After multiple protests from Yes Academy students, the district’s state-appointed superintendent Donnie Evans on Wednesday evening said the alternative education school will join Harp Academy at the renovated Colt Street building.
“They will be included in the Colt Street building,” said Evans. He answered a question that was raised by current Yes Academy students, teachers, parents, and alumni who formed a line that stretched halfway through the John F. Kennedy High School auditorium.
Chad Montague, an English teacher at Yes Academy, had the superintendent repeat his pledge that the school will be housed at the Colt Street building. He shared with the board the bonds that teachers and students form at the school in order to ensure student success.
The superintendent’s decision to allow Yes Academy at the Colt Street building marks a change from his previous position. After a large number of Harp Academy students protested the inclusion of the alternative school characterizing the students as overaged and with criminal records, Evans halted the relocation of Yes Academy to the building.
A district official did not have the ages of Yes Academy student at Wednesday’s deliberation session.
“You seem to be talking from both sides of your mouth,” remarked Gregory Ray, a Harp Academy parent. He said assistant superintendent Maria Santa promised parents and teachers Yes Academy will not be housed in the same building with Harp Academy.
“These students changed my mind,” said Evans. Yes Academy students staged a walkout, marched almost two miles to the district office to protest the conditions at their school on October 5th, 2015.
Yes Academy students and teachers, who had their own building in downtown Paterson, were moved to the Boris Kroll building on State Street, in order to make room for an all-boys elementary school at their former Smith Street building.
“What were three schools was crammed into one,” said Jean Damour, a science teacher at Yes Academy. He said the students and teachers were let down with a building that’s near an active construction site with poor air quality.
Damour also mentioned lack of supplies. He said at the start of school the district provided teachers with boxes of chalk when the building is filled with whiteboards.
Students described the building as “chaotic” with three schools being housed inside. The science teacher said at times two subjects are simultaneously taught in the same classroom.
Myzair Suber, 18, a Yes student, said the school lacks gyms and adequate science facilities. “We’re constantly reminded we need to reach benchmarks while our teachers struggle without basic needs like their own classrooms and storage space,” he said.
Evans’ initial silent exclusion of Yes Academy after Harp students made a large showing at a board meeting sparked enmity between the two sets of students. “It has turned students against students,” said Aaron Miller, 16, a student at Yes Academy.
Ray said there have been negative exchanges between students from the two schools on social media sites. The exchanges were confirmed by school officials.
“You are teaching children how to discriminate against each other,” said Shirnet Fraypalmer, a mother, whose “lazy” son will graduate from Yes Academy on time at age 18.
Fraypalmer’s son lost interest in education while he was attending John F. Kennedy High School; however, moved to Yes Academy, he flourished, said the mother.
Evans said the district will organize forums to reconcile the two groups of students who have been at odds over who gets a building that has yet to be fully renovated. The Colt Street building won’t be ready for students until January 2016.