Cerf says he committed to returning Newark schools to local control

By Adam Clark | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on July 08, 2015

NEWARK — The new state-appointed superintendent of Newark Public Schools says he's committed to returning New Jersey's largest school district to local control and confident he can do so. 

Chris Cerf, a former state education commissioner, told NJ Advance Media on Wednesday that he believes the district has already made a great deal of progress. 

"But I also believe there is an enormous amount of work left to do," Cerf said.

Cerf was approved by the state Board of Education in a 6-4 vote on Wednesday and immediately replaces Cami Anderson as Newark's school chief. The state has not released terms of Cerf's three-year contract, but Cerf said he asked for a similar deal as Anderson, who was making $255,016 when she left. 

A former teacher, White House attorney and tech company CEO, Cerf said he was drawn to the Newark job because he deeply believes in the mission of public education. 

"For me, it is a moral wrong to preside over a society in which opportunity to the good life is so highly correlated to birth circumstances," Cerf said. "And I have felt for many many years a deep commitment to throwing whatever energy and contribution I have to make into that arena." 

Cerf's appointment has already sparked at least some opposition in Newark. About 100 people protested his nomination on Tuesday, and four state board of education members voted against approving him. 

"Given the current circumstances, I believe that the appointment of Chris Cerf as superintendent of Newark Public Schools is a major mistake," board member Dorothy Strickland said. 

As superintendent, Cerf will hold one of nine seats on the newly formed Newark Educational Success Board, a panel of community members and educational experts. The board, created by Gov. Chris Christie and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, is charged with developing a specific pathway for ending the 20-year state takeover

"My plan is to engage the community to learn about what is working and what can be improved and to have a focus on openness and transparency, so we can really understand where the issues are and work together to improve them," Cerf said. "I think that will mean a lot of things will stay the same and some things will change."

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