At the last Montclair Board of Education meeting on June 17, in which the Board unanimously approved the Superintendent’s Strategic Plan, there were some angry words passed between MEA president Gayl Shepard and Board member Tanya Coke. It stemmed from an email Coke had sent to a couple of teachers alerting them to the district’s FAQ page on the new Curriculum /Assessments plan. But under district policy, board members are restricted from directly contacting school staff, hence Shepard’s problem with Coke.
Several parents, led by a Janet Pew, have rallied in support of Coke and sent an email out to others explaining the situation and asking for signatures on a “letter to the editor,” to be sent to The Montclair Times:
For those blissfully unaware of the current school board controversy, I am asking for your support for Tanya Coke. There is a campaign to get Tanya off the school board. Here’s what happened: Tanya emailed the school board’s FAQ’s about the curriculum policy to her child’s teacher. it was in response to information her child was bringing home regarding the common assessments. She Inadvertently used her board of ed signature in the email from her personal account. This is the event that is being characterized as overreaching. during a break in the board meeting last week, the head of the union confronted Tanya from her seat as Tanya spoke with her from the aisle, accusing Tanya of being out of order for the email, and calling her out of order for speaking with her personally. The union president then said from the podium that Tanya had bamboozled her.
It went on explaining, “The campaign against Tanya has gone to the mayor for support. They may succeed. If you can sign the letter attached, please let me know. Time is of the essence.”
The letter titled “Stop the Attacks on Against Tanya Coke, signed by 11 residents, was published in The Montclair Times yesterday. Barista Kids was sent a copy of that letter this morning;
It is unimaginable to anyone who has met BoE member Tanya Coke or had the opportunity to discuss our children’s education with her that anyone could call her a bully and a “bamboozle”-er. Is this political theatre really what moves our town? That is appalling. Montclair is a community of people who work together to advance our children’s needs. In this time of change, we must to work together more than ever.
Tanya Coke has been a tireless advocate for under-served kids in our school community. For years, Tanya has worked long and hard to expand the IMANI program in this town, to provide extra academic supports to kids who need help. Tanya cares about our kids.
Tanya is being accused of being overbearing because she sent an email with the board’s FAQ to her own child’s teacher — the same FAQ was posted to the website about the new curriculum and assessments. The high school was abuzz with so much misinformation over the past weeks; parents were hearing reports that were so far from the truth, it was bewildering. Tanya had the facts and shared them. This action is the molehill which is being inflated into this mountain of a campaign against Tanya. That campaign has to stop.
We are deeply troubled by the scorched-earth tactics currently being employed against Tanya Coke. Montclair needs Tanya on the school board.
The ones who will be hurt if we lose the advocacy, the insight, and the dedication of Tanya Coke on our school board will be our kids.
We asked Mayor Robert Jackson for his reaction. He provided this response:
If the reports in the media regarding the confrontation between Ms. Coke and Ms. Shepard are accurate, I do have concerns about Ms. Coke’s behavior.
I am not focused on an email.
Candidly, I am saddened and frustrated that the conversation ostensibly about public education and the success of our children has denigrated into personality contests and power plays.
We must do better. I remain optimistic that we will.
I have great relationships with and confidence in Dr. MacCormack and Ms. Shepard. In fact, the three of us recently shared a great dinner and I am looking forward to more.
I trust these leaders to restore our focus on kids and learning.