Montclair Board Unanimously Approves Strategic Plan Despite Protests

 Strategic Plan
Dr. MacCormack explains Strategic Plan, while BoE President Robin Kulwin looks on.

Montclair Schools Superintendent Dr. Penny MacCormack tried in vain to convince the critics that her two-year educational Strategic Plan would be effective in improving Montclair schools.  Parents and students delivered petitions urging the Board not to adopt it so quickly, with more than 400 signatures from parents and 568 signatures from students.  After an interminable and contentious meeting, the Board voted unanimously to adopt it anyway, much to the chagrin of opponents who stayed for the final vote.

During the meeting Dr. MacCormack presented yet another slide presentation on the plan, which included an emphasis on improving the transitions from middle school to high school, improving freshman-to-sophomore transitions in at Montclair High School itself, getting teachers up to 80 percent effectiveness on the Marshall Evaulation Rubric adopted earlier in the year, and—the main bone of contention at the night’s meeting—four common assessments on five basic subjects throughout the school year.  Dr. MacCormack, responding to concerns that the assessments would standardize teaching to a test and discourage teachers from creative instruction, insisted that the assessments would reflect what students learn, not how they are taught.  She stressed the public input into the plan over the course of several public meetings, and she also noted the importance of meeting the Common Core State Standards.

“We have new Common Core state standards that we will be held accountable to,” she said.  “Most importantly, there are students who will take assessments aligned to . . . 2014-15.  So while we’re feeling the pressure, we know, in 2014-15 our students will be sitting at a computer, taking an assessment that we want them to be prepared for.”

The Plan also calls for a restoration of K-5 World Language in all K-5 schools by this fall and will work to address Pre-K services in our district.

Strategic Plan
Regina Tuma of ‘Montclair Cares About Schools’ speaks against plan.

Reaction from opponents was swift and vocal in the public comment phase. Resident Regina Tuma of Montclair Cares About Schools presented the petition to the board and attempted to read it out loud, but Board President Robin Kulwin cut her off when Tuma went over her time; when Tuma protested, Kulwin angrily banged her gavel on the table.  This set the tone for much of the rest of the night.

Opponents such as resident Maia Davis declared the plan to test students district-wide in every grade simultaneously to be “a top-down, overly prescriptive approach that is directly antithetical to creative teaching.”  She insisted that teachers would have to design their lesson plans to the test.

Speaking on behalf of students, Celine Prell, a student at Montclair High School, also expressed worry that a test-driven system would strip the teachers of creativity, but she also charged that the students would be shortchanged by such a system and that their own education would suffer.

“Please don’t tell the students and the teachers how to do their jobs.  Work with us; help us do better,” Celine said.  “You talk about parent involvement, but what about student involvement? Aren’t we the ones that you’re trying to reach?”

Strategic Plan
Reva Jaffe-Walter speaks against plan,

Resident Reva Jaffe-Walter suggested that there might be a better alternative to the plan.

“Given the deep, progressive roots of Montclair, I really think that we could do better,” she said.  “I think we can come up with more creative and effective ways to address the Common Core standards.”  She cited how New York City tries to meet standards but allows teachers to meet the goals with their own methods.  She found the plan to be vague and unclear.

Not all residents were opposed to the plan.  Sue Weintraub was pleased with how the bar was being set higher for students and that teachers would be held to greater accountability.  She also believed that the assessments would lead to a better understanding of which students would need more help and allow them to be targeted more easily by educators so that they could better succeed.

When the Board finally voted on the plan close to 11 pm, the Strategic Plan was passed unanimously. A group of opponents walked out, yelling, “Shame! Shame!” Shortly after the plan passed, Montclair Cares About Schools commented on their Facebook page that the board was “deaf to community concerns” and expressed disappointment over the BOE calling the community “misinformed”—a charge Dr. MacCormack had made repeatedly throughout the meeting.  But Board member Tanya Coke, in announcing her intention to vote yes, said that she believed the plan would help close the 40 percent achievement gap between the lowest performing and highest performing students

Board member Shelly Lombard also commented that the plan would provide helpful, evaluative information that parents, teachers and students could use.  She likened the standards for students to those of an architect.

