-interest imbroglio Cerf was wrapped up in at the time: After coming under fire for holding substantial stock in the same company, Edison, which he had been president of before coming to the department, Cerf released his holdings in the stock — but only 24 hours before being publicly questioned about it. But it will become even more noteworthy in the days ahead because of this: The report was never publicly released.
November 24, 2008
Pro-mayoral control group has new name and will get a blog, too
The nonprofit pro-mayoral control advocacy group that was originally titled MASS, for Mayoral Accountability for Student Success, is now called Learn NY, and its official first day of existence is today. The group has close ties with the Bloomberg administration, but it is not being funded by the mayor, officials said in a background press conference with reporters this morning. Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters has already done impressive digging into the group's media strategy. A spokesperson for the group confirmed to me today that the blog commenter Haimson noticed voicing his passion for mayoral control is indeed on the payroll of Learn NY. Brian Keeler, an online-media specialist who ran unsuccessfully for state senate in 2006 with the help of a following he built at Daily Kos, has been posting positive comments on this blog, Leonie's, and others. He is also an employee of the Web design firm that built Learn NY's Web site and will write a regular blog on the site, the spokesperson, Julie Wood, said. Something that will surely be asked — especially by critics of mayoral control and the Bloomberg administration, including Haimson — is how much of a "MASS" organization Learn NY really is.
October 14, 2008
Knowledge is power, Cerf tells NPR
Yesterday, Margot Adler reported on New York’s new Teacher Data Reports for Morning Edition: “The whole notion of having standards and assessments…
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