Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

School District Faces Overhaul

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

School District Faces Overhaul

Article excerpt

PATERSON -- District officials want to close eight chronically troubled schools and reopen six of them in new configurations in an effort to spur achievement.

The complex proposal would affect thousands of children in some of New Jersey's worst-performing schools and possibly redeploy hundreds of teachers, Superintendent Donnie Evans said Friday. It includes leasing part of a traditional public school -- School 28 -- to a charter. Such "co-location" has angered parents in other cities who argue that in shared buildings, charter students get better access to gyms and other resources.

Those steps come as Evans faces extreme pressure from families and the Christie administration to boost performance among the district's 29,000 students. In several schools slated for closure, only one of five fourth-graders reads at grade level. Under Evans' contract, up for renewal in August, he could lose his job if students don't meet academic targets.

The overhaul comes as the Obama administration makes multibillion- dollar efforts to turn around failing schools nationwide. In February President Obama gave New Jersey a waiver from parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law on condition that Trenton act boldly. While winning more flexibility for successful schools, acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf promised to focus intensely on fixing schools with the bleakest test scores, dismal graduation rates and wide achievement gaps.

Evans' blueprint is the latest in a string of reform attempts announced since the state took over the district 21 years ago. Critics criticized the new plan as a rushed, top-down mandate that would cause further instability in a system buffeted in recent years by layoffs, budget woes and flooding from Hurricane Irene.

"I have no concerns about tearing the district down from top to bottom and starting over," said school board member Jonathan Hodges. "The concern is the decisions are being ... rammed down our throats."

Forum scheduled

Paterson officials said they got feedback from representatives of the state, school board and community. The proposal will be aired in a public forum at John F. Kennedy High School at 6:30 p.m. Monday and discussed by the school board on Wednesday.

Evans said he wants to replace at least half the faculty in Schools 13, 15 and 28, as well as some administrators.

Those schools rank in the bottom 5 percent statewide. Evans hopes to make those changes by the fall, but some aspects may take a year or two to phase in; given tenure laws, the district would have to find new posts for teachers it moves.

"Some of them are good teachers, and it won't be a problem getting them other places," he said. "It's the ones who are not good teachers that will be the problem."

The plan includes using new evaluations relying on more rigorous observations and student test scores, among other indicators, to judge teachers. …

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