Mary Curtin Creaser, a Glenfield School Action Team (SAT) Parent Tri-Chair, along with fellow Tri-Chair Abraham Dickerson, opened up today’s first Parent-Moderated Meeting with Montclair Superintendent Dr. Penny MacCormack regarding Principal Miller’s handling of a BB gun being brought on school property by a student. Creaser welcomed the crowded room of parents, Board members, and Mayor Jackson by explaining that the meeting was not a meeting being held by the Board or Superintendent, but rather organized by the School Action Team. “It’s truly a parent meeting,” she emphasized.
She laid down some ground rules for the meeting asking for reasonable and respectful discourse. The meeting had three components: an opening statement by the School Action Team, Dr. MacCormack’s statement, and a moderated Q&A. Creaser reminded those in attendance that there are legal privacy guidelines that would remain in place and explained, “We need to recognize and understand that.”
Dr. MacCormack took to the podium and announced that she would read a statement that she had been working on since Friday night. She started by saying she felt Mr. Miller “was a good person—a principal with great potential.” She went to recognize that the loss of the principal came upon abruptly,and at a very difficult time in the school year. Dr. MacCormack proceeded to go through, in great detail, the chain of events and plans that have been made going forward. Barista Kids feels that it is important to include her entire statement and has done so below:
I’ve heard from many of you and understand how people can read the newspaper and blogs and come to the conclusion that this was an unnecessary harsh outcome for the misinterpretation of a policy with respect to a BB gun. Were the situation as simple as that, I would agree. Unfortunately, as events transpired over several days period, the situation became more complex. I’ve prepared these comments that I hope will address your concern and provide some clarity around what transpired, the decision made and why. I’m going to read these comments because I think in the gravity of this situation it’s important for me to be clear and precise in my description of the events.
On the morning of Wednesday, April 24, a Glenfield student brought a BB gun onto the school bus and then onto school grounds. When the bus arrives at the school, another student on the bus who had seen the BB gun told the principal. The principal then took a number of steps: he took action that led to the confiscation of the BB gun, he attempted to call the parents of all students involved and initiated processes to address each individual involved. All of this transpired fairly quickly after the students arrived at Glenfield at the beginning of the school day. At around 9 am that morning the principal called my office. I was at a meeting at the high school. He told my assistant that the BB gun had been confiscated and he assured my assistant the the appropriate and required protocols and actions had been taken. He gave a sense of under control. He did not give me a list of what he meant and I did not review a checklist of what that should have included. At the time it did not seem necessary considering the ongoing training administrators and teachers regularly receive regarding security issues and policies. One of such sessions was actually held at Glenfield on January 7th of this year. Also, since previous communication throughout the year between the principal and my office of various and significant natures had been accurately conveyed, I had no reason to doubt the report provided immediately after the event.
I followed up with Mr. Miller about 1 pm that afternoon with a telephone call and we discussed student related issues about the incident. And based on that discussion, I asked Linda Mithaug, the Director of Pupil Services and also the person designated in our district to oversee harassment, intimidation and bullying matters to assist him with the process necessary to address the students involved in the incident. Thursday morning, April 25 I was informed by MEA president Gayl Shepard in a voice-mail message to my office that members of the Glenfield staff were upset that the principal had not communicated the previous day’s event to the full staff. I took this concern seriously, and I talked to the principal to help him communicate the events to his staff, which he did that afternoon. Later that afternoon, April 25, I learned from Ms. Shepard that the police had not been notified and student issues not fully addressed. I immediately spoke to the principal again and instructed him to contact the police immediately and take the appropriate actions with respect to the students involved in the incident. Additionally I asked Linda Mithaug to remain in the building supporting the principal. I followed up with the principal next on Friday morning, April 26. He informed me the police were on their way to the building I asked him again to meet with the staff to inform them of the situation and to create a timeline documenting the events and his decisions since Wednesday morning, including the actions he took with respect to each of the students involved. At this point in time, our office was working with Mr. Miller to make sure we could make amends to the public. So we could apologize for things that didn’t happen that should have happened.
