Christopher Cerf (school administrator)

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Christopher Cerf
Superintendent of Newark Public Schools
In office
2015 (2015) – January 31, 2018 (2018-01-31)
Preceded byCami Anderson
Succeeded byRoger León
Commissioner of New Jersey Department of Education
In office
January 2011 (2011-01) – February 2014 (2014-02)
GovernorChris Christie
Deputy chancellor of New York City Department of Education
In office
January 2007 (2007-01) – September 2009 (2009-09)
Personal details
Bornc. 1954[1]

Christopher D. Cerf (born c. 1954) is an American education administrator and attorney who has served as the state-appointed Superintendent of the Newark Public Schools in New Jersey.[2][3][4]

Early life[edit]

Cerf was born in Illinois but grew up in Washington, D.C.[5] Around 1970, he and his family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston, where he attended Commonwealth School.[6] He earned his undergraduate degree in history from Amherst College in 1977.[7] He later graduated from Columbia Law School where in his final year he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Columbia Law Review.[6] While at Columbia, Cerf had also spent his first summer working at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and his second summer at a Wall Street law firm.[1]


For four years before law school, Cerf taught history at Cincinnati Country Day School, a private high school in Cincinnati, Ohio.[6][7][8] After graduating from Columbia Law School, Cerf served as a clerk to J. Skelly Wright, a judge in Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In 1985,[6] Cerf became a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.[9] As a clerk, former Justice O'Connor later described Cerf as "a hard worker, a sensible worker, and he was just excellent. You can't find any fault with him."[6] He later served on the advisory board of iCivics, an education non-profit founded by O'Connor.[5]

After his clerkships, Cerf worked as a lawyer in two law firms in Washington, D.C.,[6] a period in which he returned to the Supreme Court to argue two cases, one of which he won. One of two Washington firms Cerf worked for was Onek, Klein & Farr. Many years later, Joel Klein, a partner at the firm, would appoint Cerf as his deputy in the New York City Department of Education. Cerf later joined Bill Clinton's first campaign for President of the United States.[1] And after the campaign, from 1993 to 1996, Cerf was associate counsel to President Clinton.[5][7] In that capacity, he worked on tobacco regulation[10][page needed] and efforts to protect prisoner’s rights to petition for habeas corpus.[11]

After working at another Washington firm, Wiley Rein and Fielding,[12] in 1997, he was hired as general counsel to Edison Schools Inc. (now known as EdisonLearning). In 2001,[6] Cerf was appointed the president and chief operating officer of the company.[13] As of at least 2006,[8] during Cerf's tenure as president, Edison Schools was the largest for-profit contractor for public school administration in the world.[6][14] While at Edison Schools, he was responsible for the handling of the backlash stemming from company's administration of public schools in Philadelphia[8] and he also attended the Broad Superintendent Academy founded by Eli Broad.[15] After leaving the company in 2005, Cerf joined the consulting firm Public–Private Strategy Group.[6][8]

New York City schools[edit]

In early 2006, Cerf began working as a consultant to the New York City Department of Education with a salary funded by private donations.[8][16] On December 21, 2006, New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced that he was appointing Cerf, who had assumed the role of Chief Transformation Officer, as deputy chancellor.[8][17] Cerf is a longtime friend of the chancellor as they both worked together at the White House[18] and Klein's law firm Onek, Klein & Farr in Washington.[1] According to The New York Times, the appointment was part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's initiative to increase private-sector participation in New York City schools.[8]

When appointed deputy chancellor, Cerf had disclosed to city officials that he had retained stock options from his time at Edison Schools and therefore would recuse himself from any decisions involving the company.[6][19] He later relinquished "all equity interest" but was questioned by the city's Conflicts of Interest Board for soliciting a charitable contribution from executives at Edison in an email at the same time he relinquished his financial interests in the company.[5] After being questioned by the ethics board, Cerf rescinded his request. Edison Schools had planned to make a $60,000 donation to Darrow Foundation, a non-profit wilderness and canoeing youth program in Maine.[6][20] The Conflicts of Interest Board took no disciplinary action.[7][20]

In September 2009, Cerf left his post as deputy chancellor to join Mayor Bloomberg's re-election campaign as an education policy adviser.[18] Cerf has held high positions in government and has worked for several for-profit educational corporations Global Education Advisers,[21] and Sangari Global.[22]

New Jersey schools[edit]

He was appointed New Jersey State Commissioner of Education by Chris Christie in 2010.[23][24] In February 2014, Cerf announced that he would be leaving his post as Commissioner of Education at the end of the month to become chief executive of Amplify Insight, a division of Amplify.[25][26][27]

In June 2015, Cerf stepped down from his executive post at Amplify in anticipation of his appointment to head the Newark City School District.[28] The same month, he also resigned from his membership to the board of directors of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a lobbying group supporting charter schools, which he had just joined in April 2015. On July 8, 2015, the New Jersey Board of Education, which at the time had direct control over the Newark schools, voted 6 to 4 to appoint Cerf as superintendent of the district school system, replacing Cami Anderson.[29][26]

According to a February 2018 editorial in The Star-Ledger, Cerf closed the worst schools, fired the worst principals, and used a new contract to pay the best teachers more. By the end of his tenure as superintendent, the graduation rate had risen to 77 percent, a 20 percent increase.[30] He was able to improve student's results in state standardized tests and increase the graduation rate while maintaining a balanced budget.[31] Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Cerf were able to end the pugnacious relationship between the city's leaders and state's Department of Education.[32]

