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Star Ledger Editorial: George Norcross continues helping Camden

George Norcross, the political boss of South Jersey, has taken his share of knocks over the bare-knuckled game of politics he plays. If there were still smoke-filled rooms in Trenton, he would be at one head of the table opposite Gov. Chris Christie almost every time.

But there’s more to the Norcross story. He is making a genuine difference in the lives of impoverished people in Camden, the most desperate corner of this state. And his efforts seem to be growing every year.

He’s a mover behind the push for a regional police force in Camden County, the only real hope to stop the bloodshed that has made Camden the nation’s most violent city. He helped expand Cooper University Hospital, where he now serves as chairman, and establish an associated medical school. And lately, he’s been putting his shoulder into improving the city schools, the most important job of all over the long term.

The latest comes from the Cooper Foundation, the charitable arm of the hospital, which is establishing a new, five-school campus run by a proven group of the best educators in the state. You will forgive Camden parents for not caring that it will be built by this private nonprofit and run by another private organization, TEAM, which runs a chain of highly successful charters in Newark.

The local school board finally came to its senses last month and approved the plan, made possible by the Urban Hope Act, which allows nonprofit groups to build and operate public schools.

Norcross’ project, called a “renaissance” school, is also the latest in an ongoing expansion by the TEAM schools, which serves more than 2,000 students in Newark.

While similar to charter schools, Camden’s version will be operated with the consent of the district. It will serve the Lanning Square neighborhood, long promised a new school by the state. Norcross’ nonprofit will take the community’s design and finally construct the building — and harness the proven methods of the TEAM schools to teach their kids.

The campus will grow one grade level at a time, serving every kid in the neighborhood — including those learning English, or with special needs.

For Camden’s parents, this is the best deal Norcross ever made — back-room or not.

This article was originally published in the December 17, 2012 issue of the Star Ledger.