“If I hire an architect to renovate my house, there are certain standards I expect,” she said.  “And the architect can have a broad amount of creativity within certain standards.  Obviously the house can’t fall down; obviously, I have to have a kitchen, I have to have bathrooms.”

Strategic Plan
(l-r) Michelle Russell, Brian Fleischer, Gail Clarke, and Felice A. Harrison

Senior Leadership Team Appointments
Also at the meeting, Dr. MacCormack recommended, and the Board approved, four administrative positions:  Dr. Felice Harrison as the district’s Chief Personnel Officer; Nishuane School principal Gail Clarke as Chief Academic Officer, Brian Fleischer as Chief Operating Officer, and Michelle Russell as Chief Talent Officer. Read more about each on the district’s website here.

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  1. It is clear that the BOE had no intention of listening to those who have a voice in the community. They NEED this plan to succeed, at all costs, lest they be viewed as irresponsible (at best) and destructive (at worst). But, since there are NO educators on this BOE, they themselves have been duped by the Superintendent into thinking this will close the achievement gap (as Ms. Coke believes). No amount of testing has ever proven to close any achievement gap, yet we have a BOE with blinders and a Superintendent who is leading them.

    “Tone-deaf” is too kind a word for the BOE. Of all of them, I am most disappointed in Mrs. Kulwin, who consistently seems combative, defensive, and downright petulant in these meetings. I really thought better of her and can’t be more disappointed in her “leadership”. The district is a rudderless ship, with a corporate “reformer” leading the way. This doesn’t bode well.

    It’s really a shame.

  2. I for one look forward to a some accountability and some tangible effort vs result review for our town’s classrooms.
    While I may have concerns about some of the details, a plan like this for our town is long overdue.
    Something needs to be done to bridge the achievement gap in town-kudos to the BOE and CO for actually building an action plan and moving forward with it.

  3. Many of us spoke last night at the Board of Education’s dog and pony show, in opposition to the new Common Core Curriculum. They tried to make us look like people afraid of the sky falling, and implemented their plan to bring in the common core curriculum anyway- as I knew they would. (You can’t tell us we helped to bake the cake when the rest of the country already has it.) To the tiny minority of people who supported the BOE, remember- there were hundreds of signitures on the petitions opposed, and we’d love to be wrong- but when your gifted, healthy, smart, privileged kids, start doing badly on extreme exams in the coming years (common core is being rejected in other states because it is extremely difficult for kids to retain all the rubbish they’ve decided they need to know) – and when they learn to hate learning- please give us a little credit for not being “mis-informed”.

  4. It’s age-old belief that if you repeat something enough, some people will come to believe it (“WMDs, WMDs”…I’m not equating the two, just an example).
    If you repeat it enough, that this new system will reduce the achievement gap (which, actually, had been reducing in this town), then undoubtedly people will start to believe it, even if their is no evidence to suggest that it will.
    Alic314 said it best…people want accountability, and test scores will provide them with that supposed accountability before ever reducing any achievement gap. This plan is in no way aimed at the achievement gap.

  5. Un-elected BOE… If anyone of of you “critics” voted for the continuation of the un-elected school board or voted for the current/past administration then please stop complaining. Its your own fault!

  6. mtclrstown, it goes both ways — the signers of the petition and most of the speakers had clearly not read the plan, nor had they listened to Dr. MacCormack’s presentation. I don’t think its all perfect, but I am more than willing to try something new. There are too many problems with the current system.

  7. Nomo,
    This is not trying something new…this is dismantling the Montclair school system as we know it. If you want to try something new, test-it, pilot it, and see the cost/effectiveness of it. That’s what is usually done with changes of this magnitude. You think “trying something new” with your child’s education should just be on a seeming whim?

  8. PS…I don’t believe a word of the superintendent’s plan. She has not been forthcoming since the get-go in November, and as a result, she no longer gets the benefit of the doubt from me. I think her stated plan and her statements last night are simply to placate what she knew would be a combative audience.

