Montclair BOE: After-School Initiatives, Healthy School Lunches, Homework Policy

The Montclair Board of Education

With the days of school kids hanging out in ice cream parlors like the old Gruning’s in Montclair or malt shops like the fictional Pop’s Choklit Shoppe frequented by Archie Andrews and his pals at Riverdale High long gone, The Side Door has been providing a place for middle-school students to go after school and have a good time every Friday. Susan Johnson of Side Door went to the Montclair Board of Education’s September 18 meeting to promote the initiative.

Side Door is a drop-in center for middle-school students located a block away from Buzz Aldrin Middle School, at the Union Congregational Church on Cooper Avenue.  Available for free, the center offers activities such as basketball, touch football, table tennis, and video games, with help for homework also offered.  The activities also include live music and there are snacks for sale.  There is no registration required, and the activities are at no cost.  Volunteers from the high school, Montclair State University, and elsewhere in town serve as mentors and chaperones.

Board member Joseph Kavesh offered his verbal support for the side door program.  He said that the time after school is an important time to engage students in positive activities and when they are most susceptible to being disengaged.  Johnson noted that most of the students involved in Side Door are boys, because girls after school like to get their nails done, go to friends’ houses, or the like, “and the boys get out of school and go, ‘I don’t know, what do you want to do?’  So they end up at Side Door.”

Side Door opens for the fall 2017 season on Fridays beginning September 22 and continues until December 15.  The hours are 2:15 PM to 5 PM.  More information is available at

Side Door’s Susan Johnson

Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak said in her regular report that the district is still working with problems wit h school buses, and the schools have helped iron out issues with the transportation.  Superintendent Pinsak added that she hopes to get all of them resolved.  She also said that the district has filled numerous teaching positions and three administrative positions and hopes to have a full report on new hires at the October 4 workshop meeting.  In her report, Superintendent Pinsak also said that a locker fell on and injured a student at Hillside School.  The lockers in the building were immediately assessed, and anchors and fasteners were replaced.  Lockers will be inspected throughout the district.

In what was a light evening for the board, public comment was also relatively light.  Montclair High School teacher and MEA vice president Tom Manos complained about the cuts in the current budget, wanting to know why breakage resulting from retirees didn’t result in more teaching positions being saved and why the central office didn’t endure as many eliminated positions as the school staffs. Resident Abraham Dickerson, meanwhile, renewed his push for healthier foods in the district’s school lunch system, noting that the new food vendor hired for the service was still serving food laden with high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, and artificial colorings.  Dickerson was disgusted that the district seemed to care more for athletic facilities than for food services.

Board President Laura Hertzog told Dickerson that a new food vendor was just the beginning, and she added that a vending machine had been taken out of the Montclair High School’s George Inness cafeteria, where the board met on this night.  Hertzog said that eh board was looking into the concerns that Dickerson had already expressed with Business Administrator Emidio D’Andrea, and she added that just because she didn’t have any substantive answers for him at this meeting didn’t mean that she and the other board members weren’t listening. Board member Anne Mernin defended Hertzog, saying that change would not happen overnight.  Neither answer seemed to satisfy Dickerson, who called the glacial change to the school lunch program in the district a lack of will power.

Also, the board approved on first reading a new homework policy framework for the district.  Superintendent Pinsak has not come up with specific regulations for the policy proposal, prompting Mernin to ask why there was a need to vote on this resolution now.  The superintendent explained that a new policy was needed for regulations that were more appropriate than the previous policy allowed, and she added that it would take a year to build up the regulation.  The board passed the homework policy on first reading, 4-2, with Mernin and Kavesh voting no.  Board member Eve Robinson was absent.

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