Candidates Debate Future of Paterson’s Schools

Credits: Steve Lenox

PATERSON, NJ- Five of the nine candidates running for seats on the Paterson Board of Education appeared before voters in a debate on Thursday. The event, hosted by the Paterson NAACP, was held at St. Luke’s Baptist Church. 

Given just three minutes to make an opening statement, participating candidates shared their experience and their thoughts on the future of Paterson’s schools. The candidates then took questions from panelists, followed by questions directly from the audience.

While questions ranged from parental involvement to classroom size, much of the evening’s conversation focused on the issue of the Paterson Board of Education gaining back local control. Under legislation enacted in 1987, the State of New Jersey took over operations of Paterson’s schools in 1991.

Sign Up for E-News

Marcella Simadiris, posed a question to the candidates Thursday night, and afterward wrote a status on her Facebook page with her thoughts about the answers she received. Sharing her hope that the successful candidates will prove their dedication to the board and gain the trust of Paterson’s parents she wrote, “I want them to demonstrate that they are willing to do whatever work they need to do in acquiring the skills needed to achieve resolve for our students.” 

Simadiris, a Paterson teacher, expressed that she has high expectations for the candidates.

Admitting that he’s “no expert,” first-time candidate Sebastian Mejia said that by allowing decisions to be made in the district, the Board of Education would better reflect the community at large. The education system, he added, can help overcome “political turmoil in the city and district.” Although costly, Mejia advocated for the importance of offering students the opportunity to visit both Ivy League and trade schools giving them chances to “pursue more connections to a pathway of success.”

Kenneth Simmons, seeking election to the position he held previously, suggested that if they can fix the school system they can fix the city. Saying that while he was in office the “school board was at its best,” Simmons stressed that gaining back local control meant that the ability to blame Trenton would be gone and that “the community has to be engaged if we plan to move forward.” 
Simmons also hopes to continue improving the graduation rate which has already increased from fifty percent in 2010 to 78 percent in 2017. 

Asked what he would do to get parents more involved in their children’s academics Simmons referred to his own children saying that his “sons and daughters are watching everything I do.” Because parents are directly affected by various board decisions that relate to issues such as taxes “the community must be involved,” he said. 

“We need to take the leadership in order to progress,” stated Chrystal Cleaves, the board’s current vice president. Parents have to “stay engaged” and continue the “positive thinking” in order to make sure that every Paterson student gets the education they deserve, she added. 

Agreeing that teachers should be teaching children how to achieve personal success, not how to take a test, Cleaves offered her view that “we need to teach our students reality so they can become learners of real life.”

Lamenting that important decisions about the course of Paterson’s schools are being made by people that have no connection to the community, Dr. Jonathan Hodges, the longest current serving member on the board proclaimed, “we really need to have local control to develop our school system.” 

Speaking after the debate, Hodges expressed his wish that they had more time to discuss important issues as “during the two hours, we barely touched the subject of funding, which will dictate what happens in the future."

First-time candidate Andres Scott spoke about the school’s Gifted and Talented Program saying that while “this is the finest program, not all of the bright students are a part of it.” Scott hopes that by gaining local control, the school board can do more outreach and fundraising to get students to realize their potential. “Let them sing, dance, and express themselves. They are truly gifted and talented, and not just regarding their test scores” exclaimed Scott. 

“We need to look and move forward in order to attain better results and encourage one another,” Scott concluded.

A second debate will be held at John F. Kennedy High School on Monday. That debate will begin at 6:00 p.m.

Voters will go to the polls on November 7 and have the ability to vote for up to three candidates for a three-year term on the Board of Education.


Editor's Note: In a previous version of this story Marcella Simadiris was mischaracterized as a Paterson resident and voter. 

