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New Jersey takes control of badly failing Camden schools

WASHINGTON, March 25 (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Monday ordered a takeover of the failing Camden School District, among the state’s worst with a graduation rate of less than 50 percent, and said major changes could be in place by the next school year.

“We can no longer stand by or take ineffective and incremental steps while thousands of our children are so profoundly failing year after year,” Christie said in a statement.

“The problems of governance, leadership and operations make it impossible for the district to reform on its own.”

Of Camden’s 26 schools, 23 are in the bottom 5 percent of educational performance in New Jersey. The three lowest performing schools in the state are in the district, as well, according to Christie’s office, which added that Camden’s graduation rate was only 49 percent in 2012.

With Camden, the number of school districts under New Jersey control will rise to four, following Jersey City in 1989, Paterson in 1991 and Newark in 1995. This is the first case during Christie’s administration.

Located just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, Camden has a population of 77,000 and 38 percent of people there live below the poverty level. In 2002 the city was put under a state-appointed operating officer for eight years and spent $175 million on revitalization.

Under Christie’s plan for the Camden school district, which was filed with the Office of Administrative Law, the state would appoint a new superintendent, update classroom curricula, fill teaching vacancies with full-time permanent workers and update school books, instructional materials and technology.

Although much of the plan must still pass an approval process, Christie, a Republican, said he had already sent fiscal monitors and staff to assist with the transition of control to the district’s central office.

Christie’s plan has the support of Camden’s mayor and members of the school board and city council, along with the state’s commissioner of education.