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Officials Continue Work on Ambitious Plan to Reform Paterson's Education System

Under proposed restructuring plan, School 11 would host "Newcomers" program for children who don't speak English.


PATERSON, NJ – About 7,000 Paterson students are in danger of being left back at the end of this school year, a consequence of city education officials’ determination to stop promoting pupils who have failed to meeting the academic standards for their grade level.

The discontinuation of Paterson’s long-standing practice of “social promotion” comes as part of a sweeping and aggressive proposal to overhaul the city’s troubled education system.

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Under a plan outlined at a meeting on Tuesday, education officials would restructure eight of Paterson’s worst performing schools, create three new magnet programs for middle school students, expand pre-kindergarten offerings in underserved parts of the city, launch a special program for 300 youths who don’t speak English, reduce the staff at the district’s central offices and remove ineffective teachers from classrooms.

Some school board members cautioned that the district may be making too much change too fast. “It’s important that we succeed,’’ said Paterson Schools Commissioner Jonathan Hodges, calling the proposal “complicated” and “hurried.’’

City Schools Commissioner Christopher Irving said it would be feasible to make the changes over the course of a couple of years. Implementing the reforms all at once, Irving said, would undermine the district’s ability to do them all well.

In the next two weeks, the Board of Education will hold a special workshop meeting to discuss the plan and the school district will hold a community forum on the proposal.  Those dates have not yet been scheduled.

On May 2, the Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the proposal, which will be submitted to the New Jersey Department of Education by May 4 for state approval.

The plan was compiled by state-appointed superintendent Donnie Evans and consultant Theodore Best, a former city school board member and a current Passaic County freeholder. Evans’ contract expires in August and the reform plan could play a crucial role in the Christie administration’s decision on whether to reappoint him to his $210,000 position.

Meanwhile, on Mon., April 23, at 6:30 pm at Eastside High, the district will hold a community forum on the end of “social promotion,” a practice that officials said has put Paterson children at an educational disadvantage by allowing them to move up in grades even though they didn’t learn the requisite material. “That’s why we have kids in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades who are reading at a second-grade level,’’ Evans said.

Instead, students who have not met proficiency levels required for their grades will have to go to summer school, and then would only advance to the next grade if they make sufficient progress during summer school, officials said.

“It’s a shock to the community,’’ said Board of Education President Willa Mae Taylor.

“You will have an uproar from parents who do not understand this,’’ said Irving.

Evans said that about 7,000 city students currently are at risk of demotion. But about 2,000 of them were on the border and could reach the requirements by the end of the school year, the superintendent said. The district has set aside enough money to pay teachers to cover 5,000 summer school students this year, he said.

Hodges warned that the district may not have enough space in its existing school buildings if substantial numbers of students are left back in the fall.

Here’s a brief overview of Evans’ 10-point plan:

Close and reconfigure some of the lowest performing schools, including Schools 6, 11,15, 21, 28, New Roberto Clemente, Napier and Kilpatrick.

Create “model middle schools” at Schools 6 and 15.

Establish magnet schools for middle school students in the performing arts, international studies and gifted and talented programs.

Enter partnerships with charter schools, which would be required to adhere to a “non-selective admission process.’’

Expand Pre-k program and emphasize literacy in the early grades.

Open a “Newcomers” program at School 11 for 300 children who do not speak English.

Impose additional “academic interventions” at the city’s most troubled schools.

End social promotion.

Reduce and reorganize Central Office staff.

Improve principals’ autonomy and allow them to refuse the transfers of teachers they don’t want in their schools. This would include a revised system for evaluating teachers’ performance as well as the removal of ineffective teachers from the classroom.


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