It’s been 446 days since teachers in Paterson Public Schools set foot in their classrooms but yesterday they walked in. Students with disabilities who learn in self-contained classrooms are already in school, scheduled from Mondays-Thursdays. The remaining students, about 23,000 who are almost all low-income and of color, will continue to learn from home for the remainder of the school year.
“The buildings have more life within them, the parking lots are full, and it’s great to have everyone back,” Paterson Superintendent Eileen Shafer said yesterday, noting that 92% of the district’s 3,483 employees were present for the first day.
It’s been a long 15 months. The district spend $19.6 million in federal funds to renovate buildings and add Covid-19 precautions. Shafer says the “multiple layers of protection far exceed CDC and NJDOE guidelines…we have the safe environment we need to reopen our school buildings.” The Paterson Education Association begs to differ. PEA President John McEntee said, noting that teachers were sending letters to Shafer and the school board reiterating their concerns. “We’re letting them know we reserve the right to sue in Superior Court, should anyone fall ill or become sick,” McEntee said.
Paterson students and families have had a troubled year. NJ Education Report noted in April 2020 that the district was relying on paper packets for instruction:
Each package is intended to last for two weeks and begins with a “Digital Learning Tracker” where students manually enter what books they read and websites they access and how long they spent on each assignment…There is no new material. It is all review work. The district is contemplating jettisoning grades and giving students ‘completes’ or ‘incompletes. Superintendent Eileen Shafer concedes that teachers have been told to ‘offer little new instruction.’
Maybe it’s better now. After all the district strategic plan says it will “create a student-centered learning environment to prepare students for career, college
readiness and lifelong learning.” That’s an ambitious goal, given that three out of four third-graders can’t read at grade level and only 15 percent of high school students reach proficiency on the state reading test, despite a per pupil funding of $30,000 per year. Yet the district website isn’t encouraging. Despite a vast influx of money from the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan — Paterson will get $106,683,858–and mounds of research from esteemed institutions like TNTP encouraging districts to “accelerate, not remediate,” the summer programming is limited to credit recovery in math and English Language Arts.
When Paterson schools reopen in September, it will be 542 days since 23,000 students were in a classroom. Surely we can do better than this.