Christopher Cerf came to Newark in 2015 ready to work. The public schools in the city had faced a number of tumultuous years — even becoming state-operated in 1995 — but, if the low graduation rates and test scores, and low percentage of students reading on grade level were any indication, there was more to be done. "Change was in order," says Cerf, when he took on the role of the city's superintendent.
He jumped in, first dismantling the system's "top-down monopoly" of traditional public schools run by traditional school boards. Now the city's students have options: they still have a number traditional public schools, but also magnet and charter schools that are showing encouraging results.
"A central part of [the school department's] function is to bring in great schools and to make sure that existing schools are, themselves, great," says Cerf, who also faces the daunting task of beginning Newark Public Schools' transition back to local control. To do this, he must balance all the competing interests at play, without losing focus on the most important thing: the children.
"My goal, my mission, and, frankly, my definition of success," says Cerf, "is that collectively we build an ethos around making every decision first and foremost about our principal goal of getting every children educated."
In this edition of the Harvard EdCast, Cerf speaks about the challenges in Newark and reflects on the progress being made.
The Harvard EdCast is a weekly series of podcasts, available on the Harvard University iTunes U page, that features a 15-20 minute conversation with thought leaders in the field of education from across the country and around the world. Hosted by Matt Weber and co-produced by Jill Anderson, the Harvard EdCast is a space for educational discourse and openness, focusing on the myriad issues and current events related to the field.