Monday, January 03, 2011

Gov. Christie's pick for N.J. schools chief hopes to bridge education gap in some communities

A very nice interview with ed warrior Chris Cerf, who will be the next commissioner of education in NJ:

They would seem an unlikely pair: Gov. Chris Christie, who has bashed teachers for the past year, and his new education commissioner, Christopher Cerf, who has spent his career supporting them.

But Cerf said their goals are the same and he shares the governor's concerns about inequity in public education today.

"New Jersey has one of the best education systems in the country, which can only mean it's being led by a dedicated group of educators," Cerf said Saturday at his Montclair home. "At the same time, there are certain communities in this state where we should all be ashamed about the gap between children who are rich and poor and black and white."

In an exclusive interview with The Star-Ledger, Cerf said he considers teaching a craft for which he has the "highest imaginable respect." It's an opinion he formed in the late 1970s while leading class discussions about the American Revolution and grading papers on women's suffrage as a high school history teacher in Ohio.

"Teachers are some of the most unbelievably hard-working people in the country," Cerf said. "Everyone went to school, so everyone thinks they are an expert, but they don't understand how hard it is to be a good teacher."

…The hope is the size and scope of what Cerf helped accomplish in New York City approximates what's possible for New Jersey's public schools, which serve about 1.4 million students.

From 2006 to 2009, he closed 90 failing schools, broke up overcrowded public schools into 400 smaller academies and opened 100 charter schools. He strengthened the requirements for teacher tenure, promoted school choice and created accountability for student achievement at the school level.

He also compromised with the city's powerful teachers union, something Christie has refused to do in New Jersey. With support from New York City teachers union president Randi Weingarten, Cerf offered bonuses to schools whose students excelled in the classroom.

"Chris may not have agreed with us, but he always listened," Weingarten said. "Our union was constantly at the table with the Department of Education discussing what teachers need to do their jobs well."


Gov. Christie's pick for N.J. schools chief hopes to bridge education gap in some communities

Published: Sunday, December 19, 2010, 11:00 AM     Updated: Sunday, December 19, 2010, 11:11 AM

By Jessica Calefati/The Star-Ledger

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