The school board criticized and opposed a district proposal to change the theme of the Garrett Morgan Academy from engineering to service, focused on community service, on Wednesday night.
Under the proposal, the focus at the school would have shifted to teaching Paterson history, sociology, political science, and human geography. Students would be required to complete 25 hours of community service every year.
“It will be a unique offering,” said William Graulich, supervisor of career and technical education at the Paterson Public Schools. He said the district has two other schools – the School of Architecture and Construction Trades (ACT) at John F. Kennedy High School and the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Academy at Kennedy – that focus on engineering.
The proposal was set for implementation in September. Some school board member criticized the district for presenting the plan a month before school opens.
“This conversation should have been had in March,” said school board member Emanuel Capers. “This is forcing us to make a decision.” He thought the courses planned for the new themed school would fit well at the School of Government and Public Administration (GOPA) at Eastside High School.
“Thirty days before school starts we want to shock these kids’ world,” added school board member Joel Ramirez. “I just don’t like this. It makes us look bad.”
“We have a tendency of pushing our kids from one side to the other. It hasn’t worked out,” said school board president Oshin Castillo.
School board members said civic engagement and community participation should be taught in all schools.
“Not as an entire academy,” said Castillo. “This needs to be put away for now.”
Longtime school board member Jonathan Hodges, who has over the years called on the district to increase offerings in the hard sciences to challenge young people, was visibly upset at the proposed theme change at Garrett Morgan Academy.
“I’m insulted. Our kids will be taken from engineering,” he said.
“To sociology,” finished a member of the audience.
Hodges pointed out the U.S. issues special visas to lure people from elsewhere in the world to fill its shortage of science and technology talent. It doesn’t do so for those who study sociology.
“I can’t wrap my head around going from engineering to social service,” remarked school board member Kenneth Simmons. Neither could the audience that laughed at the proposal presented by superintendent Eileen Shafer’s administration.
The new service themed school was expected to be run in partnership with the New Jersey Community Development Corporation (NJCDC) and the Paterson Alliance.
“It’s pretty clear the board wants it to stay as a STEM academy,” said Bob Guarasci, president of the New Jersey Community Development Corporation. His group runs several successful community service programs.
Hodges was also insulted that partners like NJCDC were part of the planning process for the proposed school, but not the school board.
Guarasci said his plan was to “make the Garrett Morgan Academy great again.” The school has fallen behind. 80-percent of students failed in the English portion of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) in 2016-17 school year, according to state data.
Math score stats were not available.
“We’re lowering the bar for our students,” said school board member Nakima Redmon. “I did community service when I was in school, but I didn’t do it as a whole curriculum. I did it on my spare time and received credit for it.”
The district is blamed for the failure. The school in 2016-17 lost its Perkins eligibility that provided federal funding. The service school plan was proposed because the school did not have any “Project Lead The Way” certified teachers to provide engineering instructions in the 2018-19 school year.
There were three engineering certified teachers at the school. All have left.
“What we need to do right now is to recruit for engineers,” Shafer told the school board after the proposed plan was shot down.
Some school board members also requested an evaluation of all the district’s high school academies.
“Garrett Morgan school could be successful if we push it towards success,” said Redmon.