  9. mtclrsown- From the Mtclr Times reporting on the meeting- “The plan, which was the product of more than 110 meetings with students, teachers, PTA members parents and community members over the past six months, and four public forums conducted in recent weeks…”

    To imply in any way that the community has not been part of the conversation, development, etc, etc on this, I’m just speechless…

  10. So this is the result of the “listen and learn tour” (that never happened). This is the “wisdom sharing” based on PowerPoint and pure deafness to the community and educators. Last night’s meeting was derogatory to all those who had studied the plan and brought reasoned opposition. With few exceptions, even on the Board of Education, the reasoning of those who support Superintendent MacCormack has been “well we have to do something, anything, so let’s wait and see.” Autocrats and bureaucrats thrive on this kind of thinking. The members of the Board of Education are clueless regarding good education, and Superintendent MacCormack is clearly an outsider to Montclair who is only interested in a huge pension at the end of four years of ruling the district’s schools.

    It is no longer simply the plan or the testing that is the central issue. It is the utter failure of leadership in the Montclair School District. How clever to plan this meeting at the end of the school year and at the start of the summer. And then to so gently slip in more bureaucrats into the school budget. Montclair will go the way of Newark and East Orange with this kind of leadership.

    Congratulations to the students and parents who had the courage to speak up. After what happened to the Glenfield principle, the ruthlessness of this Superintendent is well known among the teachers.

  11. “So this is the result of the “listen and learn tour” (that never happened).”

    The statements by this author are moving further into the fanciful, as any one of the many people that were involved in those meetings knows.

    But prove me wrong. Well…actually, while I was interested to hear justifications for some of the other fanciful statements, I just cannot fathom what could possibly be asserted that would render the above plausible. Mass hypnosis? Hallucinogens in the water?

    Okay…give it a shot. I’m curious.

    “I don’t believe a word of the superintendent’s plan. She has not been forthcoming since the get-go in November, and as a result, she no longer gets the benefit of the doubt from me.”

    This is logic? “I don’t believe her because she lies. I know she lies because she says things I don’t believe.” Seriously?

    I find this frustrating. There are real issues to discuss. The town is now going to build those low-stakes quarterly assessments. Shouldn’t we be discussing them? Should we heed the warnings that high standards can push people out of the school system? Do we address this by falling back to vocational and academic tracks?

    Why are we forced to wade through all this misinformation and flawed reasoning?
    Is it deliberately intended to be obstructionist? Did Mitch McConnell move to Montclair?

    “which, actually, had been reducing in this town”

    We all thought so, but this turned out to be the result of [accidental or not] cherry-picking of the data. Perhaps you missed the most recent district report, but the room was full of metaphorical jaws hitting the metaphorical floor. See and for more information.

    I suspect that that March meeting is part of why the BOE is so excited to have a plan. All else aside, this is a tool for the assessment of the superintendent’s work. Previously, we had no such tool having no plan. That lack, combined with the less-than-complete information we were all being given by the administration, significantly weakened any possible BOE (or public) oversight (the academic equivalent of what happened with the padding of our budgets by CO).


  12. Sounds like the plan to reduce the achievement gap is to pull down the high performers, and pull up the low performers so they all meet at some mythical average place.

  13. “reduce the achievement gap is to pull down the high performers, and pull up the low performers so they all meet at some mythical average”

    I believe that this is always a possibility with which we should be concerned. Keep in mind that this is, in an unfortunately real way, a zero sum game. A dollar spent on one population is often unavailable for another population.

    However, at the moment, I don’t see this being a serious concern. The plan specifically addresses improvements to SAIL. More, in her “introduction” of Gail Clark in her new position, the superintendent specifically mentioned Mrs. Clark’s past experience as a “G&T coordinator” and that this will help her address improvement in SAIL.


