Montclair Board Meeting: More Miller Talk, Problem With Performance Report and Two Members Farewells

montclair board of education

Charles Miller, BB Gun and Glenfield
At the May 6 Montclair Board of Education meeting, farewells for two outgoing board members and another presentation from George Glass, the district’s student data analyst, were overshadowed by the continuing fallout from the BB gun incident and resignation of Principal Charles Miller at Glenfield Middle School, which caused the resignation of principal Charles Miller.

Board President Robin Kulwin said that the Board is privy to all of the facts regarding the incident, and she explained that the board can’t publicly discuss them due to student and faculty confidentiality concerns.

“The board is not being disrespectful by not broadcasting that is knows,” she said. “It simply cannot do so. We cannot allow the heightened emotions of the moment to cloud our collective understanding. It is not okay to publicly embarrass or disparage anyone.” She told Miller’s supporters in the auditorium at Montclair High School that he had chosen to resign on his own free will and was not pushed out.

Sue Weintraub, a Glenfield PTA president, defended Miller as a kind-hearted and energetic person who was involved with the well-being of students, but she also defended Schools Superintendent Penny MacCormack for her diligence in having the BB gun incident investigated. “I believe wholeheartedly that her intentions are good,” Weintraub said. “She has the best interests of the community and the school district at heart. . .. This is a complex situation, and I’m sure there are many details which the public is unaware of. I trust Dr. MacCormack, and I believe she has handled the situation with integrity, thoughtfulness and sound judgment.” Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville, speaking in public comment, suggested that it would be helpful to do an independent investigation by someone that is not retained by the district and would enable residents to get a better sense of the situation.

2012 School Performance Reports Presentation
Meanwhile, Glass walked the board through a slide show—available in full on the district website—that showed performance metrics for the schools in 2012. He used studies of students from the fourth, sixth and eighth grades to show that many Montclair students in these levels show academic growth typical of similar schools in proficient and advanced-proficient levels in language arts literacy and mathematics, based on the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJASK) rubric. Partially proficient students, though, have shown low growth, with the mitigating factor of having among the higher scores in the “low-growth” range of 1-34 points in the median student growth percentile (SGP). Sixty-one partially proficient fourth-graders, for example, had a median score of 34, while thirty-two fourth-graders and forty-two sixth-graders in advanced proficiency had a median score of 87.

Glass, however, sought to amplify the wide discrepancies in the state-reported percentages of economically disadvantaged students receiving free or reduced lunches in Montclair’s schools in the comparisons between the 2011-12 enrollment report and the 2012 report card, taken from NJ SMART data in October 2011. The district is disputing the findings based on the insistence that Montclair was incorrectly matched with peer schools by the New Jersey Department of Education.

montclair board of education

Dr. MacCormack said that the because the free and reduced lunch numbers were off, the school peer groups didn’t make sense and were incorrect, and so did not reflect student improvement in the district, which is why the information is being disputed. She also encouraged residents to consult the eleven-page report on the high school on the board’s Web site, which she said was favorable compared to other New Jersey high schools.

Farewells By Outgoing Board Members
This was the final meeting for outgoing board members Angelica Allen-McMillan and Deborah Wilson, both of whom had parting words. Dr. Allen-McMillan said she was eager to give her time and expertise when she was first appointed in 2010 by then-Mayor Jerry Fried, but said she received a great deal of her experience in return. Mrs. Wilson, finishing her second non-consecutive term – she was appointed by then-Mayor Robert Russo in 2001 and again by Fried in 2010 – said it was hard for outsiders to appreciate the time donated by board members to helping with school administration.

“To do this job right, you literally have to reshuffle your person and/or professional life,” she said. “Board of ed members are people who donate their time away from family. These are people who, like me, may have a full time job where have very enormous responsibilities . . .. I ask you to simply remember that when you think of your Montclair board of ed. They are taxpayers, and they are good people who serve at the request and pleasure of the mayor.” She added that progress is only possible without change, as the school board’s membership prepares to change with the arrival of David Cummings and David Deutsch.

District Teacher of the Year 
The Board also announced that Watchung School teacher Drury Thorp had been named the “District Teacher of the Year.” Thorp is a fifth grade math teacher at Watchung School and has been teaching in the Montclair school system for 18 years.

The district website also names “Individual School Teachers of the Year”:

  • Louis DeBello—Bradford School
  • Jill Jackman—Charles H. Bullock School
  • Lucie Fernandes-Melhuish—Edgemont School
  • Rosalind Thompson—Glenfield School
  • Marjorie Noval—Hillside School
  • Shana Stein—Montclair High School
  • Jennifer Kosuda—Mt. Hebron School
  • Caitlyn Adamo—Nishuane School
  • Laura Orta—Northeast School
  • John Garzon— Renaissance School

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