Board of Ed Approves School Reform Plan; Changes at Schools 6 and 21 Delayed
Thursday, May 17, 2012 • 9:14am
PATERSON, NJ – By the narrowest of margins, the Board of Education Wednesday night approved Paterson Public School’s sweeping reform plan.
Just four of the board’s nine commissioners voted in favor of the plan – President Christopher Irving, vice president Kenneth Simmons, Crystal Cleaves, and Manuel Martinez. Three voted against it – Jonathan Hodges, Errol Kerr and Corey Teague. Alex Mendez abstained and Wendy Guzman was absent.
Under the plan, the district will reconfigure several schools, create magnet programs, start a special program for children who don’t know English, discontinue social promotion, implement a new system for evaluating teachers, and expand preschool programs.
The plan has undergone more than two months of review and two of its most controversial aspects were set aside after they came under the criticism. The district scrapped a proposal to lease space at School 28 to a charter school and it abandoned plans to combine School 28 students with youngsters from Napier school.
After hearing protests from concerned parents, the district also decided to delay its plan to merge student populations from Schools 6 and 21, a proposal that would have put youths from grades kindergarten to four at the School 21 building and grades five through eight at the School 6 building. That proposal is slated to undergo additional review before it gets implemented in the 2013-14 academic year, officials said.
The plan now gets sent to Trenton for a review and possible approval by the New Jersey Department of Education. The district could have sent the plan to Trenton without the approval of the board, which only has advisory status under the system of state control. But state-appointed superintendent Donnie Evans has said he wanted the plan to have the board’s support.
Not only does the plan offer a blueprint for change in the Paterson school system, but education advocates say the state’s view of the proposal likely will be a major factor in whether Trenton renews Evans’ contract, which expires in August.
Supporters of the plan said the sweeping initiative is needed to transform chronic problems that have made New Jersey’s third most populous school district one of its worst-performing ones as well. Critics say they embrace many aspects of the plan, such as ending the social promotion practice of allowing children to move up in grades even if they have not learned the required material. But opponents also say they did not like the plans to close and reconfigure some schools.
"I did vote against it as there is no evidence that reconfiguring schools improves them, that closing schools and opening them as charters will be an improvement and that we will get one millimeter closer to local control by accepting this plan,'' said Hodges. "The majority of the reforms are NOT tied to these measures and the board could have voted just on those reform measures and chose not to.''
"After hearing the concerns of the children, parents & community, I simply could not go along with the district's plan to ultimately close and or merge schools in the district,'' said Teague.
For the upcoming year, three elementary schools – New Roberto Clemente, School 11 and School 15 - will undergo such changes, down from eight schools that were targeted in the original plan. School 11 will be used for a program for “newcomers” who don’t speak English, School 15 will become a middle school for children in those grades from the three buildings and School 11 will handle the children in the lower grades.
“This is a positive step for our school district and I am thankful to have the Board’s vote of support,” said Evans, in a statement. “This was a collaborative effort and I truly appreciate the feedback we received from the Board and our community stakeholders. Together, we have created a plan that will accelerate student achievement and prepare our children for a brighter future.”
Irving had been the plan’s staunchest supporter among the commissioners. “The Board is excited about the new reform strategies and the opportunities for our children in the coming months and years,’’ Irving said in a statement. “We understood and seriously considered the Commissioner’s recommendations. We appreciate his and the Superintendent’s willingness to work with the Board to collaborate and formulate this plan. Ultimately, this brings us one step closer to our goal of returning the district to local control.”