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School Change Planning Committee To Open Its Meetings To the Public

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PATERSON, NJ – Education officials have decided to allow the public to attend the ongoing meetings of a special committee formed to come up with a plan to improve the city’s chronically failing school system.

The meetings have become the subject of an emerging controversy in Paterson.  Some local officials have said that the special committee will produce a plan that will call for the closing of city schools and for arrangements allowing private companies and charter school groups to lease public school buildings in the city.

The committee, composed of local community activists as well as state and city education officials, is supposed to complete its plan by May 1. Its next meeting is scheduled for Tues., Apr. 3 at 4:30 pm at Paterson Public Schools’ offices at 90 Delaware Avenue.

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State-appointed schools superintendent Donnie Evans emphasized at the March 21 Board of Education meeting that no decisions have been made yet on what to include in the plan. Several board members commented during the meeting about the committee’s work.

“All options are on the table,’’ said Paterson Schools Commissioner Christopher Irving. “I refuse to sit here and allow our students to continue to be’’ in failing schools.

Irving warned that critics of possible changes in the city’s school system were playing “semantics” over the possible changes. “We have to decide whether we want comfortable bad schools or if we want new schools that give our children new opportunities,’’ Irving said.

Paterson School Commissioner Jonathan Hodges has vowed to fight any proposals that would convert current city schools into charter schools or schools run by private companies.

“It’s not simply about discomfort, it’s about the loss of your public education system,’’ Hodges said. “If you don’t stand up now, down the road you won’t have anything to stand up for.’’

Paterson Schools Commissioner Chrystal Cleaves seemed to side with Irving “They’re not always popular,’’ Cleaves said of potential changes in the city’s education system, “just know that they are necessary.’’

The previous meetings of the special committee have not been open to the general public. District officials said residents would be able to attend future sessions, but would not be given an opportunity to provide input at the meetings until a preliminary plan is drafted.

“Whatever we change, don’t change without information from the community,’’ said Board of Education President Willa Mae Taylor.

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