John F. Kennedy High School has eight principals and vice principals while Eastside High School has six principals and vice principals. Both schools are broken into academies, each with its own principal and vice principal.
School board members on Tuesday evening tasked superintendent Eileen Shafer’s administration to come up with plans to restructure both schools. Board members want sweeping changes at both schools to reduce administration expenses and re-invest freed funds into the classrooms.
“A lot of programs have been put together, but they are not effective,” said school board vice president Nakima Redmon. She highlighted the problem by sharing an anecdote from Eastside High School.
Redmon visited Eastside High School and found it had an automotive space, but no teacher to instruct the students.
“I was shocked we didn’t have a teacher there,” said Redmon.
Shafer explained the previous automotive instructor retired and the school opted to get rid of the position due to budget cuts.
“I wasn’t crazy about the academies to begin with,” said longtime school board member Jonathan Hodges. “All of your academy themes have to be corrected.”
Many of the academies have grandiose themes that do not reflect the education delivered to students. Some cited Garret Morgan Academy, an engineering school, that, at one time, lacked engineering teachers.
Some suggested eliminating academies that have duplicate themes.
Redmon suggested returning to the old comprehensive school model with fewer principals and vice principals.
Shafer appeared to push back at the suggestion. She said most principals at the academies are tenured. If positions are eliminated, the ones who are non-tenured would go first, leading to the tenured employees having bumping rights.
Redmon wanted “flowcharts” showing leadership structure at the various schools.
“We should get that started as soon as possible,” said Redmon. “It looks like we’re going to be top heavy if we’re going to the traditional high school.”
School board president Oshin Castillo agreed with Redmon’s proposition and suggested converting the academies into pathways, similar to what exists at the Passaic County Technical Institute. She said she wanted each pathway to have an expert with experience in their respective fields.
Castillo and Redmon want both high schools restructured simultaneously; however, Hodges suggested doing one at a time.
“I don’t want it to fail,” said Hodges. He said it will be difficult to recruit staff for both schools, particularly in those areas that are in high demand.
Shafer proposed a three-year plan to redesign the high schools. School board members wanted a shorter time frame. She agreed to have leadership structure, high school models, and performance data for each of the academies in January next year.
School board member Manny Martinez and Eddy Olivares wanted performance data before making a decision on restructuring the high schools.
The smaller academies helped to boost high school graduation rates, said Rosie Grant, executive director for the Paterson Education Fund. She suggested the board look at sustainable community schools as it moves to redesign and restructure its high schools.
Grant said sustainable community schools address the “whole child.”