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School reform: Heating up

Chris Christie, George Norcross, and Camden schools

So hot is the issue of urban public school reform that even record-threatening temperatures couldn't keep a bipartisan array of blue-chip stakeholders out of the heat Thursday.

In a humid breeze along Third Street in South Camden, Gov. Chris Christie – flanked by city Mayor Dana Redd and acting New Jersey education commissioner Christopher Cerf – announced a statewide "transformation schools" proposal to replace "persistently failing" public schools with public-private hybrids. Notables in the audience included Cooper University Hospital Board President George E. Norcross 3d and Cooper Foundation Chief Executive Officer Susan Bass Levin, whose growing institution is slowly but steadily transforming an adjacent part of town.

"We have to look at all sorts of new and innovative ways to bring choice to parents and families," said Christie, standing in front of the handsome stone façade of the Lanning Square School. The building was known as Fetters School when it opened -- in 1875.

The governor went on to describe the transformation initiative an "experiment," saying it would become another of his administration's aggressive approaches to reforming the "failure factories" some urban public schools have become.

Christie's appearance drew a modest number of city and county officials, state legislators, and educators. No one from the city school district spoke.

But after Christie departed, Norcross told reporters that Cooper would like to offer better public schools for the children of employees who want to live in Camden.