PATERSON, NJ- With state and school district officials converging on JFK High School Thursday night to give parents an overview of progress on the construction of the new Union Avenue Middle School, it was perhaps the question of 15-year old Chloe Shepard, and the response she received from School Development Authority (SDA) CEO Charles McKenna, that best summed up the impact the new school, and the students in it, will have on the future of Paterson.

It was the second visit to Paterson in as many nights for McKenna and his colleagues as part of their efforts to update parents and other stakeholders on the progress being made on the soon to be constructed four-story structure that will replace the old Don Bosco Tech along Union Avenue.

Acting Superintendent Eileen Shafer who has previously praised the SDA for their efforts to “ensure that a new 21st century school building will be constructed,” opened up the forum by stating emphatically that the continued progress to see the project from the drawing board to completion shows that “hope is here.” 

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Shafer was followed by Deputy Superintendent Susana Perón, McKenna, and Ritchard Sherman, SDA’s  managing director of design, who took turns describing in detail how the new school, slated to open in September, 2021,  would become a hub of STEAM education, be constructed using a design-build method, and deliver education through “small learning communities” to foster better connections between teachers and students.

Once occupied the new school will, Perón said, allow students to “engage in projects that integrate research and education that will benefit the school and the community.” With a vision that includes making an impact that extends beyond Paterson, students will, the audience heard, help to “build a great society.”

Following their presentations officials took questions from the audience of nearly 50 offering responses to issues such as parking and traffic flow, security and access to indoor spaces for visitors and outdoor spaces for students, and various design elements related to how the new building will fit into the surrounding community. 

With the forum about to draw to a close it was Shepard who held the microphone, and, unfazed by the crowd of officials and parents staring at her, offered her concern that too often residents and students alike don’t do enough to preserve what they’ve been given, creating a less attractive environment for learning. 

McKenna, without hesitation, praised the student for her own commitment to learning, responding by saying that past projects have shown that new buildings help to instill pride in communities, a trend he is confident will continue thanks to “leaders like her.”
 
As the crowd exited the auditorium TAPinto Paterson spoke with Shepard, an aspiring scientist, who said that she was happy with her education, and offered praise for the “dedicated teachers” she has. Not unaware of the issues that confront many of her neighbors she would say that there “needs to be change,” rattling off places she believes improvements can be made which include improving the environment, helping the homeless, and creating jobs.

It is perhaps students like Shepard that best illustrate Superintendent Shafer’s call to embrace a “together we can” strategy and to create stronger learning environments because “our children deserve it.”