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2-11-14 Education Commissioner Cerf to Move On
The Record - N.J. education chief Chris Cerf stepping down - "Cerf said he aims to continue his mission to close achievement gaps and give public school teachers the tools they need to help children...Cerf plans to join Amplify, whose headquarters are in New York, on March 3...Amplify Chief Executive Officer Joel Klein said in a statement that he “couldn’t be more excited about Chris coming onboard. … Chris really gets what it takes — at every level — to help prepare students for success.”

NJ Spotlight - Chris Cerf to Step Down as New Jersey Commissioner of Education…Will take CEO slot at educational software outfit run by former boss at NYC school system… ‘He submitted his resignation earlier this month, effective March 1. No announcement has been made as to Cerf’s successor. ..’

Star Ledger - NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf stepping down at end of month, report says

The Record - N.J. education chief Chris Cerf stepping down..."Cerf said he aims to continue his mission to close achievement gaps and give public school teachers the tools they need to help children. Amplify Insight says it sells digital products to diagnose students’ weaknesses in reading and math and prescribe interventions tailored to each child, among other services..."

Tuesday, February 11, 2014    Last updated: Tuesday February 11, 2014, 8:53 AM

BY  LESLIE BRODY

New Jersey Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, who helped broker a landmark tenure law with the state’s large and powerful teachers union, is stepping down to rejoin the private sector.

He said Monday he will leave his $141,000-a-year job on Feb. 28 to become chief executive of Amplify Insight, a division of Amplify, an education technology firm run by his former boss, Joel Klein, who was New York City schools chancellor. Cerf was Klein’s deputy from 2006 to 2009.

Cerf said he aims to continue his mission to close achievement gaps and give public school teachers the tools they need to help children. Amplify Insight says it sells digital products to diagnose students’ weaknesses in reading and math and prescribe interventions tailored to each child, among other services. Amplify is an independent subsidiary of News Corp., the media company headed by Rupert Murdoch.

A 59-year-old Democrat, Cerf spent three years overseeing major changes for 2,500 New Jersey schools at a time when Governor Christie repeatedly lambasted leaders of the New Jersey Education Association for being “greedy” protectors of the status quo. Cerf often took pains in public to praise the hard work of teachers who helped the state rack up some of the highest achievement scores in the nation, but he was also blunt in calling the dysfunctions and dismal graduation rates of many urban schools a moral outrage.

Cerf said his decision to leave now had “zero” to do with the George Washington Bridge controversy confronting the Christie administration. For weeks the governor’s office has been embroiled in allegations that his staff ordered the closing of access lanes to the bridge in an apparent act of political retribution after the Fort Lee mayor did not endorse him for reelection.

Cerf said that when he took the commissioner’s job he promised to work through the governor’s first term. Recently an opportunity arose at Amplify “quite out of the blue,” he said, and he “became increasingly excited about my ability to make a difference from that seat.”

The commissioner said he remained deeply committed to the value of public education. Some education advocates have warned of the dangers of for-profit entities influencing policy in schools, or being hired to run them. But Cerf called such claims “propagandistic,” and emphasized his view that “public schools should be run by and accountable to public authorities.”

“I do think that public education will be profoundly benefited by advances that occur in the private sector,” he said.

Cerf said one of his proudest accomplishments was helping to draft the 2012 tenure law. “That was the classic sitting in a windowless room for days on end negotiating” with union leaders and elected officials, he said. The result “proved to be one of the strongest tenure reforms in the country.”

The law makes getting tenure, and keeping it, dependent on getting good evaluations that are tied to student learning. Starting next year, about one-fifth of New Jersey teachers will have 30 percent of their formal evaluations based on their students’ progress on state tests. That change has drawn fierce opposition from critics who say that the computer models involved are unreliable and that judging teachers this way will lead to more test prep instead of rich classroom experiences.

Though Cerf had a better rapport with the New Jersey Education Association than the governor did, it was not always smooth. In December, for example, the union complained in a memo sent to members and the media that the state was “rushing headlong into catastrophe” because of the chaotic, confusing rollout of the new evaluations.

