Superintendent Eileen Shafer's 'Long Journey' Comes to an End

Shafer was greeted with hugs and flowers as she reentered the room after being appointed as State District Superintendent. Credits: Steve Lenox
The final vote to appoint Shafer was 6-0 Credits: Steve Lenox
Paterson's mayor, city council president, school board president and vice president, superintendent and deputy superintendent are all women. Credits: Steve Lenox

Paterson, NJ- A process that started on July 29, 2017, included a 13-member search committee, a national search firm, and six public forums as well as an additional candidates forum, led the Paterson Schools right back to Superintendent Eileen Shafer.

With a no dissenting votes, Shafer was officially able to shed the “acting” portion of her title, completing what she called a “long journey” to assume the role of State District Superintendent on a permanent basis. With Commissioner Dr. Jonathan Hodges voting present, and Commissioners Vince Arrington and Kenneth Simmons abstaining on the basis of having family members employed by the district, the final vote was 6-0.

The vote came after a brief executive session and was followed by the triumphant entrance of Shafer back into the crowded room where she was met by a standing ovation and hugs from well wishers. A clearly emotional Shafer welcomed the announcement and offered gratitude to all in the room which she noted included clergy, city council members, educators and parents.

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Repeating her pronouncement originally made at the Superintendent Candidates Community Forum held Tuesday that she was not going to “give away” Paterson’s 28,000 students and 4,000 teachers to a “stranger,” Shafer offered her belief that “one day at a time we can transform into a high performing district.”

“The kids got what they deserve, the city got what it deserves,” declared an exuberant Commissioner Manny Martinez, Jr.. Calling her a “strong, powerful, intelligent, good hearted woman,” Martinez said that he was “proud” to be a part of making history by casting his vote for Shafer, putting women in leadership across the board through the Paterson Board of Education as well as the city government.

Also telling TAPinto Paterson that “the kids won,” Commissioner Emanuel Capers praised Shafer, who began her career with Paterson Schools 26 years ago, for “working her way to the top.” Pointing to what he believes are strides that Shafer has already spearheaded in areas such as technology and special education, Capers said that she has helped to “change the culture” and that as the district moves towards local control there was no doubt that she was “the right fit.”

Calling the vote “the best news ever” Marguerite Sullivan, a 21-year veteran of Paterson Schools, said that Shafer “is action.”

“Ms. Shafer makes things move for our children and parents,” Sullivan declared. Praising her leadership style and knack for handling “big problems,” Sullivan said that she appreciated the superintendent’s ability to “break barriers” while also “holding staff accountable” for resolving difficult issues.

While the seven month process to select a permanent replacement for former Superintendent Donnie Evans is over, the work to move Paterson’s schools forward, it was said several times, is not.

“There is so much work to do,” stated Commission Oisin Castillo. “Please join us,” she urged those in the audience as well as the thousands watching the proceedings live on Facebook.

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