Paterson makes its case for return to local control

The final two years before a school system returns to local control can be fraught. Paterson schools — under state control since 1991 — are midway through a two-year exit plan of sorts, needing to show improvement in several key areas, like governance and budgeting, in order for the state to let loose the reigns. Part of that process is a show and tell of sorts in front of the state board of education. It’s up to Paterson Superintendent Eileen Shafer to make the case.

“We no longer have social promotion, but what we are looking at is for multiple measures for a child to be promoted. And a lot of this came from meeting with parents,” Shafer told the board.

When you’re trying to convince the board that you’re on track, it takes some educating — of board members.

“What are the requirements that you need to meet as a student to graduate high school in Paterson,” asked board member Andrew Mulvihill, unaware that, in addition to 125 class credits, students still had to pass the PARCC tests or the state-approved alternatives.

While confusion like this can add to the frustration of a district trying to cross the T’s and dot the I’s of state mandates, Shafer — who’s been in the Paterson school system for almost 30 years — says the Murphy administration has been much more cooperative than its predecessor.

“Absolutely.” she said. “We were in state control for 27 years, and it gives us an opportunity to show the state what happened 27 years ago isn’t happening now.”

But not everyone is on board with the positive narrative being presented by the superintendent. Some parents say the kids who need the most help aren’t getting it and that some of the conditions that led to the state takeover in the first place still exist.

“They are showing good improvement, but everything is not everywhere in the schools,” said parent Elizabeth Elias. “It’s not what I would like as a parent for my children. I know things take time, but their quality for all the children is not the same all around the district. The teachers, the schools.”

“All of the things that I brought to Shafer directly, like the rodent situation, the fact that they had people working with our children who did not have background checks, all of those things I saw first hand, she did something about,” admitted schools volunteer Kimbilee Jonas. “But then there are other things that — I don’t know if her hands are tied because of the other people that she’s working with — but she couldn’t get them done in a more expeditious way.”

The board didn’t hear from critics Wednesday and generally seemed pleased with Paterson’s progress, suggesting that — come September 2020 — Paterson could be the latest school system to regain local control.