“What we signed off on isn’t being implemented effectively,” union spokesman Steve Wollmer said at the time. “The commissioner should walk into classrooms and ask people how it’s going.”

One of Cerf’s frustrations was failure to end last-in-first-out policies that require districts to retain their most senior staffers — rather than the most effective ones — when downsizing due to budget cuts. Teachers unions vigorously defend seniority rules, saying they protect veterans from being fired to save money. Cerf also expressed exasperation with the tenor of debate.

“The level of vitriol or rhetoric in the school reform discussion is really disappointing to me,” he said. “There is a desperate need in New Jersey and across the nation to keep our eyes absolutely focused on the truth of where we are being successful and where we have a need for improvement.”

A promoter of giving parents more choices, Cerf approved 37 charter schools and shut down 10 that had bad academic results or financial problems. He also deployed the department’s staff to focus on the most troubled schools, orchestrated the state takeover of Camden’s district and sought to give more autonomy to high-performing schools. Despite Cerf’s pledge to cut red tape, many superintendents in successful districts said they still felt overly burdened by compliance demands and state mandates.

In his next job, Cerf said he would obey any rules that may bar him from pursuing contracts with New Jersey government entities. “Whatever the rules are, we will follow them,” he said.

When he took over the department, Cerf faced critics who charged that a previous consulting firm, Global Education Advisors, had been unfairly awarded a contract in Newark. Cerf responded then that he had a “very part-time involvement” with the small firm, quit as soon as he was asked to be commissioner and received no payment from it.

A resident of what he jokingly called “the People’s Republic of Montclair,” Cerf served as commissioner in an acting capacity for 18 months because state Sen. Ron Rice, D-Essex, exercised senatorial courtesy, which allows a senator to block an appointee from his home county. Rice accused Cerf of being too keen on using private companies to deliver services. Eventually Cerf rented an apartment in Somerset County, and the senator there allowed the legislative hearing that led to his Senate confirmation by a 28-0 vote.

Cerf began his career as a high school history teacher in Cincinnati. After law school, he was a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. He served as associate counsel to President Clinton, and then was president of Edison Schools Inc., a large national for-profit manager of public schools.

He served as deputy chancellor of education in New York City and senior campaign adviser for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s reelection bid in 2009. Before becoming commissioner, Cerf was chief executive officer of Sangari Global Education, which provided science programs to schools.

Cerf was tapped as New Jersey’s education chief after Christie fired Commissioner Bret Schundler after a dispute over a botched application for $400 million in federal Race to the Top grants.

Cerf plans to join Amplify, whose headquarters are in New York, on March 3.

Amplify Chief Executive Officer Joel Klein said in a statement that he “couldn’t be more excited about Chris coming onboard. … Chris really gets what it takes — at every level — to help prepare students for success.”

Email: brody@northjersey.com Twitter @lesliebrody

 

NJ Spotlight - Chris Cerf to Step Down as New Jersey Commissioner of Education…Will take CEO slot at educational software outfit run by former boss at NYC school system… ‘He submitted his resignation earlier this month, effective March 1. No announcement has been made as to Cerf’s successor. ..’

John Mooney | February 11, 2014

 

Chris Cerf will be leaving office at the end of this month after three years as Gov. Chris Christie’s education commissioner, leaving behind big changes -- and some tumult.

Appointed in late 2010, Cerf yesterday said he will join the educational software company led by his old boss, former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein.

Cerf, who was deputy chancellor in New York under Klein, will serve as CEO of Amplify Insight, a division of Amplify Inc. The company is owned by News Corp., the media giant led by Rupert Murdoch.

He submitted his resignation earlier this month, effective March 1. No announcement has been made as to Cerf’s successor.

The department is expected to announce the resignation today, but Cerf yesterday confirmed the decision and said it came out of both his uncertainty about staying on for a second term and a job offer that was difficult to pass up.

His departure had long been rumored in and outside the department, not unusual for any administration entering a second term.