  14. qby33,

    From the original report of these positions in this article:

    Dr. MacCormack proposed numerous changes to the central support staff. Currently there is one Head of Personnel who does all the hiring and oversees the logistics of HR. Dr. MacCormack is proposing is to separate the functions into two jobs at annual salaries of $118,000 each—a Chief Talent Officer who will focus on strategic recruitment, development of internal talent, help retain talent and offer assistance with evaluation and professional development for our staff. The other position will be to handle all of the logistics of Human Resources, the forms, the paperworks the compliance and legal issues. They will be actively in the buildings.and The Recruiter of Talent will focus on strategic recruitment, development of internal talent, help retain talent and offer assistance. The special assistant to the superintendent would be replaced by a talent officer overseeing both, with professional development of teachers and principals aligned to the new evaluation systems. Dr. MacCormack hopes to cultivate more principals in an educational leadership role, with managerial skills being referred to deans of students in the largest schools. The chief talent officer will be spending 1.5 days or 25% of their time in the buildings. The content area academic staff will be spending 2.5 days of the week or 50% of their time in the buildings helping to develop content area, improve instruction and evaluation, while Dr. MacCormack herself would spend the same amount of time in principal instructional leadership.

  15. Thank you, Georgette, for this further information about those hired by Superintendent MacCormack and approved by the Board of Education. Those who have had the courage to oppose the Superintendent and the Board members have been labelled as being uninformed, not having the ‘facts’, and even being fanciful. This behavior was well expressed by those in power at the meeting two nights ago and their supporters.

    Most disappointing was to see how the students themselves were completely dismissed by those who were supposed to show leadership in teaching them.

    However sentimental, an anecdotal story of a child who failed in one (private) school system (that supposedly had little testing) and now is doing better in a (public) school system (that is embracing testing) is just not convincing science. It may be fact, but testing surely does not explain the failure or the improvement. Still, parents are passionate in their search for answers when faced with disappointment.

    Now we have a plan to have a plan. A plan no member of the Board of Education contributed to (how could they with their competences) and a plan that has arrogantly ignored the wishes of students, parents and teachers. The more the ‘facts’ brought on by the supporters of this bureaucratic approach to education, the more worrisome it gets to those who are “ill-informed,” “not knowing the facts” and “fanciful.”

    “Mass hypnosis? Hallucinogens in the water?” A most worrisome state indeed where democratic participation in decision-making is simply not allowed. Thankfully there are some students and parents who refuse to drink from the Holy Grail.

    By the way, the Superintendent’s understanding of being an educator as being ‘in the buildings’ (some of the time) does make one smile. No one can accuse Superintendent MacCormack of being entirely without humor.

  16. idratherbeat63 — You must be a creative writing teacher. That’s all I have to say about your constant postings here.

  17. “but testing surely does not explain the failure or the improvement”

    I appreciate the label “creative writing”; it sounds far more polite than my attempt at a description: “flights of fancy”.

    Nevertheless, the above cited statement is yet another that fails to reflect reality. Assessments – or the lack thereof – played a key role. It was the lack of any “common assessment” – an assessment where results were compared to a common baseline – which permitted the problem to continue so long undetected.


  18. ““Mass hypnosis? Hallucinogens in the water?” A most worrisome state indeed where democratic participation in decision-making is simply not allowed.”

    Many of us did participate. Simply showing up at the end of a lengthy process to protest while claiming no previous opportunity to participate is disingenuous at best.

    Or do you assert that “participation” means “having everything you propose being accepted”? Are you one of those that opines that an election becomes “a failure of democracy” because you backed the losing side of the issue or candidate?

    You assert that the listening tour never occurred. Since many of us participated, you must be operating under some assumption that our memories are falsified. I imagined a couple of the scenarios you might be assuming, such as hypnosis or hallucinogens. If you’ve some other solution that could make your assertion valid despite its disagreement with our shared recollection, I’m eager to read of it.


  19. Andrew, thank you. Your participation in this process has been exemplary. I am sure you would agree that this is not about winning but about achieving a process that is fair, transparent and inclusive. We do agree that assessments are important. I would suggest they are needed, not just for students and teachers, but also for a school district’s leadership.

    We may not be so much at odds with our facts and interests, but perhaps simply coming to this shared concern a different focus on what is important.

