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NJ governor Christie announces takeover of struggling Camden schools

Saying it was time to "hit the reset button" on the Camden School District, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Monday announced a planned takeover of the 26 schools that rank among the state's worst performers in graduation and academic proficiency.  

"Today we are taking the lead because for too long, the public school system in Camden has failed its children," Christie said at press conference on Monday.

"The situation I believe is dire now and so far gone that we are at a breaking point."

Camden schools graduation rate was below 50 percent in 2012, 37 points below the state average, according to statistics released by the governor's office.

The schools also drastically under performed against the state average in standardized testing in math and English. An evaluation by the state Department of Education ultimately led Christie, a Republican, to the conclusion that the school district could not fix its deep-rooted problems without help from the state.

"I believe that there are so many people in Camden who will look at this as an opportunity to hit the reset button. To restart and put aside some of the failings of the past," said Christie. 

Camden will become the fourth school district to fall under New Jersey control, but the first to be taken over during Christie's administration. The last time the state took control of a New Jersey school district was 1995.

The governor said he did not make the decision lightly, having waited more than three years to see if school performance would improve.

Christie was joined by New Jersey Education Education Commissioner Chris Cerf and local leaders during his announcement held in a library of Camden high school. The governor thanked local educators, parents and community leaders for their cooperation, while pledging to work with them through the implementation of proposal.

If the takeover is approved, a state-appointed superintendent and leadership team would take control of the district after a nationwide search. The state government would also have oversight of teacher selection, classroom curriculum, school books and resources.

Christie said it will likely take until next school year for the program to be fully implemented.

The governor's office did, however, also announce immediate actions to be taken, which includes dispatching a transitional leadership team that will begin a review of district practices. 

Camden, which sits across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, has long been plagued by a school system fraught with low test scores as well as poverty.

"The problems are now incapable of fixing themselves and beyond the capacity of the current system to be able to do it on its own. So we do this today to try to change Camden," said Christie.