Profile: Paterson School Advocate in Quieter Story of State-Controlled Schools

John Mooney | May 7, 2014 | Education, Profiles
Rosie Grant’s Paterson Education Fund has seen state-led schools through uneasy times, now plays role of 'critical friend'

Rosie Grant
Job: Executive director of the Paterson Education Fund, a nonprofit that advocates for city’s schoolchildren and runs programs on behalf of parents and other stakeholders — 2013 to present.

Why she matters: In her first full year on the job, Grant leads a group that has become not just a steady community voice in the Silk City’s schools, but increasingly in policy debates about state control of schools.

Statewide lesson: In its 30-year history, Paterson Education Fund has proven a strong model of local advocacy, while working amicably with the state’s appointed superintendent, Donnie Evans — at least for now.

Not Newark: The relationship is a sharp contrast to Newark’s state-run schools, where superintendent Cami Anderson has been at constant odds with community groups and seen her reforms jeopardized.

View of state leadership: “Dr. Evans been very supportive of community engagement . . . Right now, we are enjoying a good relationship with the district, and I would say, we’re in a role as a critical friend. We want to work with the district, we want to see it get better, and where it doesn’t, we will tell you.”

Still no friend of state control: The fund supported the local advisory board’s legal challenge of the state control two years ago, a complaint ultimately lost. But Grant said the quest is not over, and she’s hopeful that the district is on a path to at least some local control in the coming year under acting commissioner David Hespe.

Her driving force: Now living in Piscataway, she said the entire tenor of the schools differs in how they work with families and parents. “Why can’t we have that in Paterson? Why is there such a disparity? That has been a driving force all along. These kids deserve better.”

Long-term hope: “We need to educate the whole child. We need to raise up citizens who can be thinkers and doers.”

Big shoes to fill: Grant is following in the footsteps of the group’s founding director and long-time public face, Irene Sterling, who retired last year. “For many years, it was just the two of us,” Grant said, who now leads a staff of five. “I could not have been trained or groomed.”

Background: Born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, Grant moved first to Worcester, MA., as a teenager and then to Paterson, where she saw a community with schools deep in trouble and dysfunction. After the state’s takeover in 1991, and with two young children, she joined the Paterson Education Fund in 1993 as a program director.

Quote: “I knew I would have to get involved in my children’s education. And while I fought for my own kids, I ended up fighting for other kids, too.”

PEF’s own evolution: Grant said the fund has evolved from one supporting innovative programs and teachers in the district, to now also increasingly serving in an advocacy outside the district. “When we started it was doing good, then it was making a difference, and now it’s making change. We hope to continue to make change.”

What you may not know about her: Grant is a warden in the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Paterson.

Hometown: She now lives in Piscataway with her husband, Omar Grant, who works in the corporate office of Bed, Bath and Beyond. She has two children in their early 20s.