PATERSON, NJ – Rashanda Clark was driving past Frank Napier school recently when her nine-year-old son had something to say. “I can’t wait to go back to my old school,’’ said the child, Jashone Sellars.
For the past year, Jashone and other Napier students in grades kindergarten through 6 have been attending classes that the public school district leased at St. Mary’s on Union Avenue because damage from last year’s historic floods had shut down Napier school.
At St. Mary’s, according to Jashone, the classrooms were smaller and so was the playground. Plus, there were no computers.
Meanwhile, students in the seventh and eighth grades and special education programs were assigned to classes at 137 Ellison Street, another building leased by the school district. There, gym classes were held in classrooms and students had to go around the block to HARP Academy for lunch periods and to Passaic County Community College for auditorium events.
This week, city education officials will reopen Napier school. “We’re very excited,’’ said Rosalie Bespalko, the principal. “This is my home. This is my family. We’re all thrilled that we’re going to be back together again.’’
Last year, Bespalko had worked out of the Ellison Street building, while her vice principal was stationed at St. Mary’s. Several times a week, she said she would visit the younger grades. But it wasn’t the same, not for a “hands-on” principal who prefers to visit every classroom regularly. She recalled one of her younger students saying, “Miss B, I miss you.”
“That brought a tear to my eyes,’’ she said.
City education officials last September weren’t sure how long they would have to shut down Napier school. At first, they said it would be for several months. Then, they said it would reopen in February. Then, they decided not resume classes there until the start of this academic year.
As repairs progressed, the work crews found more and problems that needed to be addressed, Bespalko said. Finally, when the building was almost ready to open in the early spring, Bespalko said she decided it would be less disruptive to finish the school year in the leased space than to make the move back while classes were going on.
Paterson Public Schools was not able to provide information last week on how much the repairs cost.
Bespalko said her students will like what they see when they return this week. “It looks better,’’ she said. “It’s so bright and cheerful.’’ For example, dreary floor tiles that were damaged have been replaced by red and blue ones. Also, the area used for Full Service Community School programs – which was once an old industrial arts class - has been “transformed,” Bespalko said.
Some students who attended School 28 last year are being assigned to Napier school, part of reconfiguration that will allow the district to launch a Gifted and Talented program at School 28. Pat McNeil has one son who previously attended School 4 and another who was at 28. She said some parents whose children are being transferred from 28 are upset, particularly because they like the School 28 principal, Marc Medley. “I told them they’ll like Miss B, too,’’ said McNeil. “She’s an easy person to work with. She gives you her home phone number and everything. She’s good with the parents.’’