Beginning early Friday evening and continuing into that evening, the principle shared additional pertinent and critical facts. The prior omission of this information created a much more complex situation, one that I realized would require more challenging and difficult decisions on my part. Therefore on Sunday, April 28, I asked an attorney, retained by and who directly reports to the Board of Education, to conduct an independent investigation. And interview all relevant parties so that we would have a full and complete understanding of the initial incident and the events that followed. The Board’s lawyer interviewed Mr. Miller and staff members over two days and presented a report for review on Wednesday, May 1. The report made it clear that the steps taken by the principal when he was first notified that the BB gun was brought into the school and after the BB gun was secured in his office, were not in compliance with established rules and state regulations. It also became clear that communications to my office were not fully complete as the incident unfolded over time. Most troubling were the omissions. It was my responsibility and it is my responsibility to appropriately weigh all of these factors together and determine how to best move our district forward. I can tell you that I did so focus solely on the safety of students and the staff in our schools. Yet I also did so with a heavy heart, knowing and respecting the principal involved. I am hopeful these comments help you to better understand the complexity of this situation. I recognize many of you would like more detail about exactly what transpired, so that you might make your own judgment as to whether this outcome was justified. However laws governing the confidentiality of personnel matters, as well as my respect for Mr. Miller’s privacy rights and his choice to resign, make it impossible for me to share those details. We will all learn from these most recent events and we will use what we have learned to inform our continued focus on the safety of students and staff on emergency communication between my office an the schools and emergency communications between the district and the community. Our district has always treated the security and safety of our students as the number one priority. We have a long time partnership with Stonegate Management, a firm that is recognized statewide for their high level of expertise in the area of student safety. In addition to the services they have offered the district in the past, including the development of our emergency management plan and our school training in January of 2013, we added, in consultation with Montclair’s Chief of Police, three items:
- A full scale security equipment review, including inspection of our school’s entrance areas, cameras, buzzers, and monitors, as well as our phone system and 911 operations. We made all of the necessary purchases and repairs to have our entry equipment and phone system in excellent working order. This is completed.
- We scheduled and implemented mandatory training of all security, custodial and front office staff by Stonegate. The training included raising safety awareness , access control, and building staff capacity to identify safety needs and threats. This too has been completed.
- We requested that Stonegate Management prepare a new proposal to include an emergency pocket card for parents with emergency numbers and a website, in case of the event of an emergency. A recommendation for increased security measures when internal and external groups are using our buildings. As well as a thorough review of the most recent security report conducted in the district.
The events of the past few weeks will result in the following Four action items:
- Emergency drills: each of our schools will practice emergency drills during difficult times during the days, including the start and ending of school , as well as lunch time. It’s important for me to recognize, several of our schools have already started that work.
- Annual School training: We will request that Stonegate identify the specific learning objectives expected for staff and administration during the annual school trainings so we can better assess the success of the trainee.
- A Principal and Assistant Principal training: We will hold a special session with all school administration leaders to review district emergency management plan, as well as the policies and procedures connected to school safety. School leaders will then inform any improvements necessary to the current district code and conduct.
- Bus Security and Safety: we will investigate the current security measures and training done for bus drivers and aides and work to improve those practices. In addition, we will investigate the pros and cons of placing live video cameras on all school buses.
