A former top New York City schools official is New Jersey’s pick to run the Camden school district, which the state took over this year because of poor performance and mismanagement.
Paymon Rouhanifard, who has been a top deputy in Newark since last November, will take over the struggling district as its first state superintendent. N.J. Gov. Chris Christie announced Rouhanifard’s appointment this morning during a press conference at H.B. Wilson Elementary School in Camden.
The choice signals the direction that Christie and N.J. schools chief Christopher Cerf are planning for the 14,000-student, 30-school district near Philadelphia that Christie has called “a human catastrophe.” Since announcing in March that they planned to make Camden the fourth urban district under their authority, officials have overhauled staff, curriculum, and other resources in the district and flooded it with people with experience in education and management.
“Paymon has a proven track record of improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of students in Newark and New York City, and brings innovative leadership that Camden needs moving forward,” Christie said in a statement. “Under his leadership, I know Camden’s schools will improve on the progress of these last few months.”
Rouhanifard, who is 32, went to Newark from the New York City Department of Education, where he started in 2009 been the chief of staff to Deputy Chancellor John White and briefly headed the Office of Portfolio Management last year. Early in his tenure at the department, he overlapped with Cerf, who at the time was a senior advisor to then-Chancellor Joel Klein.
A year after Cami Anderson, also a top New York City official, moved to Newark to take over that district, she recruited Rouhanifard to become her chief strategy and innovation officer, a position upon whose performance the city’s $100 million in Facebook funds reportedly depended. Among Rouhanifard’s accomplishments was creating a single admissions process that includes both district and charter schools.
That experience is certain to be useful in Camden, where charter schools now enroll about a quarter of the city’s students and continue to expand. Rouhanifard will also have to negotiate a new contract with the city’s teachers union and contend with the impact of one of the country’s highest poverty rates on the city’s schools. More than half of Camden’s residents live in poverty, according to U.S. Census records.
Rouhanifard’s appointment in Camden makes him the latest person who worked under Klein to take over an urban school district. Other former city officials who have taken superintendencies include White, who heads Louisiana’s schools after a stint in New Orleans; Anderson in Newark; and Jean-Claude Brizard, who recently moved to the College Board after short-lived terms in Rochester, N.Y., and Chicago.
The New Jersey Department of Education said Cerf had worked with a national search firm to screen 100 candidates for the position in Camden before selecting Rouhanifard. The state’s Board of Education, whose members are appointed by the governor but serve fixed terms, must approve the choice.
Rouhanifard taught at P.S. 192 in Harlem for two years through Teach for America after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2003. Before returning to the Department of Education, he worked for several years in the private sector. A native of Iran, he grew up in Nashville, Tenn., after his family fled persecution in Iran because of their Bahai faith.