Kevin Michael Henry – who is on the ballot with five other candidates for one of the three contested board of education seats — has not attended a single candidate forum to ask voters for their support. Why?
“I’m too old for grandstanding,” he said. Yet it was grandstanding that made the 61-year-old ephemerally famous in New Jersey.
Henry known to friends and everyone else as Mike Henry or Big Mike attended the town hall meeting in St. Luke’s’ Church where governor Chris Christie visited on March 12, 2013. The town hall turned into a discussion about the city’s public schools which continue to fail its students almost 25 years after it was taken over by the state to address pervasive district ineptitude.
“Fix the public schools!” yelled out Henry. He made headlines for engaging in a yelling match with the governor.
Henry appears to want to fix the schools himself. “I’m a concerned parent,” said Henry, who has three children, none school age. He has two sons and a daughter. His youngest is 19-year-old. “We all know our schools are a problem for us and they need to be fixed,” he said.
How will he fix a school system that for decades has been doing an abysmal job preparing its students for success? His prescription calls for an incentive program for teachers to live in the city.
Henry wants to provide teachers with a stipend if they relocate to live within city boundaries. When asked wouldn’t that cost a great sum of money for a financially struggling school district, he responded: “It’s a lot of money, but it’s for the people we treasure more than anything in the world. There’s nothing more important in the world than our children.”
City students face many unique problems that is not always understood by out-of-town teachers was Henry’s argument. By having them live in the city, teachers will be more attuned to those problems and be better able to address them.
The problem Henry was pointing to includes gang involvement and violence. He bemoaned the cuts in athletics programs at Eastside High School. He said wrestling and tennis have been cut at the Park Avenue high school.
“Our problem is gang violence, so we got to give kids an alternative. They need more programs, not less,” he said. He wants to expand programs, particularly recreational and after school, for city young people so as to keep them out of the clutches of gangs and other urban menaces that lead to death or incarceration.
Where will the funding come from to support additional programs? “Whatever the government want to do they find money,” he responded.
Henry, who is a deacon at the Everlasting Life Ministry, has been dealing with the consequences of a broken school system. He and his brother run a re-entry program called “Another Chance” out of the community space at the Passaic County Workforce Development Center on Memorial Drive assisting ex-offenders in finding employment so that they steer clear of a life of crime, he said.
“I do believe the school system failed them,” he said.
For six years, Henry has been running the program. Every person we connect with a job does not re-offend, he said.
The deacon is also able to relate to the former convicts. “I’m an ex-offender. I been to jail,” he said.
Henry has served three separate sentences for credit card fraud. The three times he was incarcerated for what he describes as “street mentality.” He said he served no more than 18-month on the three credit card fraud infractions.
He said the infractions will not impede him from taking office if he is elected to the board of education. “No it doesn’t prevent me from taking office,” said Henry.
Henry said he graduated from John F. Kennedy High School. Recently, he obtained a two-year degree from the Bergen Community College. His biggest issue is state control of local schools, a feeling that was on display at that church town hall two years ago.
“The state has no business running our schools,” he said. “Before we get started with anything we have to take control of our school again. After 20 years of state control the situation is worse. When they took it was a C-minus, now it’s a B-minus, and he [the state-appointed superintendent] lowered the bar, so it’s really an F is what I’m trying to say.”
Obtaining local control will require great effort and work as well as outreach to parents, said Henry. “We have to get parents more concerned. We have to get the parents out. The parents have to take control of their children’s destiny,” he said.
A lifelong city resident, born in Chester, Pennsylvania, but was brought to the Silk City by his parents when he was just six months old, Henry said it’s high time the state return control back to the locally elected school board.
Henry’s promise to city voters, who will select three school board members on Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015, is that he will be visible and accessible which he has not been as a candidate by skipping both the city council and the Paterson Education Fund forums earlier in the month.