Education Reform and Gentrification in the Age of #CamdenRising

Public Education and Urban Redevelopment in Camden, NJ

by Keith E. Benson (Author)
©2019 Monographs XL, 200 Pages


Education Reform and Gentrification in the Age of #CamdenRising: Public Education and Urban Redevelopment in Camden, NJ examines the perceptions and interpretations of Camden—a New Jersey community whose population is predominately minority, historically impoverished, and rapidly employing neoliberal strategies in public education and urban redevelopment. Using the framework of standpoint theory as a lens to alternatively view change and "progress" in Camden (dubbed by city officials as #CamdenRising), this book highlights the views of Camden residents who hold little sociopolitical capital yet are profoundly impacted by the city’s efforts in employing neoliberal approaches within urban development and public education.
This book will center current and future resident viewpoints on living in a city whose leadership employs neoliberal tactics in redevelopment and in rebranding public education. Participants in this work reported feelings of political alienation pertaining to participation in redevelopment and public education decision-making. Further, participants also believe such recent efforts for change in Camden are intended to benefit a targeted, potentially gentrifying, population and not the majority low-income minorities who currently reside there.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Education Reform and Gentrification in the Age of #CamdenRising
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • Research Questions
  • The Significance of Education Reform and Gentrification in the Age of #CamdenRising: Public Education and Urban Redevelopment in Camden, NJ
  • Understanding Education Reform and Gentrification in the Age of #CamdenRising’s Theoretical Grounds
  • How to Read Education Reform and Gentrification in the Age of #CamdenRising: Public Education and Urban Redevelopment in Camden, NJ
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter One: Postindustrial Urban Ecology
  • Neoliberalism in Urban Redevelopment
  • Neoliberal Urban Planning
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Two: Public Education in Low-Income Urban America
  • Urban School Reform Agenda
  • Urban School Reform and Urban Place-Making
  • Urban School Choice
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Three: The Camden Context
  • Contemporary Revitalization in Camden, NJ
  • Camden Public Safety
  • Redevelopment Efforts in Camden
  • Camden Education and the Emergence of Renaissance Schools
  • George Norcross III and the NJ Urban Hope Act of 2012
  • The Arrival of Paymon Rouhanifard
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Four: Suspicion and Skepticism
  • Participants
  • Camden County Council on Economic Opportunity, Inc. (Camden County OEO)
  • United Neighbors of Whitman Park (UNWP)
  • Respond, Inc.
  • Centerville Simbas Youth Football
  • The Supper Club
  • Suspicion and Skepticism
  • Discussion of Skepticism and Suspicion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Five: “Change Is Happening But Not For Us”
  • Changes in Public Safety
  • Arrival of New Corporations in Camden
  • Changes in Camden Education
  • Discussion of “Change Is Happening Here, But It’s Ain’t for Us”
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Six: The Influence of Outsiders and George Norcross
  • Discussion of the Influence of Outsiders and George Norcross
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Seven: Participants’ Views of Public Schools and School Choice in Camden
  • Current Residents’ Perceptions of Camden Public Schools Based on Past Experiences and Hearsay
  • Prospective Residents’ Perceptions of Camden Schools
  • Camden Parents Exercising Their Choice Options
  • Discussion of Public Schools and School Choice in Camden
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Eight: It’s All Connected … for the Benefit of Others
  • Current Camden Residents’ Views on Whether Renaissance Schools Are Part of a Larger Redevelopment Plan or Specifically About Education
  • Prospective Residents’ Views on Whether Renaissance Schools Are Part of a Larger Redevelopment Plan, or Solely to Improve Education in Camden
  • Discussion of It’s All Connected
  • Chapter Nine: Overview of Study, Implications, Conclusion
  • Overview of the Study
  • Implications
  • Limitations of the Current Study
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • Reference
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • References
  • Appendix
  • Appendix A: Neighborhood Questionnaire
  • Introduction
  • Appendix B: Focus Group Protocol
  • Appendix C: Individual Interview Protocol
  • Appendix D: Participant Matrix
  • Appendix E: Corporations Relocating to Camden Receiving NJEDA Funds (Adomaitis, 2015)
  • Index

| ix →


Figure 4.1. University District, Cooper St. facing Camden Waterfront. Photograph by Keith Benson.

