Former Newark Superintendent on Transition to Local Control
As part of the "The Future of Urban Education" series, Chris Cerf, Former Superintendent of Newark Public Schools, talks about the biggest challenges he has faced over the past two years in leadership and the goals he has for the school system as they transition from state to local control.
"Steve Adubato here, talking about the future of urban education. We're based here at the North Ward Center, a community based organization here in the city. We just finished an extraordinary forum, a very candid forum, that the gentleman you're about to see on camera, you've seen him before with us, he is Chris Cerf, the Superintendent of the Newark Public Schools, the former head of the State Department of Education, a commissioner. A very candid conversation about not just Newark schools, not just urban schools in New Jersey, but across the country. What was your biggest takeaway? Well my biggest takeaway is that we owe a debt to our children, and to pay that debt fully, we have to accept certain basic truths. And one of those truths is that in urban America, we have not succeeded as a country to provide the central goal of public education, which is to give every child, regardless of the circumstances into which she or he is born, and equal opportunity at a full and successful life. You know Chris, you and I have had so many conversations about education, both on camera, and as neighbors in town as well in Montclair. We've talked about this, and so I want to put this question to you here, which we talked about there, which is a larger question of, "Who cares?" Meaning I asked the question about suburban parents. And I don't mean they're a monolithic entity. But the amount of state funding that goes to poorer districts is somewhat predicated on the will, the political will of suburban legislators representing suburban taxpayers, parents, voters. A long winded question, I know. To what degree do you believe others outside the city care about urban education and those kids? I think the answer is it very much depends. I think that there are... is a narrative out there that says that we do not owe an obligation equally to all children, we need to keep our local taxes local to support our own schools, and why should we... Our taxes are already through the roof? Our taxes are already through the roof. But I have to tell you that I think when people sit down and really understand the question, they come out very differently. Because? They out very differently because it's very difficult to defend a system where the quality of one's school depends on the value of the taxable property alone. There is... Explain that to folks. Well here's what I mean. I mean in the olden days, local property taxes essentially paid the lion's share of the..."