Monday night, the 30th of April, Patersonians from across the district gathered with State Appointed Superintendent Dr. Evans to discuss the district-wide initiatives coming up over the next year meant to improve student achievement.
It was a night filled with passion, protest, and praise, but most importantly, it was a night where concerned citizens gathered to have their voices heard so that everyone together might improve the conditions in which our students are learning.  That's a positive thing no matter what way you slice it.
Dr. Evans began the evening with a short presentation on the upcoming initiatives in order to inform the citizens of everything that the administration has been working on over the past few months to prepare for next year.  Things such as school closings, middle/elementary school realignments, teacher and administrator evaluations, gifted and talented programs, magnet schools, and a focus on English Language Learning students are just a few of the subjects focused on for the upcoming initiatives.

Now, from what I can tell, it appeared that many parents simply were not aware of the things to come.  I do know from personal experience that the information has been out there for awhile about many of the things Dr. Evans is trying to implement but I am a bad example to use for communication effectiveness because I actively and excessively seek out the information for myself.  Parents should not have to go through the efforts that I am to know what is going on in their children's schools.  It is clear that somewhere along the lines, something is being lost in translation when communicating these messages to parents district-wide because I know for a fact that the school district is putting the information out there and it is readily accessible.  We can fix this though, the communication tools are out there and we use most of them already.  This is one of the four things that seemed to be recurring themes amongst Patersonians at this community forum.

In addition to complaints about communication, three other issues kept appearing: district-wide parenting, charter schools partnering with the district or leasing district buildings, and lastly, it appears School #28 is becoming a remarkable story of success on the heels of its principal, Mr. Medley.

Let me first address the issue of communication in a positive manner.  Clearly, we have a major bureaucracy within the school district, just as we do at the city level and just like one would find in any business with many sectors.  The question then should seem to focus not on why parents have not been kept in the loop.  The question should be focused on how will we ensure that *every* parent, guardian, etc… stays in the loop and is well aware of everything taking place district-wide.
There is no easy answer but I bet if one were to take a poll district-wide, I would expect to find out that close to over 75% of parents, guardians, and high school aged students in the district, have a Facebook account.  If my thoughts on Facebook have not been clear enough before, let me make it clear right now.  Facebook is a *cost-free* tool that we as a city can use to communicate as effectively as humanly possible.  There is no reason to have people be uninformed when everyone with a smartphone has access to Facebook.
City-wide, politicians are communicating with constituents through Facebook, city officials are using Facebook to report any and all events and services being offered, local news publications are reporting their stories on Facebook to inform.  (Mrs. Nancy Grier, the Director of Neighborhood Assistance, informs citizen about everything going on just as I attempt to do, this is what we need.  See her page and try and keep informed with her updates.)
The point is, every single Patersonian has the ability to gain access to the Internet, whether it be at home, on their phone, at work, etc... Or if those are not an option, at our public libraries.  Every day.    So if we are looking for the solutions to our communication breakdowns, I’m going to go ahead and suggest that we start planning around how to reach as many Patersonians as possible through Facebook and the Internet.  Is that the only tool we have?  Absolutely not but as a young man born in the technology age, I have yet to discover a more effective community-wide communication tool.  So lets use that as a starting point while we continue to plan for ways to reach everyone.  To the School District’s credit, I have been informed that a Facebook page is in the works for the upcoming school year and will be utilized as a form of communication as is being suggested here.
Onto parenting.  This one seems easy, we all know that parenting in the district can be improved.  Plenty of parents do their jobs well and even those parents themselves I’m sure would be open to attending the parenting workshops being offered by the school district.  So lets continue our focus on parental education.  I challenge anyone out there, even the very best of parents, to honestly claim that there is nothing left to learn about parenting.  I doubt I’ll find many takers.  We can always learn more, we can always be better, so why not try and offer as much education to all of our parents as possible?  We’re headed in that direction already so lets continue to offer these services, make sure everyone is aware of what is being offered, and let us do our best to make sure everyone is participating.  When parents are making it a point to proclaim with such passion that parenting is a major problem, and Dr. Evans and the Family and Community Engagement Dept. are already working on improving that very problem, I’d say were headed in the right direction to alleviate these concerns and begin transforming parenting into a district-wide asset.
Next we have the subject of charter schools and their role in Paterson.  There is a lot of fear out there right now about charter schools taking over Paterson Public Schools and the reality is that at this moment in time, the fears seem to be too much to me.  Charters are never going to replace public schools.  As many should know about me from my website, my school essentially is a charter or alternative school in practice.  We have some public and some private funds, and we are privately run, we have our curriculum, our program requirements, a selection process, etc…  And as I have mentioned, our student population consists of students ages 16-24, that never made it through high school for one reason or another.  As of this point in the year, 12 out of 25 students have earned their high school diplomas,  two came to us with their diploma already, the remaining 10 have only a couple sections left to pass to earn their diplomas, and all will earn a PACT and other necessary construction certifications.  Many also are already being placed in jobs, trade schools, and many are prepping to begin college classes as we speak.  I'd love for us to work right alongside the district and all it represents because I can tell you for certain that it would be a positive thing for the city as we'd be able to get even more young people off the streets and back on the right path because my team and I could affect more young people on a daily basis.  We have results with our students and their community service work in addition to their academic and professional work are a testament to that.

