By Ben Smith
Public Schools “need to be reformed, not replaced,” according to former Camden County Democratic Chairman George E. Norcross III, who spoke in Daly’s Mercer Room Wednesday night.
Norcross’ address focused on the problems plaguing public education.
“I don’t think there are many people who say we are producing at the level we could or should in urban schools,” said Norcross.
Norcross’ speech, entitled “Education Reform and the Leadership Needed to Make It Happen,” focused mainly on the problems that plague the public school system today, especially those in urban environments.
Norcross is the executive chairman of the insurance brokerage firm Connor Strong & Buckelew, a top 10 insurance provider in the nation. Norcross also serves as chairman of the Board of Trustees for Cooper University Hospital in Camden, participating in its philanthropic work to help local schools, public and private.
In 2007, PoliticsNJ.com called Norcross the second most influential political personality in New Jersey.
Norcross praised private charter schools in which he said students would thrive and receive an education for less money than poorer public schools.
A restructuring of the current educational system must always first start with the state, he said.
Schools with failing records have been showered with millions of dollars in state budget money — taxpayer money — each year with diminishing results.
Norcross indicated that infusing public schools with private corporations’ money could be a solution.
He even called on Rider in his address, asking, “Why doesn’t Rider put their name on a school? Why not the Campbell’s Soup company? Why not PSE&G? Why not our great institutions of higher learning? It’s time for us to come together to solve the problem.”
Norcross called for a much “broader relationship” when it comes to children and their education. A merit-based system of rewarding those programs and people that succeed and holding those that don’t accountable is a good start.
Implementing a longer school day, garnering more funding for after-school programs and getting parents to play larger roles in their childrens’ educations are just some of the ideas mentioned during the talk.
Norcross also mentioned that he had “been disappointed that Democrats have not led changes in education. He implied that his party has instead taken a backseat role to Christie’s aggressive restructuring of teacher’s unions and public education.
Norcross also drew on personal experiences from his childhood in Pennsauken. “I remember my mother showing me flashcards,” recalled Norcross, “and encouraging my brothers and I to do our homework.” Norcross said it was a luxury that not all children possess with regards to those with absent or withdrawn parents.
Leadership was a recurring theme throughout Norcross’ speech. It is lacking not only on state and local levels but also on the national scale as well, he said.
Norcross, a self-described “proud Democrat,” doubted Obama’s leadership qualities in comparing him to Ed Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania and former mayor of Philadelphia.
“Philadelphia might not have been doing great, but Ed Rendell made people feel good about Philadelphia,” he said.
After his speech, Norcross fielded comments from the audience, some of them members of teachers unions.
Not every student will be able to attend a charter school, however, as a New Jersey Education Association member, Vincent Giordano, was quick to point out.
Giordano reminded Norcross of a Stanford study he sent to him that showed students in just 13.6 percent of charter schools nationally scored better than those who attended public schools.