Figure 4.2. View down Cooper St. from a Waterfront parking lot. The building to the left is the former CCSD Administration building, which was purchased in 2018 for $5.5 million dollars by Millennium Partners; the buildings in the center are the Radio Lofts owned by Carl Dranoff Developers; the buildings to the right are the Victor Lofts. All are slated for future occupancy in the Cooper Grant/Victor Building Neighborhood. Photograph by Keith Benson.

Figure 4.3. Brand-new Philadelphia 76ers Training Facility along Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. in Camden. Photograph by Keith Benson.

Figure 4.4. Philadelphia 76ers Training Facility along Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. in Camden. Photograph by Keith Benson.

Figure 4.5. KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy at Lanning Square on Broadway. The state’s first renaissance school, KCNA was initially supposed to be a reconstructed traditional public ← ix | x → school, Lanning Square Elementary. The school was condemned in 2011, and the land was turned over to KCNA after Gov. Christie refused to use School Development Authority funds to rebuild Lanning Square. Directly across the street from KCNA is the Cooper Rowan University Medical School. Photograph by Keith Benson.

Figure 4.6. Mastery Charter School—Cramer Hill at the corners of N. 17th St. and River Rd. in Cramer Hill. Photograph by Keith Benson.69

Figure 4.7. Ray and Joan Kroc Center on Harrison Ave. in Cramer Hill; President Barack Obama gave a speech here in Spring 2015 celebrating the new Camden County Police Department and celebrating a Camden “renaissance.” Photograph by Keith Benson.

Figure 4.8. Future site of Mastery Charter High School in North Camden at Pyne Poynt School. Pyne Poynt Middle School was turned over to Mastery Charter in 2014 by then CCSD superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard. The Mastery Charter High School in North Camden is set to open in the Fall of 2018. Photograph by Keith Benson.

Figure 4.9. Future site of Mastery Charter High School in North Camden at Pyne Poynt School. Photograph by Keith Benson.

Figure 4.10. New Holtec International Facility in Morgan Village section of Fairview. Holtec International was recently given permission to assume redevelopment duties in the Fairview section of the city. Photograph by Keith Benson.

Figure 4.11. New Holtec International Facility in Morgan Village section of Fairview. Photograph by Keith Benson.

Figure 4.12. Waterfront Development by Liberty Trust Partners with Ben Franklin Bridge connecting Philadelphia in background. Photograph by Keith Benson.

Figure 4.13. Camden Adventure Aquarium at the Waterfront. Photograph by Keith Benson.

Figure 4.14. Waterfront visitors. Photograph by Keith Benson.

Figure 4.15. Purchased row homes across from Rowan University Medical School and KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy in Lanning Square. Photograph by Keith Benson. ← x | xi →

Figure 4.16. Newly constructed UnCommon Schools building at the corner of Copewood and Haddon Avenues in Whitman Park/Parkside neighborhoods. Photograph by Keith Benson.

Figure 4.17. Newly opened KIPP Cooper Norcross Academy at John Greenleaf Whittier School in Bergen Square neighborhood. On 8th and Chestnut Sts., JG Whittier School was closed in 2015 and turned over to KCNA by then CCSD superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard. Photograph by Keith Benson.

Figure 4.18. Cooper Grant neighborhood across from Rutgers University, Camden’s athletic fields. Photograph by Keith Benson.

| xiii →


As I reflect on my path that has led me to this point, it is supremely important that I acknowledge all who have helped guide me to this point and supported me throughout various stages of my education and in my life generally.

I first and foremost thank the Lord for carrying me through all the doubts and second-guessing that I could ever achieve the completion of such a work as Education Reform and Gentrification in the Age of #CamdenRising. While the thought my doctoral study could become a published work was unthinkable at times—through the strength of God, here we are! Therefore, arriving at this moment is surely a blessing, and in that I am grateful.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!—Psalms 105:1

Secondly, I must thank my best friend, and my wife, Jeanette. You cannot imagine how many thoughts and ideas I have gained through our shared conversations and listening to your suggestions. In my view, this work is just as much yours as it is mine. You are the smartest person I know. You observe everything. You listen to everything. You analyze everything, and you finally share. You always have my back and have sacrificed so much. I love you with all my heart. To our beautiful daughter Nadine, you are indeed a blessing to us both, and you’ve made parenting ← xiii | xiv → very easy for your mother and me. Simply put, this book does not happen without both of your continuous support, unconditional love, and sacrifice. I am so appreciative and blessed to have you both in my corner.

