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Three public schools will close in Camden this year, but a fourth will be spared in district restructuring plan

"Change is never easy," Camden school board president says about plans to close three public schools at the end of the school year.

In this file photo, protesters hold a rally at Sharp Elementary School holding signs to save Camden, New Jersey public school.  Sharp is among three schools slated to close.
In this file photo, protesters hold a rally at Sharp Elementary School holding signs to save Camden, New Jersey public school. Sharp is among three schools slated to close.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Three Camden city public schools will close at the end of the school year, while a fourth targeted in a sweeping restructuring plan will remain open, Superintendent Katrina McCombs announced Friday.

McCombs said she plans to move forward with a controversial plan announced in January to shutter Sharp Elementary, Wiggins College Preparatory Lab School, and Cramer Elementary schools. The closings will affect several hundred students.

In a bittersweet victory for community advocates and parents who protested the closings, McCombs said Yorkship Family School will remain open. Closing Yorkship would have left the city’s Fairview neighborhood without a traditional public school.

McCombs said the state has agreed to provide additional funding for emergency building repairs at Yorkship. Camden expects to receive additional aid under Gov. Phil Murphy’s proposed budget, she said.

“With the support of state and local officials, and with input gathered over the course of six months, Camden City School District is now poised to implement a plan that will improve the quality of education offered by our district and place the district on solid financial footing,” McCombs said in a statement. “We now shift our focus to the important work of ensuring that each and every impacted family is fully supported through this transition.”

Union leaders opposed the closings and appealed to the state Department of Education. Both sides were ordered by the state to tour the schools and provide information on the buildings’ condition.

Camden Education Association president Keith Benson likened the announcement to losing family members. “Instead of four dying, three did,” he said. “It hurts.”

McCombs has said the closings are necessary for the state-run district because of declining enrollment and a projected $40 million budget deficit for the next school year. Some of the schools are more than a century old and need repairs, she said.

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Camden, under a state takeover since 2013, currently has 19 schools that enroll 6,347 students. The city’s eight charter schools enroll 4,188 students, while 12 Renaissance schools have 5,449 students

Courtesy busing, typically provided for students who live at least two miles from their schools, will be provided regardless of the distance, McCombs said. Students enrolled in affected schools will be guaranteed a spot at a traditional city school, she said.

Under the restructuring, the district plans to reconfigure grade levels and bring back middle schools. Students in grades 6-8 will attend Davis School and Creative Arts High School, which would be converted into a middle school.

“Change is never easy. But with the support of our elected officials, clergy, educators, and, most importantly, families, we will come out stronger as a result of today’s announcement,” Wasim Muhammad, president of the Camden City School District Advisory Board said in a statement.