The security measures we have taken already and these additional measures are important. Equally important is the leadership of Glenfield School. You may know that Assistant Principal Cenithia Bilal has been out on a medical leave since before these events occurred. I’m happy to report that she was released form the hospital on Friday and eagerly awaits for doctor approval to return to work. As of this morning, May 6, as I had previously announced, Vickie Skopak will be the Interim Principal. She is well-known and respected in our district, having spent over 20 years in varies positions, including serving as Assistant Principl of Mt. Hebron School for many years. During her tenure there she served as the lead administrator for extended periods of time during the Principal’s absence. In addition I’ve made Katherine Martinez, our current academic leader as Interim Assistant Principal, until the return of Cenithia Bilal. Finally I’ve asked two well-respected teachers with administrative certification, Cathy Condreck and Deb Palmer to be available to support these Interim leaders. They bring with them a wealth of knowledge about Glenfield students, staff and students needs. A long-term substitute has also been placed in the building allowing these teachers to support Vickie and Katherine as needed. The Interim Leaders Team will be available to meet with parents this Thursday evening and will work with the SAT to set up other opportunities.
Before sharing next steps I want to take a moment to recognized Glenfield staff, who have demonstrated their devotion to our children by simply carrying on with normal school operations, allowing our children to feel safe and secure.
Dr. MacCormack went on to talk about the Principal selection process that has begun.
Once the Q&A session began, it was clear that the majority of the parents in attendance supported Principal Miller and were angry at his resignations and the way they felt Superintendent MacCormack handled things. Some parents questioned whether the BB gun was, in fact a firearm, and not a toy. However, Dr, MacCormack said that “the policies are very clear. Any gun that shoots something out of it like a pellet, would be considered in NJ a firearm. It’s clear. There’s no discretion there.”
MacCormack emphasized that not calling the police is not the sole reason of Miller’s resignation. She said his omitting critical facts, which she couldn’t share, were and the safety of our school community.
Many parents questioned why Dr. MacCormack’s assistant didn’t notify her immediately after Miller called and why Dr. MacCormack didn’t call him immediately to question if he called the police. MacCormack said the report given by Miller and the training that he had led her to believe that he followed appropriate procedure. Many parents felt that Miller should have been guided by the Superintendent.
Parent Pam Cytron said “It should have been handled differently. My fear is, and it’s not just Glenfield, our entire district is at risk because of the failure of the leadership of the district, not of the principal, which was met with lots of applause. MacCormack countered that ultimately a principal must be able to handle these types of situations when they occur and be held accountable.
Cytron countered with “With all do respect, gun in school go together? It doesn’t matter, it should have been handled differently.”
Another parent asked if there was anything other than Miller’s resignation that could have happened—possibly a probation. Dr. MacCormack explained that probation was not an option, because Mr. Miller was not tenured. that left two options—his resignation or not-renewing his contract.
Parent Melina Macall stood up and said she heard the Superintendent talking about Miller’s mishandling of the situation, but “I haven’t heard a word of admission of any culpability whatsoever from your office.”
Dr. MacCormack did admit that she should have questioned Miller with a checklist of proper procedures and said “hindsight is 20/20.”
Another parent wanted to now how to get in touch with Miller saying she worries about him, “This man has four little girls and I’m worried about how he’s going to get a job.”
Responses From SAT and Board President
The Glenfield School Action Team gave Barista Kids the following statement after the meeting:
This afternoon’s Glenfield School Action Team meeting, and the one scheduled for tomorrow at 7:30 pm at Glenfield School, were organized so that Glenfield families and the Superintendent could communicate directly with each other. As a School Action Team, we are extremely pleased with the number of people who turned out and participated. That was terrific and a testament to Montclair’s passion for its public schools. No matter what personal opinions on the specific matter are, I feel it was a worthwhile, productive and respectful exchange of information and points of view. We not only talked substantively about the BB gun incident but hit on a range other important issues that require renewed and ongoing attention — from anti-bullying measures and policies, to emergency communications, to security in our school and on the buses. We hope Tuesday night’s meeting will be as valuable and the dialogue continues.
Board President Robin Kulwin, told Barista Kids after the meeting that she was glad the SAT and parents called for the meeting. “We care, we want to hear from them,” she added. She acknowledged that is is incredibly difficult when you take personnel, children and legal issues together, making for a limited discussion.