In December 2017, Cerf announced his resignation as superintendent effective on February 1, 2018, a few months ahead of the end of his contract and the same day as the state returned control of the city school district to local control.[31] According to The New York Times, the move was intended to ease the transition to local control. Cerf was replaced by his deputy, Robert Gregory, who took over as interim superintendent while the now independent school district searched for a permanent replacement.[33]

Personal life[edit]

Cerf resides in Montclair, New Jersey.[5] From a young age, he has enjoyed wilderness canoeing, and has led multiple expeditions near Hudson Bay.[1] He has three children.[34]


  1. ^ a b c d e Meyer, Peter (January 1, 2012). "Taking on New Jersey". Education Next. Retrieved July 15, 2018.
  2. ^ "Office of the Superintendent". Newark Public Schools.
  3. ^ "Chris Cerf Becomes Newark's New Superintendent Of Schools". Newark, NJ Patch. July 8, 2015. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  4. ^ Brody, Leslie (July 9, 2015). "Former N.J. Education Commissioner Named Head of Newark Schools". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e Calefati, Jessica (December 16, 2010). "Gov. Chris Christie to nominate ex-N.Y. schools official for N.J. education commissioner". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Calefati, Jessica; Livio, Susan K.; Mueller, Mark (March 13, 2011). "N.J. acting schools chief faces questions about transparency, imperiling his confirmation". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d Hu, Winnie (December 17, 2010). "Christie Picks Cerf, Klein's Ally, for New Jersey Schools". The New York Times. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Herszenhorn, David M. (December 22, 2006). "School Entrepreneur Named to Be a Deputy Chancellor". The New York Times. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  9. ^ Marcus, Ruth (April 22, 1986). "The Little Law Firm That Could". Washington Post. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  10. ^ Kessler, David (March 21, 2002). A Question Of Intent: A Great American Battle With A Deadly Industry. PublicAffairs. ISBN 978-0-7867-3102-2.
  11. ^ Segura, Liliana (May 4, 2016). "Gutting Habeas Corpus: The Inside Story of How Bill Clinton Sacrificed Prisoners' Rights for Political Gain". The Intercept. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  12. ^ "People". Education Week. October 8, 1997. Retrieved July 17, 2018.
  13. ^ Barbaro, Michael (September 15, 2009). "Christopher Cerf, Schools Deputy, to Join Bloomberg Campaign". The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2018.
  14. ^ Rundquist, Jeanette (December 20, 2010). "N.J. education chief nominee Christopher Cerf calls for reform of state's worst schools". The Star-Ledger. Retrieved July 17, 2018.
  15. ^ Russakoff, Dale (September 8, 2015). The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools?. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 67. ISBN 0-547-84051-9.
  16. ^ Brill, Steven (August 14, 2012). Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America's Schools. Simon and Schuster. p. 147. ISBN 978-1-4516-1201-1.
  17. ^ Zelon, Helen (August 29, 2012). "DOE Diaspora: NYC School Vets Spread Reforms Nationwide". City Limits. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  18. ^ a b Barbaro, Michael (September 15, 2009). "Christopher Cerf, Schools Deputy, to Join Bloomberg Campaign". The New York Times. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  19. ^ Gootman, Elissa (February 9, 2007). "Schools Official Deflects Query About Stocks". The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2018.
  20. ^ a b Gootman, Elissa (December 4, 2008). "Schools Official Is Chided About Soliciting Donation". The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2018.
  21. ^ Dale, Russakoff. The prize : who's in charge of America's schools?. Boston. ISBN 978-0-547-84005-5. OCLC 915774457.
  22. ^ "Educators, politicians praise Gov. Christie's choice for N.J. education commissioner". Retrieved November 12, 2017.
  23. ^ "Cerf to Step Down as New Jersey Commissioner of Education". The Star-Ledger.
  24. ^ "Cerf narrowly wins approval to become Newark schools chief". Retrieved September 23, 2017.
  25. ^ "Chris Cerf Departing as NJ Chief to Take Job at Amplify". Education Week.
  26. ^ a b Brody, Leslie (July 9, 2015). "Former N.J. Education Commissioner Named Head of Newark Schools". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  27. ^ Mooney, John (February 11, 2014). "Chris Cerf to Step Down as New Jersey Commissioner of Education". NJ Spotlight. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  28. ^ Colby, Laura (June 26, 2015). "News Corp. Is Winding Down School Tablet Sales". Bloomberg. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  29. ^ Clark, Adam (July 8, 2015). "Cerf narrowly wins approval to become Newark schools chief". NJ Advance Media. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  30. ^ Moran, Tom (February 12, 2018). "In Newark, Chris Cerf's diplomacy protects solid classroom gains". Retrieved November 29, 2018.
  31. ^ a b Yi, Karen (December 26, 2017). "Newark to pick own schools chief for first time in 22 years". Retrieved August 14, 2018.
  32. ^ Chen, David W. (September 12, 2017). "After More Than 20 Years, Newark to Regain Control of Its Schools". The New York Times. Retrieved November 29, 2018.
  33. ^ Mays, Jeffery C. (December 26, 2017). "Newark Schools Chief Resigns Early to Ease Transition to Local Control". The New York Times. Retrieved November 29, 2018.
  34. ^ Russakoff 2015, p. 72