Education

School Board Gives Evans Vote of Support

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Superintendent Donnie Evans
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PATERSON, NJ - The school superintendent's job in this city has become a revolving door. The state-controlled school district has had five different superintendents in seven years, according to the Board of Education. The constant turnover, education officials say, has contributed to the district's struggles.

Now Paterson education advocates and local school officials fear the Christie administration will replace the current superintendent, Donnie W. Evans, who was appointed in 2009 by former Gov. Jon. Corzine.

So the Board of Education on Wednesday voted unanimously to show its support for Evans and City Council members said they would take a similar vote of confidence.
 
 
The Paterson Education Fund (PEF), an advocacy group, already has sent Gov. Christie a letter calling Evans' reappointment and the group's president, Irene Sterling, spoke during Wednesday's board meeting urging Patersonians to telephone the governor and state education commissioner to ask for Evans' reappointment.
 
"We are encouraged by the progress that is being made under his administration to transform the Paterson Public Schools,'' reads the education fund's letter. "We were privileged to have served on the search team that called Dr. Evans to Paterson. We want the transformation to continue."

 
Evans, who makes about $200,000, is nearing the end of the second year on his three-year contract. Under that the deal, the state is supposed to decide before the start of the third year whether Evans would get a renewal beyond that.
 
State officials did not return calls seeking comment on Evans' status.
 
In the past year, Evans has advocated many of the reforms on Christie's education agenda. He has implemented a district-wide school choice program for high school students. He has helped create a virtual charter school. He endorsed initiatives to evaluate teachers and principals based on the performance of their students. He has supported a longer school day and a longer school year.
 
Under Evans, the district launched its community schools program and has outlined strategies for improving student performance.
 
But Evans' tenure in Paterson also has had problems. Layoffs imposed last spring left Paterson without enough staff to provide state-mandated service for children in special education. His cuts in elementary school art and music teachers decimated those programs this year, blind-siding parents. And standardized test score continued to decline.
 
Also, questions about the district's solvency prompted the state to impose a spending and hiring freeze last September that has resulted in rejections of at least $1 million worth of spending requests.
 
Still, Evans has won over the confidence of many Paterson education advocates. "His breadth of experience with innovative educational practices bodes well for progress in  Paterson Schools,'' said the PEF's letter to Christie.
 
Civic leaders were impressed when Evans bought a home in Paterson after his state appointment two years ago - a move that helped him shed some of his outside status in a city that's very distrustful of Trenton.
 
"We can't afford to go in a different direction,'' said Councilman Andre Sayagh, a former schools commissioner, praising Evans. "We're heading in the right direction now.''
 
"I do believe that you are for our children,'' said Councilman Anthony Davis, addressing Evans during Wednesday's board meeting. "I do believe that you want them to succeed.''
 
Paterson education officials had hoped that the decision on Evans' contract would be in their hands.
 
Last year, a state assessment found the district was well on its way toward reclaiming local control of the school district. Board of Education President Theodore Best had hoped that the process would have been completed by this spring so that the Board of Education, and not the governor, would have been able to decide on Evans' reappointment.
 
"I'm very disappointed at the state's progress,'' said Best.
 
When asked whether he thought the slow pace on the change from state to local control stemmed from Trenton's wanting to decide on the next contract for a superintendent, Best said, "That's possible. I hope not. It would be a slap in the face of the people of Paterson.''
 
Some city education advocates see Christie's announcement that he plans to replace the Corzine-appointed superintendent in the state-controled Newark school district as a sign that Evans' days are numbered.
 
But Best said he wasn't sure what the governor would do."Nobody knows with this administration,'' Best said. "It's up in the air.''
 

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