By Dana L. Redd and Frank Moran
For far too long, many have talked about the future of Camden. They say there will be a new day and things are going to be better.
There has been plenty of talk, but now is the time for action.
As elected officials, we are proud of the tough but necessary decisions we have made to not just change the perception of Camden but, most importantly, the quality of life of Camden's residents.
In just five short years, we can hear, see, and feel the new energy, momentum, and hope throughout Camden. You can feel it walking down Broadway and watching construction crews build a much-needed neighborhood school in Lanning Square. It is reflected in the faces of Camden residents at PriceRite, the first new grocery store in the city since 1969. You can hear it when our children are playing in our parks or in front of their homes.
Although there is no doubt that Camden is a city on the rise, we cannot wave the victory flag just yet. We know we have to maintain and build upon our successes. And we know that we must tackle the immense challenge of fixing our public educational system if we are serious about ushering in real change.
Education remains a basic right that we must provide to our children. It is a matter of social justice that our children receive a quality education so they have an opportunity to succeed.
Our schools are the lifeblood of our community, and since his appointment in 2013, we have been working alongside Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard to bring a renewed energy and focus to supporting and investing in our schools.
Our graduation rate is rising, going from 56 to 62 percent in a single year.
Our schools and our community are safer, thanks to a partnership we helped broker between the school district and the Camden County Police Department Metro Division. Quite frankly, we can no longer accept the fact that our students, at all grade levels, do not feel safe in their schools. That is why we will continue to work with the school district to improve and expand school climate, safety, and violence-reduction programs such as Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports, Second Step, and the National Youth Forum (a.k.a Youth Court) in all our schools - public or renaissance.
Now is the time to work together to bring wider and deeper improvements to the educational opportunities we provide to families in neighborhoods across our city.
Recently, we joined the superintendent and dozens of parents as he announced a plan to transform five schools that have not been serving their communities well enough. In some cases, the school buildings are outdated. In other cases, academic performance has been lagging for years. There are also schools that many families simply don't trust to educate their children anymore, and they are taking their kids elsewhere.
These are not always popular decisions, but as elected leaders of this city, we have a responsibility to make hard choices that are in the best interests of our residents and particularly our children.
That's why we support the partnership with three successful nonprofit educational organizations - Mastery, KIPP, and Uncommon - to transform these five struggling schools; why we support an infusion of new leadership and significant renovations; and why we no longer support using the building that houses Whittier Elementary School, which was built when there were 46 states and women did not have the right to vote.
We know these will not be easy changes for the communities involved. But we are committed to working with the School District and our partners across the city to provide intensive, door-to-door support to families at these schools.
And we are confident that these changes will mean better educational opportunities for the city's children. We know from our visits to their schools that Mastery, KIPP, and Uncommon are proven, high-quality organizations. And they are committed to serving all of the families in these school communities. Families who live near these new schools will have guaranteed enrollment in them, just as in the traditional, district-run Camden schools.
As much as we see Camden getting bigger and bolder again - with stronger economic development, calmer streets, and better quality of life - what truly gives us a searing sense of hope for our city's future is looking into the eyes of our moms and dads, our grandmothers and grandfathers, our aunts and uncles. It's there - when they talk about the hopes and dreams they have for the children they love and believe in - that we see past our current difficulties and into the soul of our city.
We believe in the families of Camden, and we believe in their children. We are committed to doing whatever it takes to give them the great schools they need and deserve.