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Camden Schools on the Rise
Progress continues, even during the pandemic
By Jayne Jacova Feld

Before the pandemic hit, Luis Reyes’s son Xavier could not wait to go to school every day. Cooper’s Poynt Family School in North Camden was truly his world.

Xavier, a first-grader at the time, took it really hard when schools had to close in March. And without a computer and internet access, Reyes was at a loss to tell his son exactly what would happen next. Fortunately the stress was short lived. Camden students were provided free laptops and wifi in April. When Xavier saw his beloved teacher on the computer screen for the first time, his face broke into the biggest smile, Reyes recalls.

“She kept him busy for the rest of the school year with workbooks, reading and math problems, and even threw in some second-grade level work,” says Reyes, who works at the Cherry Hill Mall in security and housekeeping. “They’re really teaching him the right stuff.”

The high marks Reyes gives his son’s teachers and school are not unusual in Camden these days. A recent independent poll shows voters largely approve of the direction of the city’s schools, support initiatives aimed at improving educational opportunities for all students, and are especially satisfied with how educators have handled pandemic-related challenges.

“We know Camden schools are improving based on traditional measures of success, including test scores, graduation rates and postsecondary enrollment,” says Naeha Dean, executive director of the Camden Education Fund (CEF), which commissioned the poll. “What we wanted to gather was data on how families are experiencing schools on a day-to-day basis, especially in light of the disruption caused by Covid-19. We are pleased to see that the majority of Camden residents believe schools are on an upward trajectory. These findings are a testament to the hard work and meaningful collaboration of educators and families across the city.”

Dean notes that Camden has been ahead of the state in closing the digital divide. According to the state, some 230,000 students are still without access to electronic devices for learning as they head into the new school year.

Among the commissioned poll’s findings: Some 70 percent of parents say schools have improved over the last 5 years. The vast majority of them – 97 percent– are satisfied with communications during the Covid closure, with 93 percent indicating approval of the instruction and support they received remotely.

The poll of Camden voters, conducted by Global Strategy Group, also showed that the Camden Enrollment System is popular. About half of respondents were aware of the system and its role supporting approximately 15,000 students across district, charter and renaissance schools. It is even more popular among parents.

That was particularly encouraging news to Camden Enrollment Executive Director Tameeka Mason.

“The purpose of our organization is to meet the needs of families to make the process of finding and enrolling in a school easier,” Mason says. “Increasing the number of satisfied parents is literally our mission, so these findings are gratifying.”

State District Superintendent Katrina T. McCombs noted that poll results will help educators plan for continued school improvements.

“We remain committed to providing high quality schools for all Camden students,” McCombs says. “This means that every decision made at Camden City School District is focused on accelerating student achievement in learning environments where they feel valued, challenged and prepared for college and careers.”

 

By the Numbers

 

The school’s role during the Covid shutdown went beyond education, says Reyes, noting that neighborhood families picked up lunches on Mondays and Thursdays at Coopers Poynt. The school also serves as a food pantry once a month and, before the pandemic, families could do laundry there.

Camden City School District Advisory Board President Wasim Muhammad says he was encouraged but not surprised by the reaction to the district’s Covid response.

“Educators, non-profits and community leaders came together to ensure students had access to meals, electronic devices and affordable internet,” Muhammad says. “Our collaborative spirit created the conditions for success, and I’m confident we will keep this up as we enter the new school year.”

Looking forward, CEF is providing grants of up to $100,000 to help Camden public school networks plan for a safe reopening next month. The program is structured to provide them flexibility to develop plans and respond to evolving guidance, says Dean.

“Camden’s schools have demonstrated an ability to innovate and collaborate, and I’m confident that they will find creative ways to address the current challenges and provide a safe and rigorous learning environment for students,” she adds. “Whether it’s developing multiple schedules to allow for social distancing or securing mental health services to help students cope with heightened stress, educators are working incredibly hard to meet the needs of their students, staff and families.”

Kris Kolluri, CEO of Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, notes that the results are a strong indication the educational reform of the past 5 years is working.

“A quality public school system is a key pillar of Camden’s transformation, along with improved public safety and economic development,” says Kolluri. “Our city’s foundational investment in improving public education is meeting the needs of families and producing the next generation of leaders that will sustain the city’s revitalization.”

July 2020
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