PATERSON, NJ - The onset of the coronavirus pandemic saw many schools scrambling to cope with necessary new measures to implement learning. Simple student instruction morphed into a challenging, if not difficult, task. Virtual learning became the new norm.  

However, even during what executive director Dr. Gemar Mills called a "tsunami of change" Paterson’s College Achieve Charter School has not only managed to maintain academic standards but also to expand. On Tuesday school and city officials gathered to announce the launch of their first 9th grade class. Since 2017 College Achieve Paterson, with two downtown Paterson locations, has offered learning opportunities for students in grades kindergarten through eighth.  

This week’s outdoor celebration of the launch of a new school year took place at 190 Oliver Street and included colorful, festive balloons and was attended by numerous local residents, educators and officials. As a bonus, Mayor Andre Sayegh also presented a key to the city to Mills, a prestigious recognition of contributions to Paterson the career educator now shares with prolific Hollywood film director Steven Spielberg. 

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“A great education is the key to a great future,” Mayor Andre Sayegh told TAPinto Paterson. “Just as he is opening minds here in Paterson, Dr. Mills is opening up a world of opportunity for the children that come through these doors. I hope this ceremonial key will remain a proud symbol of that.” 

A lifelong Patersonian, Mills thanked the crowd that he said included many childhood friends and family members before reflecting on his own upbringing. “My mother valued education,” Mills told the audience.  

“My purpose in coming back to my hometown is that I desire to see this community grow to be great and see the darkness driven out,” he said, sharing his passion for the future instruction of Paterson’s children. “Whether fathers, men, women, teachers, educators, or lawyers, our goals for our students should be to see them graduate from the best colleges and universities in the nation.”

Mills concluded by saying that while K-8 education is important preparation for high school the new 9th grade class for further student’s readiness for their futures. “We seek to enhance academics, identify educational programs, and increase both high school and college graduation rates,” Mills stated.

"Achieving greatness isn't enriching yourself, it's enriching others," Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly told TAPinto Paterson when asked about the impact Mills, and College Achieve has had in Paterson. "What Dr. Mills is doing here, and has done his whole career, not only meets that ideal but far exceeds it." 

Also offering words of support for College Achieve’s academic endeavors were Kyleesha Wingfield and Kenyatta Stewart, both board members of the charter school.

“I know the work that Dr. Mills did for Shabazz High School, in Newark, when he was principal there,” Wingfield, a policy advisor for Newark Mayor Ras Baraka stated.  “He is known as the turn-around principal.  Test scores increased as did the graduation rate when he was there.  He came back to Paterson because he grew up here.  He continues to do great things here.” 

Stewart said that the school has implemented a mentorship program that not only includes confronting issues such as drug prevention but also brings in professionals from legal and educational fields to encourage and motivate students to pursue vocations and careers.

After Stewart asked if anyone in the audience had questions Mills’ elementary school aged son quickly raised his hand and offered thanks for “everything he has done for me and everything he does for everybody else.”

For more information about enrollment at College Achieve Charter School call 862-257-1423.

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