PATERSON, NJ- Nearly 30,000 students of Paterson’s public school are set to return to the classroom on Thursday, and, according to Superintendent Eileen Shafer, will be afforded more opportunities for learning than in the past 27 years.
Citing improvements in standardized test scores, decreases in chronic absenteeism, and increased graduation rates, Shafer made the case that local schools are moving in the right direction, and with several student focused initiatives in place for the new school year, the committed team of educators working in classrooms and offices across Paterson will “make the 2018-2019 school year the best ever.”
Among the initiatives Shafer introduced during her lengthy presentation are new mathematics textbooks for high school students; upgraded sciences labs; six new Advanced Placement courses that allow high school students to earn college credits in subjects such as economics, psychology, and spanish; and the reintroduction of art and music classes to every elementary school in the city.
Following on the early success of the #ShowUP Attendance Matters campaign that helped reduce chronic absenteeism in nearly half of the city’s schools, this coming year will see the introduction of a district-wide literacy campaign that will include mystery readers in classrooms, opportunities for older elementary students to work alongside younger ones to write their own stories, and prizes for the most reading outside of the classroom. The goal of the initiative, Shafer said, is simple: to get students reading at their grade level.
While it’s “not going to happen overnight,” Shafer warned, their efforts will be successful “one way or another,” paving the way for the students to be more prepared for, and successful in, their high school years.
“We don’t have a choice,” she suggested.
While the recent successes, Shafer pointed out, were achieved during a time when the district had to contend with hostile leadership in Trenton which led to the underfunding of $280 million to the local education budget, a reduction of 526 teaching staff, and the elimination of several important programs for students, the goals and objectives she laid out will be accomplished at a time when everyone, from local and state government, teachers, and other key stakeholders are “working together.”
And that, Shafer said to applause, “is the only way it works.”
Just months into his Administration, Shafer told those gathered, the district has already seen in increase in state aide, receiving an additional $20 million in funding which she said helped create 44 new jobs, all but one of them in the schools.
“I was hoping for more,” Shafer admitted. “I’m trying to be patient.”
Shafer also expressed gratitude for the partnership that has already developed with Mayor Andre Sayegh, who she said “wants to work with the school district,” a departure, she indicated, from past mayoral administrations that have sought to keep city hall business separate from that of the schools.
Sayegh attended the Wednesday event, once again delivering his own vision of the future of the city which boils down to “putting Paterson back on the map.” Running through his now familiar litany of initiatives which includes an expansive economic development plan with the Great Falls as the centerpiece, a multi-purpose arena in the city’s downtown, and a hotel to truly make Paterson a destination, the energetic leader left the stage to speak to the audience from the floor, saying that real efforts start in the classrooms.
“Thank you for accepting the challenge of bringing out the best in our students,” Sayegh told the teachers saying it is their work that will ultimately create the investment and employment opportunities that Paterson has been missing in recent decades.
It wasn’t just Shafer and Sayegh that offered enthusiasm for the coming school year, and, indeed, with hundreds packed into the auditorium it was hard to find anyone that wasn’t nodding along approvingly as the Superintendent made her case for continued success.
“We may not agree on every issue,” John McEntee, President of the Paterson Education Association (PEA), the union that represents the district’s 3,000 school employees, said, “but there is progress being made,” he declared pointing to the contract settlement that went into effect this academic year, and efforts to protect and improve the healthcare coverage of the city’s teachers.
“I am enthusiastic for the students and employees,” McEntee told TAPinto Paterson before taking the stage. “I am enthusiastic to be back at work with the greatest teaching staff in New Jersey.”
Another teacher, who asked not to be identified, said that Shafer’s presentation and words were “very inspiring.”
“Her passion, vision for the district, and her commitment towards the students of Paterson are genuine,” he continued before adding that he was “especially happy to hear that local control is returning to the district and that additional resources are being returned to the classroom.”
Indeed the issue of the complete transition to local control after 27 years of full or partial management of the school district from Trenton loomed large in Shafer’s remarks with her saying that she and her team are fully committed to completing all of the necessary steps in the prescribed time frame.
While progress towards meeting the standards set forth for local governance in areas such as governance, budget and financial planning, and strategic planning will continue to be monitored by state appointed Highly Skilled Professionals (HSPs), Shafer said that she has every intention of ensuring that “the district meets all expectations of the plan” and that ultimately the New Jersey State Commissioner of Education “recommends the complete withdrawal of state intervention in 2020.”
“That,” Shafer resolved, “is our only option.”
With the presentation completed teachers and other staff, including Tanya D. Jordan, a counselor at the School of Business, Technology, Marketing & Finance, seemed to understand the task at hand as students head back to classes. “It’s all about our children,” Jordan said.
“We care about the children, our children,” she continued. The community, she concluded, “can’t be successful unless they are successful.”