Councilman Andre Sayegh has proposed to rename School 16, one of the newest elementary schools in the Paterson Public School District, in honor the country’s first African-American president Barack Obama.
Sayegh described the outgoing president as a “faithful friend” to America’s first planned industrial city. He dispatched a letter to school board president Christopher Irving urging him to consider renaming the elementary school after Obama.
“He visited the flood victims in the aftermath of hurricane Irene and the Great Falls National Park was authorized by his pen,” said Sayegh on Friday morning. “He served our country for eight years with honesty, integrity, and authenticity. He’s no stranger to Paterson. He’s been a faithful friend.”
Obama has visited the city multiple times as a senator and later as president, said Sayegh.
Irving said he can envisage more than one school named after the 44th president. He said he has yet to be in receipt of Sayegh’s letter, but commended the proposal.
“We’ll take it under recommendation,” said Irving. “I can envision several schools being named after president Obama.”
The school board was having discussions to rename a number of schools late last year. Among those schools was School 16. There is a list of proposed names for the school. However, the renaming was postponed for after the November election. Irving said the board will revisit the list after dealing with the district’s budget for the next school year.
School 16 was built by the New Jersey School Development Authority (SDA) in 2016. School officials held a ribbon cutting ceremony in September to officially open the school. It is a state-of-the-art three-story elementary school designed to educate 750 students and is fully equipped with eco-friendly water stations, solar panels, and laptops for every student.
Irving, who is African-American, said the president inspires him on a “whole ‘nother level” to be a better man. He played a role in getting Obama re-elected in 2012. “I actually voted for him as an elector,” said Irving. “For me, that was probably the most special moment that I ever had, to say, the vote I cast helped to re-elect the first African-American president.”
Obama is as an inspirational figure to young people everywhere particularly minorities in cities like Paterson, said Irving. “There are kids growing up today who only know him as their president,” he said. “I will miss him. I think many people will miss him.”
When asked if he was a little late with his renaming proposal as the president is leaving office today, Sayegh said: “It’s our way of saying thank you and farewell.” He said he hopes to invite and have the president attend the renaming ceremony.
“I think it’s interesting,” said Jonathan Hodges, the longest serving member on the Paterson Board of Education, when asked about his reaction to the proposal. “I’m not a fan of naming schools. I’m far more interested in making sure the schools work as they should. You want to name a school that’s flourishing. That would be the honor.”
It is difficult to gauge the performance of School 16 because it opened five months ago. Hodges said if the president is to visit the school for a future renaming ceremony it should be a high performing school to match his performance in the White House. “I want to make sure he come to a school where the students are on par to their grade level,” he said.
Hodges, 61, said he grew up in the civil rights era. He said it was a “powerful” moment in the nation when Americans elected the first African-American president.
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