PATERSON, NJ - Faced with several major issues in the upcoming year, the Paterson Board of Education saw a change in leadership Thursday with Commissioner Kenneth Simmons unanimously appointed president at the board’s annual reorganization meeting.
The board also voted to name Manny Martinez as vice president during the two-hour meeting at John F. Kennedy High School.
Simmons and Martinez replace Oshin Castillo and Nakima Redmon, who served in the roles over the last two years.
Castillo, just 26 when she was named to the post in 2018, was the first female Latino to serve as president.
The change of leadership alters some of the political dynamics on the board since Castillo and Redmon were at times philosophically opposed to other members such as long-time Commissioner Jonathan Hodges.
Corey Teague, who regained his seat on the board in November and was sworn-in at the same meeting, had also questioned Castillo’s leadership in the past.
Also sworn-in as commissioners were Vincent Arrington and Emanuel Capers. Arrington, like Teague, previously served on the board.
Capers, who struggled to defend his seat on the board was sworn in by Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter. Former Paterson Mayor Jeffery Jones, who said Capers had a practical educational philosophy, was also among the now two-term commissioner's supporters in attendance.
Capers came under fire during the campaign for attending a seminar in Arizona paid for by a company seeking a contract with the school district in 2018. A court ultimately ruled that Capers did not violate ethics rules by accepting the trip.
Teague was sworn in by Paterson Councilwoman Dr. Lilisa Mimms while Arrington took the oath from Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly. The three commissioners were among seven candidates who ran in the Nov. 5 election. Former Commissioner Robinson Rondon was defeated in the election while Eddy Olivares chose not to seek reelection.
Simmons praised the work done by the previous leadership and said he hopes to build on their successes. While the previous board has made significant progress, the new board is faced with at least two monumental issues in the coming months.
Like other former Abbott Districts, Paterson continues to face serious budgeting issues, especially in a revised system of state aid which has seen cuts to many urban districts under Gov. Phil Murphy.
The other challenge the district continues to tackle is the ongoing transition to local control. Placed under state control in 1991, Paterson Public Schools won the support of the New Jersey Board of Education to initiate the process of withdrawal of the District from partial State intervention in May 2018.
“It’s time for Paterson to run Paterson’s schools, not Trenton,” Board of Education Commissioner Emanuel Capers told TAPinto Paterson at the time.
That 2018 action led to the adoption and implementation of a two-year plan that school officials are hopeful will lead to a recommendation by the state education commissioner to recommend complete withdrawal of state intervention with the district later this year.
While Paterson's schools continue to bear the weight of above average class sizes, as high as 32 students per classroom, aging school infrastructure, and what some critics have claimed are inadequate special education services, school officials remain optimistic for the future.
“We will regain local control this year,” Redmon said while Arrington offered hope that the number of local students graduating from college or entering a career of their choice will continue to grow.
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