The state-operated Camden school district hired the cousin of Gov. Chris Christie’s wife to a $95,000-a-year administrative job in June. Kathryn Meeley, 32, the daughter of Mary Pat Christie’s first cousin and a strong advocate for charter schools, was given the position of chief of staff to the school district’s school support division.
Meeley, however, abruptly left the position in the beginning of this month, after less than six months on the job. Brendan Lowe, a school district spokesman, declined to say why Meeley left her position so soon after she accepted it. He also refused to confirm the woman’s relationship to Mary Pat Christie, the governor’s wife.
“As a matter of policy,” Lowe wrote in an email, “we do not comment on employees’ families or employees personal lives.” He suggested calling Meeley, but she did not return a call.
While the reason for her sudden departure remains unknown, Meeley did quit after a member of the audience at a Camden school board meeting charged that the state-controlled district had hired “Chris Christie’s niece” for a high-paying job in the school system.
Meeley, however, is not Christie’s niece. Her grandmother, Mary Foster Walters, was the sister of John G. Foster. John G. Foster was Mary Pat Foster Christie’s father. Meeley grew up in central Indiana, far from the Foster home in Paoli, Pa. However, the Meeleys, Fosters, and Christies do maintain communication via Facebook and other social media. They have been convening annually for a fund-raising golf-outing in memory of John G. Foster, the governor’s late father-in-law. The money goes to St. Norbert’s School, a Roman Catholic school where all 10 children of John G. and Patricia Foster attended.
An email sent to Christie’s press office, asking whether the governor knew, or had anything to do with, Meeley’s hiring and/or departure was not answered.
Christie recently provoked a flap about the hiring of Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr., the son of Joseph DiVincenzo, Sr., the Essex County executive. The younger DiVincenzo was given a $92,000-a-year job with the New Jersey Department of Education despite his lack of educational experience. His father, although a Democrat, endorsed the Republican Christie for reelection, spurning the Democratic candidate, Barbara Buono.
That example of political cronyism, along with this nepotism, adds to the specter that charter schools are available for the sort of patronage that led to the state takeover of the urban districts in the first place. The governor has called himself the “decider” in all state-operated districts–Camden, Newark, Paterson and Jersey City–so he has assumed all responsibility for snafus in school systems controlled by the Statehouse. Including, presumably, nepotism–even if it’s on is wife’s side of the family.
Although Meeley spent her childhood in Carmel, Indiana, and attended Indiana University in Bloomington, about 75 miles from her home, she has spent most of the last decade in and around Washington, DC, and Philadelphia. On Facebook, she lists her home as Arlington, Va., but also recently put out for lease a condo in her name in Philadelphia. The ad on the Internet indicates she will vacate the apartment across the Delaware from Camden tomorrow.
Whether or not Christie had anything to do with hiring Meeley–and/or with her sudden departure–the employment of the young woman also clearly sent a signal to the beleaguered supporters of public education in Camden that the governor and his political ally, South Jersey Democratic boss George Norcross, are serious about turning Camden into a privatized school district.
Meeley’s career suggests she is devoted advocate of charter schools. After graduating from Indiana University in 2002, Meeley worked for three years as an “apprentice teacher” at Bloomington High School North. She then moved to a charter school in Philadelphia, the Nueva Esperanza Academy Charter School, where she worked as a math teacher.
In 2008, by this time a graduate student in government at the University of Pennsylvania, Meeley went through a number of short-term and, in some cases, overlapping positions. According to the resume she posted on Linked-In, Meeley worked from January to May that year as a project coordinator for Foundations, Inc., a private organization that provides after-school and other services for students.
From May to November of that same year, she worked as a “research analyst” for the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, but had gone back to Foundations, Inc. in August as a consultant and to the Esperanza charter school as a “policy adviser.” She stayed with Esperanza until July, 2009, when she received her master’s degree from Penn.
That’s when Meeley became heavily involved with charter schools–in the national capital of school privatization, Louisiana. In August of 2009, fresh out of graduate school and just months before her cousin’s husband would be elected New Jersey governor, she took a job with the Louisiana Resource Center for Educators (LRCE). Originally established as a environmental studies library for public school teachers, the center became a hotbed for the post-Katrina charterization of public schools in Louisiana cities. Indeed, while there, Meeley says she “ran a charter school incubator” that eventually produced the Career Academy Charter School. She was the center’s “director of reform solutions.”
This is how the LRCE described her job: “Reform Solutions was started in 2008 to help develop innovative educational options and the forward thinking leaders”–an earlier version referred to “entrepreneurs”– “needed for these options to be successful. Since inception, the Charter School Incubator, a leadership and charter school development program, has successfully placed two leaders in high performing charter schools. The Incubator has also developed three unique charter school models. ”
Meeley left the LRCE in March, 2011, and obtained a position with the U.S. Department of Education, now under the control of pro-privatization secretary Arne Duncan. She would become a program officer with the department’s Charter School Program (CSP) and be responsible for doling out federal grants to state agencies–like the New Jersey Department of Education–to support the growth of charter schools.
Meanwhile, Mary Pat Christie’s husband, the governor, was busily pushing through legislation–with the help of Norcross–to create a system of privately-run “Urban Hope” schools in Camden. It has been clear where the mass charterization is going in Camden. At a recent conference, Peter Denton, the founder–with former Newark Mayor Cory Booker–of Education Excellence for Everyone, or E3, a pro-voucher and pro-charter group, predicted Camden would become a completely privatized school district.
Just like New Orleans is now.
So, after more than three years of working for Arne Duncan, Kate Meeley came to New Jersey to work in a school district that her cousin’s husband, Chris Christie, will, as a presidential candidate, cite as an example of “educational reform”–because he is privatizing public schools–and “working across the aisle with Democrats”–because he cut a deal with Norcross to do it.
Make no mistake. In his run for the White House, Christie will be boasting about taking away the public schools in Camden and turning them over to private entrepreneurs.
Still, the mystery remains why Meeley quit so suddenly. Maybe, Christie will argue he didn’t know his wife’s cousin was hired by the state-operated school district and, when he found out, ordered her fired. The way he didn’t know about the closing of the lanes at the George Washington Bridge. So another young woman–not too terribly unlike Bridget Kelley–will take the fall for the man who would be president.
Christie is planning to come to Camden High School Tuesday for a “major announcement” and it certainly would have been embarrassing if Kate Meeley showed up to say hello to Cousin Chris.
Or maybe Meeley just fell on her sword for the family.
Or maybe she will get a job in Newark where top administrators can do the outrageous without consequence.