Longest serving Paterson school board member reintroduces himself | Paterson Times Paterson Times

Longest serving Paterson school board member reintroduces himself

By To the Editor
Published: July 16, 2020


I am writing this letter to reintroduce myself to the Paterson community.  I am the longest serving member on the Paterson Board of Education and I am standing for re-election again. I committed myself to improving the city’s educational system years ago, when as a physician in St Joseph’s Emergency Room, I encountered Paterson’s children who presented with significant educational challenges, in addition to their medical ones. I watched children struggle with simple sentences and the ability to define what they wanted to do with their lives as adults. I saw a number of them die due to the violence on this city’s streets and their lack of a defining plan and/or direction for their future. Knowing the importance of such an educationally based foundation to escaping the strong pull of the streets and the ravages of poverty, I soon immersed myself in trying to understand what were the causes of the educational dysfunction of Paterson’s children.

After visiting schools and becoming a member of one of the School Management teams, I soon discovered that the state-run district suffered from leadership at its top. I decided to leave my profession and devote myself full time to the pursuit of educational excellence in the city of Paterson. The first challenge was proving to the state that the wrong person was in charge of the district. Running for school board, I became an ardent critic of the then state superintendent. Challenging the system in place, I was one of two board members that uncovered over $50,000,000 in missing funds, buildings not being repaired, Asbestos exposures to students and faculty, heavy political influence and a deficient curriculum. Our efforts toppled that superintendent and made the state pay more attention to the needs of our school system.

I next challenged the funding that was given to the school district and aided the Educational Law Center (ELC) in the battle to bring Abbott remedy funds to our city. I participated in numerous visits to Trenton to argue before the legislature, march in protests,  while supporting the ELC in their court battle. With that landmark battle being won, I turned my attentions to Curriculum, Instruction and School facilities. Paterson has some of the worse school facilities in the state. And despite a Supreme Court ruling that committed the state to fixing our facilities, it took multiple trips to Trenton to make that begin to happen. While we are still a long way from having full remedy, we are moving forward, albeit slowly, toward getting the facilities that we need. I am still committed to pushing forward on the fight to force the state to deliver the facilities that Paterson’s children deserve.

Despite the over 20 Abbott decision cases that were won by the ELC, decisions that committed the state to dramatically increased funding, new facilities and the return to local control, it has been a long process to fight to make the state follow the Supreme Court mandates and live up to its responsibilities to the city of Paterson.  Governor Christie illegally shortchanged the school district $280,000,000 during his tenure. We continue to face budget shortfalls that further hollow out our system and undermine efforts to improve educational outcomes of our students. We are constantly laying off teachers we spend money to train, to compensate for budget shortfalls, leading to increased classroom sizes and difficulty implementing the curricular changes that have been developed for our students.  We lose good personnel to smaller districts who pay better and offer better work conditions.  Add to that the onset of Charter schools which syphon off needed funding and our more engaged students and parents and you begin to see the predicament that the district faces as we lurch toward local control.

I warned the city that we would have the district returned during a fiscal crisis and then be blamed for the resultant educational failures that result. I moved to block new charter schools from opening and partnered with the city council to demand a moratorium of the opening of new charters in the city as we struggled to strike a balanced between decreased funding for the vast majority of Paterson’s children and funding the children of the charter school community. I demanded independent funding for charters by the state, better enabling our district to try to fulfill the Supreme Court mandate of providing a thorough and efficient education for Paterson’s children.

My biggest push has been to force the district to develop a curriculum that was challenging, rigorous and diverse enough to be competitive with any in the state.  I, as a physician, am a scientist and want to push Science, Math and Engineering skills and training, areas where the world is looking to provide future jobs and opportunities. This means equipping our students with Computing skills, including languages and certification programs.  This means strengthening our commitment to Technology improvements and training. It means improving our children’s reading proficiency prior to third grade and teaching them how to be better and more effective students long term. Hence my push of teaching Study skills, Notetaking and the distribution of Expectation guides to the entire community. Historically deficient in Special Education services, I have fought to devote better attention and effective management of this resource for our more vulnerable children. Additionally, we need to expand our vocational training programs to enable our students to take advantage of opportunities in the skilled trades, a burgeoning area of future jobs and careers. I push to fundamentally raise the level of educational expectations throughout the city. We have to strengthen our parental and community partnerships. We need to continue to improve our schools’ culture and climate. Difficult issues when faced with repeated budget shortfalls, consequent teacher layoffs and repeatedly delayed program implementation.

Most people running for the Board of Education think that the problems we face are primarily local. They don’t recognize the complex structure that is a state-operated district, one whose funding is primarily based (over 80%) on state largess. Everything from curricular mandates, facility design and construction, Special Education programs, funding and staffing, teacher union contracts and school tax levies have had a Trenton based component.  And so the modern school board member has to be a fighter not just here in the city but down in Trenton as well.  As long as the state can control our funding and issue mandates, often unfunded, the long term improvement of our system will require a firm understanding of all the complex issues facing us and people who will roll up their sleeves to fight for what Paterson’s children both need and deserve. These are not simple issues, especially while we face such a major health pandemic whose repercussions ripple throughout every aspect of our district’s operation and wellbeing.

I have the institutional memory, experience and understanding that’s needed to help the district fight the political battles yet before us and the educational ones that confound us. Known in Trenton for my advocacy for Paterson, it is important to use those developed connections to fight for the things that Paterson needs.  As we build a new system that manages the Coronavirus and the many challenges that result, I am committed to bringing the same amount of fire, passion, understanding, determination and commitment that I have devoted to this system over the years as we, via the return to local control, begin to more fully chart the educational future of Paterson’s children.

Jonathan Hodges
School board member

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