Monday, August 26, 2013


It is REALLY big news when a rockstar ed reform warrior is appointed superintendent, especially of a well-known city (Camden, NJ) that is infamous for poverty, crime, and a horrific school system, which Gov. Christie has rightly called “a human catastrophe.”

(I don’t have time right now to put together my full email, but I wanted to get this tremendous news out quickly, so this email is only about this one topic – more to come tonight and/or this weekend.)

At the tender age of 32, Paymon is already a well-known superstar – and has quite a life story:

Rouhanifard, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, described himself as someone who came from troubled and humbling beginnings.

According to Rouhanifard, he was born in Iran during the Iranian Revolution in 1978-1979 and his father was fired from his job under the new rule of the Ayatollah Khomeini.
After the government seized his family’s possessions, his parents smuggled him and his two siblings to Pakistan, where the group stayed at a refugee camp for a year.
The family then emigrated to Nashville, Tenn., which he admitted was “not a straight forward transition” for a first-grader who knew no English entering school.

After graduating with bachelor’s degrees in economics and political science, Rouhanifard began his career teaching sixth grade at PS 192 in West Harlem, N.Y., as part of Teach For America.

Here’s more on his background:

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.

Camden sorely needs a superstar. The depth of poverty and associated problems in Camden rivals any city in the country – think New Orleans, Detroit, etc. As one friend said to me:

I grew up in Boston and thought Roxbury and Dorchester were pretty bad. Then I taught at TFA in the Bronx and thought nothing could be worse…until I moved to Newark, where I KNEW nothing could be worse…until I visited Camden. It’s SO much worse than Newark!

Educationally, the statistics are grim: Last year, fewer than 1 in 5 students were proficient in language arts, fewer than 1 in 3 were proficient in math, and fewer than 1 in 2 students who started in 9th grade graduated in four years.

But there are many reasons for optimism in addition to Paymon’s arrival:

1) Camden is relatively small: only 30 schools and 14,000 students (about 1/3 the size of Newark, DC, and New Orleans, and 1/7th the size of Memphis).
2) There’s a lot of money: Camden currently spends nearly $24,000 per student (making Camden yet another example that pouring money into broken school districts, in the absence of real reform, does nothing for kids).
3) In March, Gov. Christie put Camden schools under state control (see this article) and he and Commissioner Cerf are adopting a New Orleans-style charter/relinquisher model. Camden now goes on the list with Memphis as cities fully adopting this model.
4) As part of this, they’ve recruited KIPP and other top charter networks to come to Camden. KIPP alone in the next five years or so will have approximately 25% of Camden students (see this article for more details).

Kudos are well deserved all around: of course to Paymon for being willing to tackle what will surely be a brutally difficult job; to Gov. Christie and Commissioner Cerf for their courage and commitment; and to Ryan Hill and the rest of the KIPP TEAM crew in Newark (especially Drew Martin, who’s heading up KIPP in Camden) for being willing to tackle a new, even tougher city.

Here’s a link to the video and transcript of the remarks Paymon and Gov. Christie made yesterday. 

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