PATERSON, NJ- When administrators, the Board of Education, principals, teachers and others come together in joint efforts to improve Paterson’s schools great things can happen. This was the message at an event Monday to mark the culmination of a three year program made possible by a $1.5 million federal grant through the US Department of Education’s Turnaround School Leaders Program.

One of only 12 grants awarded across the nation in 2015, the Paterson Public Schools utilized the funds to create and implement an innovative and immersive education leadership program to increase student achievement by enhancing the leadership skills of those running schools across the city. 

Believing that the two-phase program would prove to become a “national model,” Acting Superintendent Dr. Eileen Shafer praised all who have already participated in the program that she called “a testament of great minds coming together to work collaboratively.” 

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The program, Shafer said, would further the Paterson’s Schools’ “one common goal” of providing a top class education to all 28,000 students, and reaffirms her belief that when it comes to making extraordinary things happen in education, “together, we can.”

For his part, Dr. Chris Irving, President of the Paterson Board of Education, suggested that this program came at the right time as “Paterson’s brighter days are upon us.” The collaborative nature of the development of the training showed once again, Irving believes, that within Paterson exists “the will and the willingness to provide the best education possible.”

Phase 1 of the program consisted of launching an “Aspiring Leadership” professional development program whereby several professors from Seton Hall University’s school leadership program worked directly with Paterson principals, assistance principals and teacher leaders as mentors. Among the areas participants received mentorship in were time management and communication, sharing best practices, principles of learning and balanced literacy.

Assistant Superintendent Sandra Diodonet spoke at the event and offered her praise for her mentors, thanking them for “pushing her,” and instilling in her a belief that one day she too would be prepared to run a school district. 

Through the program Diodonet said that she acquired eight “nuggets” that she will continue to utilize to help her develop her leadership style. Among these, she said, are realizing that she must spend time on “what’s important, not urgent,” and must not “allow the teachers to do anything (she) wouldn’t do.” 

Her greatest takeaways, according to Diodonet, are the increased “faith, love, hope, belief, skills and knowledge,” that will inspire her to keep pushing towards success in her own job.

Seeking to introduce a new style of leadership training, one that would be “immersive and individualized” while “replicating the look and feel,” of real time problem solving situations that school leaders often find themselves in, Dr.Dale Mann, Managing Director, Interactive, Inc., led efforts to create and launch phase two of the program.

Through online simulations that adapt as participants make decisions on issues such as supervision, assessment and discipline, aspiring leaders, according to Mann, “don’t have to imagine the consequences of their decisions,” rather they “feel them.”  By filming the simulations locally, using local teachers to write, perform and film the scripts, they all “have the look and feel of a Paterson school,” making them even easier to relate to and benefit from.

Jorge Ventura, principal of School 29 has gone through the mentoring and the simulation and said that the program, where so many came together to make it happen, restored his belief that he “has a duty to those that have invested in him,” and showed him again that by working together the Paterson School district can “continue to uplift and give children the hope they need,” to succeed in school.