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Upcoming Events


Tue, July 24, 11:00 AM

Paterson Courthouse Plaza, Paterson

Tuesdays in the Plaza


Thu, July 26, 6:00 PM

Vreeland Ave. Park, Paterson

Occupy Vreeland Ave. Park

Arts & Entertainment Community Calendar


Tue, July 31, 11:00 AM

Paterson Courthouse Plaza, Paterson

Tuesdays in the Plaza

Readers Says Let Developer Bring Paterson Back

July 13, 2018

Dear Editor: 

It is no secret that Paterson is in dire need of revitalizing, restructuring, rebuilding, and, quite frankly, rebranding. As a city, we have struggled to pay our municipal debt, to reduce crime substantially, to create sustainable employment opportunities for our youth and to provide assistance for our city’s most vulnerable residents. 

Today, we face an uphill ...

Murphy Administration Takes Action to Help Smokers Quit

July 19, 2018

Eliminates Prior Approval for Medicaid Tobacco Cessation Medications; Counseling Options to be Expanded

July 16, 2018

(TRENTON) – The Murphy administration on Monday announced new steps to help New Jersey Medicaid recipients quit using tobacco by making it easier to receive tobacco cessation medications and counseling.

“Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death ...

Pascrell, Renacci, Senators Celebrate House Approval of Congressional Gold Medal to Baseball Pioneer Larry Doby

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representatives Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09) and Jim Renacci (R-OH-16) hailed the passage in the House of Representatives of H.R. 1861, the Larry Doby Congressional Gold Medal Act. The legislation awards the Congressional Gold Medal to the late baseball star, Larry Doby, who broke the American League’s color barrier in 1947.

“A proud ...

Newark May Get a Boost From Investors with New Federal Program

July 22, 2018

NEWARK, NJ - Newark could soon see a boost in long-term investments due to federal legislation that created certain tax exemptions for private investors.

In April, the federal treasury department approved low-income Opportunity Zones in 75 municipalities throughout New Jersey that were nominated by Gov. Phil Murphy. Thirteen of those zones are designated in Newark.

MORE: View a ...

Newark Lures Amazon With $1 Billion Payroll Tax Incentive

NEWARK, NJ - Amazon will get a payroll tax break at a cost of $1 billion to the city should the company open its second headquarters here.

It’s one of two ordinances that were approved by the Newark City Council council to sweeten the deal for the corporate giant and stand out among other locations vying for Amazon’s so-called HQ2.

“The City Council has brought Newark a ...

I'm Sorry Mr. Jackson... I Am For Real

July 8, 2018

Hello again, Paterson. 

So much has changed since the last time I’ve written… as I’d hoped, Andre Sayegh is our new mayor and it seems an exciting new dawn is upon us. I think when any change comes, especially one as major as this, there is an opportunity for reflection as well as for hope. This election taught me quite a bit, seeing some of the best and worst sides of ...

RU Ready for Rutgers Football? Tickets on Sale

July 18, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - There's a lot of promotions planned this fall as part of the Rutgers football season.

Single game tickets go on sale Thursday, July 12, with seven home games. There's matchups against Big Ten East opponents Michigan and Penn State, and a first-time cross divisional meeting with Northwestern.

If football is not your thing, there's plenty ...

Westfield to Hold 3-Day ‘AddamsFest’ Celebrating Charles Addams and His Creations This Fall

WESTFIELD, NJ — It’s creepy. It’s kooky. And it’s taking over Westfield from Oct 26 to 28. AddamsFest, a town-wide celebration honoring Westfield native Charles Addams and his most famous creations, The Addams Family, will be a destination event this fall with family-friendly activities, lectures, exhibits and film screenings, the town announced Thursday.

Watch the ...

Belmar Parasail: Soar Into Summer with a High-Flying Adventure Along the Beachfront

BELMAR, NJ — As Belmar finally basks in picture-perfect weather, it may be time to check off a summer activity on your bucket list. And for many, parasailing is one of those “must-do” experiences.

At Belmar Parasail, the season is in full swing, offering boat trips from the Belmar Manutti Marina to the beachfront where passengers are lifted 500 feet above the Atlantic Ocean ...