Third, I must thank my parents Terri, my mother, and Keith Sr., my father. You both have sacrificed so much to give me opportunities to make the most out of my life. Mom, your resilience, faith, and patience have been teaching tools to me in more ways than you possibly know. You are a strong woman and always have been, and know that I truly appreciate everything you have done for me. Dad, you instilled in me the desire to prevail in everything I set out to do. You exposed me to Afrocentrism and reinforced the value that I should be proud to be a black man and a fighter for good and what is just. Mom and Dad, please know that I appreciate everything you both have done for me.

The next person I would like to thank is my sister, Nikki, for her words of encouragement throughout this process. You saying “you can do it” and “I’m proud of you” meant more to me than you may realize. I know you’re focusing on raising your little ones, Bree and George Jr. (both of whom I love very much despite my distance), but don’t forget to go after your own life’s dreams!

I also want to thank my longtime friend, Brian Turner, Esq. You are the person that put graduate school in my head as a possibility, and I likely would never have been in the position to do this work without having you as an example and inspiration. After rolling together since our sophomore year at Moorestown Friends School, I first heard you articulate that you planned to go to law school in our junior year at Rutgers. At that point was the first time I realized that graduate school wasn’t only for the other students we went to school with, but that we could do it too! Words matter, and by you expressing your plans, you allowed me to see some possibilities for my own future that I never thought of before.

Next, I have to thank all the supportive and distinguished professors I’ve had over the years. Dr. Beth Rubin, you were always supportive and encouraging to me since I started grad school, and I still appreciate your time and attention you so generously share. Dr. Catherine Lugg, thank you for responding to my endless e-mails and questions with quality feedback and criticisms. The one-on-one meetings and conversations we’ve had indeed helped my confidence in believing that I could do academic research and that my research topic was something worth pursuing. Dr. Brandi Blessett, I am so appreciative for your guidance, suggestions, and perspective. Your class helped me frame my study, and this book, and exposed me to urban policy and urban development readings I would have never come across without it. Best of luck to you in your upcoming gig at the University of Cincinnati and you will assuredly be missed! Dr. Stephen Danley, I must thank you for including me in the many opportunities you’ve exposed me to over the years. The opportunities to speak, write, and tell Camden’s story is something I ← xiv | xv → genuinely appreciate. Congrats on your new work on post-Katrina New Orleans. Dr. Doris Santoro, thank you for giving so freely of your time, knowledge, and the opportunities you selflessly send my way.

In addition, I must thank my cohort of hoopers at Cherry Hill LA Fitness. Showing up and seeing the same faces, balling against the same people, or going to other gyms and beating (and sometimes losing to) other teams have undoubtedly been therapeutic for me. I appreciate the fellowship and brotherhood that we’ve developed over the years, and for me, it is not a small thing.

Now, I would be remiss not to thank the students I’ve taught in Camden over the past 14 years. You all have been like family to me. Seeing you all every day come to school and share your lives with me is something I will always cherish forever. I hope I express to you that despite all the obstacles in your lives, so much is possible if you just stick to your goals and surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed as bad as you want to. Seeing you all grow into adulthood has been one of the highlights of my life. I love you all.

Finally, I have to thank the People of Camden for being so generous with their time and energy to help make this study happen. I am indebted to you and this city. Camden, where my family and I live, where my parents and extended family all grew up; it produced my wife, is where my daughter is educated, and is so much more decent than the world knows. My respect and appreciation for this city rest with the people here who tirelessly give support to one another in need and volunteer their time and resources to improve life in this community. You are all beautiful people, and I have so much respect for you all. Your voices and insights are needed, smart, and must be heard. I hope in this book you hear your own voice and I pray I have done right in presenting your views.

Thank you everyone, especially my grandparents, extended family, and Jay. You all have helped me get to this point, and hopefully, this is not the end, but the continuance of us all searching out new challenges and endeavors for us all!

| xvii →



XL, 200
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (December)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XL, 200 pp., 18. b/w ill., 2 tables

Biographical notes

Keith E. Benson (Author)

Keith E. Benson’s areas of research are urban schooling and critical pedagogies, urban education reform policy, and school choice within contemporary urban redevelopment. Benson is also interested in eliciting and highlighting the voices of forgotten urban community members impacted by both urban redevelopment and the education reforms that accompany it. As an urban education researcher and activist, he is an active member of local activist civic groups Save Camden Public Schools, Communities United, and currently serves as President of the Camden Education Association.


Title: Education Reform and Gentrification in the Age of #CamdenRising
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