Paterson Schools Chief Earns Good Grades for State-Controlled District

John Mooney | January 8, 2015 | Education
In marked contrast with Anderson appearance, Evans earns kudos from state Board of Education

paterson school
The superintendent of the state-controlled Paterson schools came before the Board of Education yesterday, and at least compared with the harsh reception his colleague from Newark received the day before from state legislators, it was a virtual love-fest.

Superintendent Donnie Evans presented the annual report for his district, a regular event for all four state-controlled districts.

And while there were plenty of concerns and challenges raised, Evans fared well and won plaudits from several board members, as well as the one person who may matter most, Education Commissioner David Hespe.

“The test scores are mixed, but we can see a trend line of improvement, and we can see a strategic plan for addressing the challenges he is seeing in some areas, particularly in math, and I thought that was very positive,” Hespe said.

The commissioner called it “absolutely” a vote of confidence for Evans, whose new three-year contract is under negotiation. “We think he is doing a good job,” Hespe said.

The appearance came a day after Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson appeared before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on the Public Schools to answer questions about her own tenure in the state’s largest district.

The four-hour hearing ended up a one-side affair, with Democrats in particular excoriating the beleaguered superintendent about mounting tensions over her One Newark district reorganization plan and often-antagonistic relationship with the community. Nonetheless, Hespe sat with Anderson yesterday as well.

Evans’ tenure hasn’t been without its own tensions, and the local activists and board members continue to press the state to cede control of the district after more than two decades of state operation.

But Evans also enjoyed support from some community leaders yesterday, several of whom made the trip to the Trenton meeting.

“I think bringing the team with him, and specifically the community groups supporting him, was really nice opportunity for him to show he has built consensus and forged coalitions throughout the community,” Hespe said.

Evans didn’t downplay the challenges, especially about staffing concerns and a tightening budget. And while showing slight improvement in some grades, test scores in others are taking significant dips.

Still, just 38 percent of Paterson’s elementary and middle-school students passed the state’s language arts tests last year; less than 60 percent passed the mathematics exam.

But high schools present a stronger picture, at least by the numbers, since graduation rates have continued to rise, nearing 75 percent last year after standing below 50 percent in 2009.

“Even though we have problems, we are addressing those problems,” Evans said after the meeting. “And there are many, many more good things going on in Paterson that you may never hear about.

“We are not great or excellent yet, but we are certainly not fair or poor,” he said. “We are good, we’re in a good place.”