PATERSON, N.J. – Gov. Chris Christie announced Wednesday that Paterson will be the first New Jersey city to try a community-based approach to education inspired by New York education reformer Geoffrey Canada.
Canada considers a child’s home life, neighborhood and nutritional needs part of the learning environment. His nonprofit Harlem Children’s Zone engages community partners to develop a holistic, or comprehensive, approach to K-12 education that emphasizes college graduation as the students’ long-term goal.
“The Harlem Children’s Zone is a great idea,” Christie said of the holistic education program Canada founded. “Good ideas are rare. Great ideas are a miracle. What Geoff Canada is doing for the children of his community every day represents a miracle, a miracle we’d like to replicate in New Jersey for the children of Paterson. And, once we show we have success here in Paterson, to extend it to other communities throughout New Jersey.”
Christie said the state Education Department is working with Canada to develop a similar program in Paterson.
The governor said the northern New Jersey city of 146,000 was selected as the model because it already had willing political and education partners in place and a robust nonprofit partner in the New Jersey Community Development Corp., a private community development and social services agency that runs a charter school.
“We are going to realize this goal because of community leadership at NJCDC and their passion for the children of this community,” Christie said.
About 30,000 students attend Paterson schools. Half graduate from high school in four years.
“I embrace the model,” said schools superintendent Donnie Evans, who attended Wednesday’s announcement.
“Paterson looks so much better than Harlem looked when I began this project (15 years ago),” said Canada. “People who come to Harlem today don’t have a clue what that community looked like when everybody had given up and walked away. When we first said we wanted to rebuild Harlem, people laughed. They said, ‘Fat chance you’re ever going to do that.’”
Christie said NJCDC staff already had received training from Canada, who was standing nearby, and said the first vestiges of the program would get off the ground this fall.
Harlem Children’s Zone works with public and charter school students and strives to improve the quality of life for children and families. The project includes in-school, after-school and social-service programs. It also has health and community-building components. The program primarily uses existing resources and seeks community partners to provide services to children.
Rochelle Hendricks, Christie’s higher education secretary, said the partners are looking to raise funds and identify other partners for the project.
Christie is pushing sweeping education reforms in New Jersey that include abolishment of lifetime teacher tenure and establishment of merit-based pay.