By ED RUMLEY
PATERSON, NJ – Paterson Public Schools administrators and teachers joined local officials and area residents Wednesday afternoon to publicly recognize the successful return of authority of the District. Held outside the district’s headquarters in order to observe social distancing protocol, participants braved chilling temperatures and gusty winds to recognize many who have worked and sacrificed for 30 years to see the dream of local control come to fruition.
Entitled, The Shoulders Upon Which We Stand, the event featured congratulations from current Paterson Board of Education members to many who had gone before them during the past three decades.
Through the 30-year odyssey for Paterson Public Schools, there have been seven state appointed superintendents, 14 New Jersey Commissioners of Education, and six Garden State governors.
Paul Brubaker, Public Information Officer for Paterson Public Schools, served as emcee for the event and set a tone of celebratory ambiance by encouraging everyone present to greet their neighbor.
“This is a great day and a great beginning,” Brubaker told the crowd before handing the microphone to Superintendent of Schools Eileen Shafer.
“This has been an achievement gained over a long period of time by a tremendous group of people,” Shafer declared. “From administrators to teachers, to custodians, to faculty, to food service workers, to all school district employees, I want to thank you.”
After stating, “The Paterson Board of Education has been a constant over the past years,” Shafer asked former and current members to stand and be acknowledged. The superintendent also mentioned several former educational stalwarts, including Jesse Dixon and Al Moody.
“Our school board today reflects the cultural diversity that is in our city.” Shafer continued. “Our desire is to see that every Paterson student has as many opportunities as students in other school districts.”
Shafer commended former school board president Oshin Castillo and Nakima Redmon as being instrumental in helping guide the two-year transitional period necessary for local control to be garnered. The superintendent also thanked higher ranked elected officials including Nellie Pou, Shavonda Sumter, Benjie Wimberly, Bill Pascrell, and Governor Phil Murphy for their support.
Current President of the Paterson Board of Education, Kenneth Simmons, told parents, “Your work over the years has helped us get across the goal line.”
“30 years is a lot of time for parents to wait to have a say about their children’s education,” Simmons elaborated. “Today we stand on the shoulders of so many.”
School Board member Manny Martinez concurred with his colleague.
“We are here today to celebrate our young people,” Martinez stated. “We want to ensure that they have a better tomorrow and that we will continue to support them so that they may get the best opportunities possible.”
New Jersey Senator Nellie Pou also lauded the transition.
“Those who know what’s best for our schools and the children of Paterson are those who are from Paterson,” the senator said.
Board of Education member Vincent Arrington reminded the audience of the hard work of several of his educational predecessors, including iconic administrators Joe Clark and Frank Napier Jr. Other names of those that were praised by speakers for their tireless academic and community contributions included Lilisa Mimms, Wilma Mae Taylor, Sharon Smith, Joseph Atallo, Errol Kerr, Donald Hodges, Richard Williams, Bob Guarasci, and Christoper Irving.
Other dignitaries that attended the celebration included Pamela Powell-Eastside High School Principal of Culinary Arts, Hospitality, and Tourism, David Cozart- Assistant Superintendent (Unit III) of Paterson Public Schools, and Paterson Public Library Director Corey Fleming.
Passaic County Freeholder T.J. Best noted the countless hours spent in crafting policies, budgets, and curricula and said that local control was “earned, not given” while the state kept “moving the goalposts.”
“We have a lot of challenges ahead,” Best stated. “Our children have lost a year of learning due to COVID. We need new school buildings and need to hire excellent instructors.”
One school advocate that might want to check the wear and tear on the tires of her automobile is Rosie Grant. Many times accompanied by her colleague, Linda Reed, the Executive Director for the Paterson Education Fund has logged 280 trips to Trenton for State Board of Education meetings, as well over 136 excursions for legislative hearings, committee meetings, and rallies over the years.
“Our work is not done,” Grant observed. “We must continue to advocate for adequate resources for a thorough and efficient education for our children. This is the beginning of a new chapter. Let’s work together to ensure that Paterson children have every opportunity to thrive.”
Nyha Mathis, President of the Executive Board of the Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) encouraged everyone, parents, teachers, and administrators, to work together for Paterson’s students.
Paterson Public School Board member Corey Teague said the day’s proceedings were of special significance to him.
“In 1991, when the state took control, I was in the 5th grade at School #22,” Teague recounted. “I really didn’t know what it meant at that moment. This is a great day and I’m glad that we’re moving forward.”
Shafer also said that partnerships with North Jersey higher academic institutions aided in the process of transfer of power, including: Passaic County Community College; Pillar College; William Paterson University; Fairleigh Dickinson University; Montclair State University; and Seton Hall University.
Clergy that were honored or present, included: Rev. Kenneth Clayton; Rev. Marcus Debnam; Rev. Randy Lassiter; and Rev. Michael D. McDuffie. Non-profit organizations that came alongside the district over the years included the Paterson NAACP, St. Paul’s Community Development Corporation, OASIS, and the New Jersey Community Development Corporation.
Mayor Andre Sayegh summarized the sentiments of his constituents.
“During the pandemic there has been very little to celebrate,” the mayor reflected. “However, a week ago, on January 6, 2021, we celebrated our independence by gaining control of our schools. It’s like that day was our 4th of July. We are now self-dependent. There is no more bureaucracy.”