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Heidi Ramirez on why she wants to lead Camden schools

By Dale Mezzacappa on Mar 27, 2013 12:57 PM
Photo: Harvey Finkle

Heidi Ramirez at a School Reform Commission meeting in 2008.

Heidi Ramirez, the former School Reform Commission member vying to become the next leader of Camden's schools, elaborated in a short phone interview Wednesday about why she'd like to run the extremely troubled system.

"My career has been about working with high-poverty, high-minority districts," she said. "I feel a special relationship with Camden's children, having come from challenging background myself. And the children of Camden deserve better than what they have had. And I have a commitment to make that change happen."

Unknown, however, is whether the three finalists chosen by the Board of Education will be even considered in the wake of Gov. Chris Christie's move Monday to tighten state control of the 12,000-student district.

Ramirez, who is of Costa Rican descent, grew up outside Albany, N.Y., and was the director of Temple University's Urban Education Collaborative when named to the SRC.

Camden, the poorest city of its size in America and the most violent -- with nearly 70 homicides last year in a population of less than 80,000 people -- has a graduation rate below 50 percent. At the same time, due to landmark New Jersey court decisions on school funding, the city spends more than $20,000 per student, close to the amount spent in some of the area's wealthy suburbs.

Ramirez was appointed by Gov. Ed Rendell and served on the SRC between March 2008 and August 2009, when she resigned after a very public break with then-superintendent Arlene Ackerman. Ackerman complained that Ramirez asked too many questions about the budget and some of the superintendent's initiatives in their early stages, including Renaissance schools and Imagine 2014. Ramirez said when she resigned that her educational vision had become "inconsistent" with that of the District.

In 2010, she became chief academic officer of the school district in Milwaukee, known for its voucher system and large charter school sector. She left last June, saying in a newspaper interview that her priorities had been buiding a "common vision" around instruction, developing more partnerships, and raising expectations and a sense of urgency.

According to Inquirer coverage of a public session Tuesday night with the three candidates, Ramirez emphasized her experience with charters and helping to manage a portfolio of schools in Milwaukee. Christie and Christopher Cerf, the former Edison Schools official who now heads the New Jersey Department of Education, have made it clear that they want charters to play a big role in Camden in the future.

Ramirez said she couldn't comment on where the process goes from here, or whether she has spoken to Cerf, who will choose the new leader of Camden schools.

"This is an opportunity for Camden, and I’d like to be part of that," she said.

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Comments (15)