What is my point in explaining all this?  Tough to say but I think I just want to make sure that everyone realizes a few things: that not all charter Schools are evil, not all charter schools are here to replace public schools, some are successful and some are not, but the biggest advantage that they do seem to provide is that these schools are simply another option for children and parents to explore if they so wish.  Personal politics aside, the debate about charter schools is similar to other issues being debated in public right now.  Unfortunately, both sides of the debate are so entrenched in their views that all we hear during an argument is noise with little substance and no hope of any solutions or compromises in sight.  The positive spin on that is that there is debate.  Lets start turning the debate to one of merit, case by case, and figure out how our district can work together with regular public schools and the charters that are already operating here with some success.  Lets use the opportunity to learn and implement the best practices being used in all the environments.  Maybe we should have a community forum on this very subject so that all can be as informed as possible on the issue.  That seems reasonable, no?  
Onto the last subject which ended up my favorite of the night, the turnaround at School #28.  Monday night, parent after parent, teacher after teacher, and Patersonian after Patersonian, came up to express to Dr. Evans their wish for School #28 to remain open on account of remarkable leadership from Mr. Medley and the rest of the School #28 staff.
Last year, this was a school I heard nothing but bad things about.  After listening to all the parents and teachers though last night sing the praises of everything that was happening, I am fairly convinced that school is moving in the exact right direction without ever having set foot inside.  City Council President Davis highlighted one major sign of progress when he discussed Mr. Medley’s initiative to have fathers become immersed in their children’s school activities.  Apparently the attendance at these mentoring programs has been overwhelmingly positive and that can only be a good thing for the children in that school.
In all, I gathered that we as a city should take a closer look at the one year transformation happening at School #28 and use it as a model in planning for other priority schools in the district that are struggling.  If it has transformed as much as was claimed Monday night, that would be a remarkable story that we should use to our advantage as a city going forward.  We'll see soon enough about the results from this leadership but I tend to believe in the power of great motivators and if this School #28 story is as powerful as I think it is, I am sure their outcomes will be plenty satisfactory according to high expectations.
I’m going to do my best to track down Mr. Medley as soon as possible so I can report on everything that is working there and we can begin learning from their inspirational story.
Please feel free to respond to anything in this submission as it is only one person’s educated opinion and I love nothing more than to refine and improve my views as I learn from others’ opinions.
Lets keep working together for a better Paterson and we WILL get there.
[Editor's Note: Lyle Silverman initially posted this on his Positive Possibilities in Paterson blog.]