Motivating parents, teachers is key

June 19, 2011

Paterson schools Superintendent Donnie Evans says he aims to transform School 10 by tackling problems on two fronts: at home and school.

Getting more parents engaged is a top priority, he says, and he will dispatch staff to visit their homes if need be. Some parents are so disconnected from their children's educations, School 10 officials say, that by the third quarter's marking period, only about 300 parents came to pick up report cards and confer with teachers for roughly 600 kids.

"Parent involvement is a major problem for us in the district," Evans said. "I'm not questioning how much they care about their child. Every parent loves their child, but extending that to education and ensuring their child is doing the best they can ... becomes the challenge."

Evans said many low-income parents juggle multiple jobs, lack diplomas and don't fully appreciate the value of education. Too often schools have not welcomed them in, he says, but he plans to court them aggressively to be part of the turnaround. His team has met with ministers to spur parent participation. "We've got to be very creative in how we engage parents," he says.

Evans submitted a proposal for an annual $2 million federal grant for three years and expects to hear this summer if School 10 will get the money (he made similar proposals for School 4 and School 6). Among other steps, the grant would pay for children to get 300 hours of additional instruction, including some Saturday classes at a local university for upper grades. Faculty from the university would also visit School 10 to give on-the-job coaching to teachers and administrators. Two reading specialists would be hired to help children with literacy.

In the most controversial step, at least half the staff will be replaced before school reopens in the fall. Evans says that will happen whether or not School 10 gets the grant. He said the district is obliged to find jobs for tenured staff elsewhere.

"I have found teachers who are underperforming in one setting, under a particular leader, excel in other settings with a different school culture and different leadership," he said. "We can't assume that a teacher in School 10 who may be underperforming at this point in time will not excel in another setting."

Evans said he would seek to revoke tenure from the least effective faculty.

Peter Tirri, head of the Paterson teachers union, said the turnaround plan won't work because all the staff upheaval will just add confusion. "What our kids need, what our parents need, is more stability in assignments, in classrooms and in communication," he said. "Parents are uncomfortable coming into school. You don't get more comfortable by meeting different people all the time."