Montclair Board of Education spent most of the afternoon of July 10 working on goals and objectives for the 2017-18 school year – which it plans to expand on in greater detail in a board of governance meeting in a seven-hour meeting at the Charles Bullock Elementary School beginning at 8:30 A.M. on Saturday, July 22 – and went into executive session before opening the evening meeting to the public. Despite the six hours the board members spent going over the coming school year, they managed to go through several topics in the evening meeting. It was well-attended despite the summer season.
Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak opened the meeting with good news, declaring that the Bullock School was no longer a Focus school, meaning that the school had improved its performance under the watchful of the New Jersey Department of Education and the state was no longer giving it a demerit for poor performance. To the delight of the residents, Superintendent Pinsak said Bullock’s performance had improved to the level that had been set when the school was placed on the Focus list. She also announced the hiring of Emilio DeAndre as the district’s new business administrator, meaning that Steve DiGeromino was overseeing his last meeting on this night. Several board members thanked DiGeronimo for his service, and he said he was gratified and found his temporary service. Board member Joseph Kavesh, who praised DiGeronimo for his leadership in the contentious crafting of the recent school budget, declared that interim officers in the district should be honored, not disparaged, for serving, adding that they serve with distinction.
“Inconsistencies” in Montclair Schools Sex Education
Dr. Debbie Evans, who will soon step down as the district’s interim director of elementary education, gave a presentation for the board about health and physical education with an emphasis on sexual education. She said that sex education had not been clearly defined for the district, and she added that there had been several inconsistencies in the teaching of the subject. She also noted the parallel inconsistency of sex-ed class sizes, with some schools having up to 70 students per class, and she recommended a maximum of 30 students as an ideal number.
Dr. Evans informed the board that she has a sexuality curriculum draft worked out with the teaching staff from different schools, which she is asking the board to approve. She sid it can go forward on a trial basis and be tweaked and revised by spring. Bianca Brown, a physical-education teacher in the district, told the board that it was important to teach students about sexuality to give them correct information about the subject rather than have them learn it outside the schools. Dr. Evans had wanted to present her findings on a PowerPoint slide show, but there were technical difficulties; she said it would be on the district’s Web site.
More Than 50 Applicants Interested in Montclair Schools Superintendent Position
Also, the board heard from Bill Adams and Judy Ferguson of Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, the firm helping the district find a permanent superintendent, on the renewal of the search. Dr. Ferguson, who presented herself as a lifelong educator with experience as a business administrator and has helped in 32 searches for superintendents in other districts, and Dr. Adams reported that there are as many as 54 applicants for the position, with 36 of those applications completed,. Applciants have been informed that Montclair school district is seeking to have someone start in the position in time for the 2018-19 school year and advised them to remove their applications if they will not or cannot wait that long to start the job. Drs. Adams and Ferguson hope to screen applicants by early November and present finalists for the post in December, with a hire son after the winter holidays. Board member Anne Mernin feared that the proximity of the schedule to the holidays was too tight, but the two search consultants said the search calendar could be adjusted.
Board President Laura Hertzog had announced at the board’s June 19 meeting that the district was looking to have a permanent superintendent start in time for the 2018-19 school year, and she sought to dispel the commonly held belief that the search has been going on for three years (Dr. Penny MacCormack actually resigned as schools superintendent in April 2015, two years and three months earlier as of July 2017). Hertzog said the search had been begun in the fall of 2016, but it had not worked out; the current search is a new effort.
In public comment, the main topic was the tracking of less academically accomplished students at Renaissance School. Several residents said that tracking and segregating such students violated the spirit of equal education and contradicted the mission of Renaissance School to provide a more enriching middle-school experience. Michelle Fine recalled the success in getting the school up and running, with its sense of community and its more challenging, motivating course work. She feared that tracking students was like pulling at a thread that could cause the whole Renaissance experiment to disintegrate. Zachary Herring and his mother, Kate Greenfield, testified to Renaissance’s success in getting Herring to succeed at academics and go to Harvard. Herring also said that, given that many students that would be “tracked” are black and Hispanic owing to the achievement gap, institutionalizing re-segregation and threatening racial and economic diversity in the schools.
Montclair High School student Noah Gale, bringing up the amphitheater graduation ceremony at the High School, said he hoped the ceremony for his class, 2018, will be held elsewhere to accommodate more students, but resident Latifah Jannah said the amphitheater graduation ceremonies allowed people of different ethnic and economic backgrounds to celebrate together and preserve tradition; she suggested that there might be a way to accommodate more people at future ceremonies. Meanwhile, Abraham Dickerson reiterated his call for healthier food in the school lunch program.