NEWARK, N.J. — A New York City school official in charge of the city's alternative high schools and programs for at-risk students has been chosen to oversee New Jersey's largest school district and one of the state's most troubled.
Cami Anderson, 39, will succeed Clifford Janey as superintendent of the 40,000-student Newark School District, if approved by the New Jersey Board of Education.
Gov. Chris Christie, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf on Wednesday announced the selection of Anderson.
"What adults do for young people matters — they have the ability to radically change their life path," Anderson, who was educated at the University of California at Berkeley and at Harvard, said at a news conference. She holds degrees in education, anthropology and public policy.
Anderson said her parents inspired her to commit herself to education. They raised nine adopted children of diverse backgrounds alongside their three biological ones.
Janey resigned in January four months after Christie decided not to renew his $280,000 a year contract to oversee a district where nearly half of the students do not graduate from high school.
Anderson will be paid $240,000, and can earn a 10 percent performance bonus.
Since 2006, Anderson has been in charge of New York City's District 79, a network of more than 300 alternative schools that serve 30,000 youth and 40,000 adults who haven't gotten a high school diploma for various reasons, including pregnancy and incarceration.
Before that, she served as executive director of Teach For America, which recruits teachers to work in urban schools. She also headed several nonprofit education foundations, including New Leaders for New Schools, which recruits principals.
Anderson has close ties to Booker. She was an adviser to him in his first campaign for mayor in 2002. And she is a former colleague of Cerf's, who worked with her when he served as New York City deputy schools chancellor.
"She knows how to get things done," Cerf said, pointing to her success in New York overhauling District 79's GED program, which went from a 12 percent to 36 percent completion rate.
"I'm hoping she brings that magic here because we need it," Booker added.
Revamping Newark's education system has been the centerpiece of the governor's education reform plans and a priority for Booker. The two worked together with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who in September pledged $100 million to improve Newark schools. Anderson will play a central role in how that money is spent.
Newark schools have been plagued by low test scores, high dropout rates and crumbling buildings. The district spends nearly $24,000 a year — more than twice the national average — on each student. Christie, who was born in Newark, has often said that if his family had not moved and he were educated at Newark schools, he would never have reached the governor's post.
Wednesday, Anderson took some advice from students at Science Park High School, one of the city's well-performing schools.
"The only way to know the problems is to know the students," one teenage girl told her.
"To be a good leader, never underestimate," said a young man. "We're so successful here because our administrators don't underestimate us."
"Ok. Wow. This is the pep talk I needed," Anderson replied.
But outside the high school, a group of about five parents whose children attend other schools shouted at her and the mayor as they left the building.
"Go back where you came from," yelled parent Rachel Foye, who said Anderson was not qualified because she doesn't live in Newark or work in its schools.
The mayor told them: "Before you attack, give her a chance."
Anderson, who lives in Harlem, said she plans to move her family to Newark.