"We didn't know this was going to happen," Hodges said. "We don't get any kind of public meeting about what is going on in our community."
In partnership with the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), the Department has strengthened its new school approval process and aligned it with national best practices. This includes a multi-stage review that consists of an in-person interview, a thorough review of both the school plan and capacity to implement that plan, the demonstrated need for the school in the proposed community, and the solicitation of input from the public. (emphasis mine)I attended last night's Board of Education meeting in Paterson, and it sure sounded like none of the other board members knew about the application either. But state-appointed Superintendent Dr. Donnie W. Evans must have known, as applications must be submitted to the Office of the Superintendent. But he didn't say much on the topic last night. Actually, he didn't say a word.
But the approvals came up more than once at the meeting. It was addressed by Dr. Hodges early on.
This charter problem, and I say problem - I used to support charters, and I still support charters - I do not support how the Governor is using charters against urban districts.Then, during public comment, Irene Sterling, President of the Paterson Education Fund spoke to the approvals, and she sounded taken aback by them as well.
On February 15th, at quarter to six in the evening, the Department of Education announced two new charters to be approved for opening in Paterson.Because that is when you release information you want buried. At 5:45 on a Friday before a holiday weekend. So typical of the NJDOE. But I digress, back to Ms. Sterling who had a lot of great things to say:
Now, we have spent the last umpty ump years in this district trying to get away from "sage on a stage," trying to get away from teachers only talking to students, but rather engaging them. And so the notion that we are going to bring what is supposedly a "high-performing" charter in here, which is just going to put our kids back in seats, make them quiet, and give them only things to memorize, is a major concern for us as we think about the work that we have been doing along with you over these years.Ms. Sterling founded the Paterson Education Fund 30 years ago, and is an integral part of the Paterson education community. She would have been a natural person for Ascend founder Steven Wilson or the NJDOE to reach out to if they genuinely wanted community input about this application.
While Dr. Hodges and Ms. Sterling were great, I was hoping for more dialogue. More passion to do something about the DOE forcing these approvals on the district without their consent and without their knowledge. It was a long meeting, and nothing.
But in the last five minutes Dr. Hodges gave it one last try, and something finally happened.
There has to be a balanced discussion, and unfortunately, we're being left out of that conversation. The suburbs are finding out about these applications, and either we're not pursuing them on our own, or we're not getting the information, and we're not able to ask the pertinent questions about who's running them. (emphasis mine)Then board member Errol Kerr chimed in:
One of the companies that will be given a charter in Paterson, is a former member of (Commissioner) Cerf's firm, right? That to me smells like nepotism. That's part of the ethics of the district. You can't work on this board and have someone involved in administration in this district, so I think the general principal should rule for everyone.And then it seemed like board president Christopher Irving had heard enough and was ready to do something about it:
I agree with you, the process by which this is happening is very sketchy, but I can tell you personally that the concept of charter schools, it does not initially worry me, but it's what Dr. Hodges said before, how do we implement it, I think it's a greater concern that I have. (emphasis mine)Mr. Kerr:
Listen, I am against charter schools for the simple reason that it weakens public schools further. It is dismantling public schools. Sooner or later we go back to the days when getting an education for Black and Latino kids is going to be such a problem.
I believe we should approach it from that; you have your guys, you're giving them a charter, there is no transparency. We need to know the connection. We need not argue about being against charters. Not everybody on this board is against charters, not everybody, so we are not going to attack it from that standpoint. (emphasis mine)Dr. Hodges:
What troubles me more than anything else is that there was no clear transparency in this process. They didn't say, Paterson school district, these things are being considered for your town. But they tell the press that there is! The press is being told, this is transparent and they know about it, but we didn't know about it! (emphasis mine)Board President Irving then committed to further action on the matter of the charter approvals, and I for one will be perched on the edge of my seat waiting to see how this unfolds. It is high time for an urban district to stand up to the NJDOE's lack of transparency and blatant disregard for local control.
While we wait with bated breath to see how the Paterson Board of Education will act, I officially challenge the Christie administration, Commissioner Cerf and his Department of Education to demonstrate exactly how input was solicited. I challenge them to release any and all documentation of how stakeholders in Paterson were made a part of this decision. Because from what I heard at that meeting, NOTHING about this administration's charter agenda in Paterson was shared with the good people of that community.
And that's just wrong.