“For the last three plus years, we have been able to put a number of really significant accomplishments on the board,” Cerf said yesterday.

“I committed to the governor when I came that I would stay for one term,” he said.

“Frankly, this opportunity arose unsolicited, and I fended it off for quite some time, ” he added. And it just became increasingly intriguing for me, and fulfilled an objective I had for the last part of my career, which was to really think about ways to enhance public education through personalized learning and other solutions.”

Cerf will be the first member of Christie’s cabinet to leave office in his second term and since multiple scandals broke around the governor, including the politically driven lane closures on the George Washington Bridge and questions about how Hurricane Sandy recovery aid was distributed.

But Cerf said the timing of his decision had nothing to do with those issues, and praised Christie for being “truly an authentic believer in school reform.”

“None,” he said of the timing in relation to the burgeoning scandals. “The answer is none, absolutely none.”

Maintaining a High Profile

Cerf has been among the state’s highest-profile commissioners in not only Christie’s but other recent administrations.

He was outspoken in arguing for, if not leading, Christie’s school reform agenda, while knocking back its critics at every turn. He particularly pushed for stronger teacher accountability and tenure reforms, tighter reporting and measurement of student achievement, expanded charter schools, and aggressive interventions in New Jersey's most troubled schools, especially in the state-run districts of Newark and Camden.

The state took over Camden schools last year, and Cerf was central in the appointment of state Superintendent Cami Anderson in Newark.

In the interview yesterday, he was unapologetic about his drawing attention to both the strengths and the shortcomings of New Jersey’s public schools in serving all children adequately.

“There is no question in my mind that shining a light on the enormous successes of public education in this state and the areas of needed improvement” is one of our biggest accomplishments, he said.

“It is just not right in a country that values the equality of opportunity to have in our midst several hundred schools where kids are simply not learning the basics to be successful in life,” he said.

As news becomes public today and reaction starts pouring in, there are sure to be those critical of his tenure, or at least his stewardship of Christie’s agenda.

Some have complained about the pressure created by the new testing and curriculum embodied by the Common Core State Standards, which Cerf embraced. Others have criticized tighter controls on school spending at a time of increased mandates and reduced state funding in a majority of districts.

The pace of change under the new teacher evaluations has been especially contentious, and even was subject of an Assembly committee hearing yesterday.

Maybe most significantly, before Cerf came into office, Christie drastically reduced school funding in the face of the recession-driven revenue cuts, and nearly 80 percent of districts have yet to fully recover. Nonetheless, Cerf has been left to defend the funding reductions and press for new ones.

When asked yesterday about the criticisms, Cerf sought to refute each one, but also didn’t hide from what has been his relish at upsetting the status quo.

“I deeply believe that the only way to not have controversy is to be inconsequential,” he said. “I think it is fair that I have never been viewed as a caretaker of the position.”

“I have based policy decision on what I think is the best interest of students,” Cerf said. “Sometimes that is not consistent with consensus or a lack of controversy.”

 

Star Ledger - NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf stepping down at end of month, report says

By Mike Frassinelli/The Star-Ledger The Star-Ledger
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on February 11, 2014 at 12:15 AM, updated February 11, 2014 at 8:24 AM
 

New Jersey Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, who pushed for charter schools to give parents more choices and helped draft a landmark tenure law with the state’s powerful teachers union, is stepping down at the end of this month, according to a report in The Record.

The newspaper is reporting that Cerf, 59, will leave Feb. 28 to take a job with an education technology firm run by former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein, Cerf’s onetime boss.

Cerf will become chief executive officer of Amplify Insight, a division of Amplify, the newspaper reported.

Cerf, education commissioner for just over three years, brokered a 2012 law that ties tenure to classroom observations and student test results.

“That was the classic sitting in a windowless room for days on end negotiating,” he said of the behind-the-scenes work to make the agreement a reality.

Cerf became New Jersey’s top education official in December 2010 after Gov. Chris Christie fired Bret Schundler over a disqualified “Race to the Top” application that cost New Jersey up to $400 million in federal school aid.

 

 


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