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on March 27, 2013 2:04 pm
Now isn't that interesting? I really enjoyed Heidi while she was here. But let me get this straight? So the local school board likes her, but the decision is solely in the hands of a single person appointed by Christie who worked for a for-profit educational management company. That sounds like a democratic way of choosing our leaders, doesn't it?
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on March 27, 2013 5:53 pm
Rich--Things get "curiouser and curiouser" as one Lawrence Yogi Berra used to say. Heide Ramirez is adorable and smarter than smart. Ackerman hated her for obvious reasons, of course.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 27, 2013 3:16 pm
Ramiriez and charters?
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on March 27, 2013 6:43 pm
She is perfect for Camden since she has experience ruining public education in Philadelphia. That is the skill they are looking for. Right? I mean; Hite ran Prince Georges County into a state takeover so he was the man for Philly. This is the Charter promoters playbook.
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on March 27, 2013 7:29 pm
Heidi Ramirez never ran the Philly schools. She worked at Temple. While I was impressed that she questioned Ackerman considering the rest of the SRC was silent, it doesn't mean she knows much about running a public school district. In Milwaukee she worked under Thornton - former CAO in Philly - for two years. Here's her resume before Milwaukee: Nothing about teaching, principal, etc. (She's about 39 years old). Her mother is Irish/German and her father Costa Rican. She grew up in suburb of Albany, NY. Heidi A. Ramírez, Ph.D. Heidi A. Ramírez, Ph.D., is the director of the Urban Education Collaborative at Temple University where she is the principal liaison between the College of Education, the Center for Research in Human Development and Education, and the School District of Philadelphia and other regional districts and schools. Her portfolio includes a variety of projects in three key areas of urban school improvement: leadership development, teacher quality, and climate for learning. Prior to coming to Temple University, Ramírez was an education program consultant at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, where she provided advice on investments in urban education, district-level reform, and initiatives to improve teaching and learning for English language learners. As a researcher at the Center for Research on the Context of Teaching at Stanford University, she focused on the study of district wide reform initiatives and professional learning communities. Dr. Ramírez also held the position of special assistant to the deputy secretary in the U.S. Department of Education. In this role, she was responsible for developing legislative and public policy proposals in support of standards-based education reform, particularly in regard to the administration's proposal for the 1999-2000 re-authorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the National Educational Research and Statistics Act. Ramírez earned her M.A. in sociology from Stanford University, her Ed.M. in education policy and administration from Harvard University, and her Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on March 27, 2013 7:22 pm
Poogie--Heidi Ramirez was a straight shooter and hopefully still is. Yes, Hite was picked to destroy the schools down South and yes, that's his purpose here too. Ackerman and Vallas started the "churn" and this guy will try to finish the job. Listen to him, no matter what the question, his robotic answers never change. Kind of like The Manchurian Candidate or Forest Gump or Edgar Bergen and Jerry Mahoney.
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on March 27, 2013 8:58 pm
I think everyone on the SRC is and was part of a Grand Scheme to destroy public education. You cannot differentiate among them. You have to treat all enemies as dangerous. While she was a "straight shooter" she is now touting her ability to manage charter schools. So in 10 years Camden and Philadelphia will both be charter school systems with maybe a selective school or two in Potemkin Village Public system.
Submitted by Joe (not verified) on March 27, 2013 8:44 pm
I don't doubt it overall but I know Heidi personally and don't want to think she'll become Pedro Ramos, Part 2. This whole charter farce isn't over yet with more and more resistance and exposure coming to light. Our biggest problem in Philly is the lack of solidarity within the PFT and also other labor. The 1% is always trying to marginalize the 99% and doing away with unions will be the end of worker rights. Don't think it can't happen and never, ever think the corporations don't have that as their main goal---Profit Margin 101. It would also be nice if our Joke Mayor would work on behalf of the people who elected him rather than the shot callers who are pulling his strings and he doesn't have the fight back.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on March 27, 2013 9:50 pm
Michael Nutter is only taking care of Michael Nutter, Lisa Nutter and their daughter. Lisa Nutter's non-profit is receiving alot more money courtesy of her husband. His daughter went to Masterman the best free public school in the area. Wait until we finally get the real AVI tax rate sometime after the school district unions sign their agreements by August 31, 2013. No money for those unions but Nutter will be forced to provide raises to the city workers.
Submitted by reformer (not verified) on March 28, 2013 12:24 am
while she may look good in a business suit, it's still an empty suit. only the queen could turn such an inexperienced src member into a folk hero. she's never done anything, not in philly, not in milwaukee, not anywhere. sadly, in this field of hopefuls she looks like jaime escalante.
Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on March 28, 2013 10:28 am
I would like to hear more about schools in Camden, especially since every time we take a wrong turn heading east, we end up going towards the BF Bridge towards the same. Oh yes, they get $24,000 per child in funding (per WHYY talk w/Marty M-C yesterday). Why is this not enough? As for Ms. Ramirez, I hope she gets the chance to try and improve the district. It would be interesting to have a current interview with her regarding what she learned from her experiences here in Philly and Milwaukee, and what she hopes to accomplish if she is chosen as the next Superintendent of the Camden District.
Submitted by Resident of Camden (not verified) on March 28, 2013 11:44 am
Whoever it is, I invite the superintendent to live and make a home in the with the children that they are going to so graciously help.
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Submitted by catalina (not verified) on June 6, 2014 6:33 am
I think that she really wants the opportunity to prove herself and make things better. I think she will do a good job. jocuri barbie
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 18, 2015 9:22 am

I want to wish her success.

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