    My apologies for my “flights of fancy” into “creative writing.” Clearly I lack the eloquence you and Alison bring to the discussion. My writing was home grown in the Montclair schools, but still obviously nothing to write home about (dangling prepositions and all that).

    Perhaps there’s a marketeer out there who would know how to bind this discussion together for the school libraries with a lifetime guarantee. I think there is something of value in what the participants bring.

  20. Right here in Montclair we have a clear, tangible example of an educational model that meets the needs of today’s future generation. Can we map this onto a municipal, regional or even national level? I don’t know. But if you are genuinely confused as to whether more testing is a good idea, that perhaps it will help sort out the achievement gap, I strongly recommend you take a tour of the Montclair Cooperative School. I wish every parent and every teacher in Montclair could see what learning in action really looks like live in a Co-Op classroom. Heck, I wish Penny MacCormack, Chris Christie and Barack Obama could see it.

    In this small, progressive school the teachers have the luxury of being seen as the respected educators that they are, allowing for both the academic and social/emotional development of every child in their class. (Surely this is a true demonstration of No Child Left Behind?). These vibrant, dedicated and unfettered teachers weave an incredibly sophisticated curriculum through every subject including outside playtime, and this continues all the way through 8th grade. The result is thriving, inspired children who love learning and are effective communicators. Are there assessments? Of course there are. Do these children go on to excellent high schools and colleges? Of course they do. The point is, all children want to learn more, know more, see more, experience more. And yet those in charge of mass education policies stubbornly continue to develop this national system based on increased standardized testing that stamps out natural curiosity, stifles it with exam prep and quizzes, exhausts the intensity of interest and the joy of participation – and in so many cases actually redirects this unused energy into mischief-making and, finally for some, utter disengagement.

    You cannot hold schools accountable to increased tests, and then say that the leaders of these institutions will not be forcing their teachers to hit their numbers. And if those teachers have to hit their numbers to be considered successful, they have to teach to the test. There is no way around it. And with each test we add, we need to add prep time to help the kids pass the test. And that takes away from real teaching. Real learning. These children will graduate, many with superior GPAs, but what have they learned? And have they learned to learn?

    We had no intention of placing our son in private school. But after a year in one of our magnet schools, disturbed by the focus on testing and the visible stress etched on his face we pulled him out. We planned to keep him at The Co-Op while we figured out what our next step would be, but we were sure it would be back into the public school system. Today, two years on, we have enrolled our daughter in the Montclair Cooperative School too. As a product of the public school system, I wish it had worked for our family. But public or private isn’t the debate here – it is should we increase testing in our schools, force our teachers to drill our kids for tests and call that success in education?

    Once you’ve seen your child excited to go to school, keen to get back to the absorbing project, calmly sort out a peer conflict better than ever you could because the teachers teach a social curriculum from the earliest ages, you can’t un-see it. You can’t accept anything less.

  21. Interesting that you bring up the Co-op. My kids also went to Montclair’s public schools for a few years. But when one teacher confessed one of my bright, enthusiastic kids was “falling beneath [her] radar” because she had so many kids to tend to, I knew I had to find something else. Having been a
    “co-op type” teacher (lots of holistic, student-driven learning) during my years in the elementary classroom, I knew I would love what the Co-op had to offer. And I did like it. But I also talked to many parents who were not happy there. It had the warmth that most people like in an elementary school, but there was a lot of seeming disorganization and a LACK of continuity throughout the curriculum. Eventually, we chose MKA. Yes, there’s warmth there, but there’s also discipline, rigor, and individuation. It’s far from perfect, but I think even “progressive” educators like myself want strong academics. It’s great for a kid to be “excited,” but the purpose of school is learning. Why must one preclude another?

  22. You have to love Montclair. We hire a professional educator to run the schools. She comes up with a plan to improve the schools. The voices of a thousand amateurs rise in protest.

  23. Ahhh playdates, why indeed? As I said in my first post, this is about whether children should be ‘taught to the test’ or not – in ANY school. I am not suggesting everyone rushes for The Coop – we couldn’t fit you all anyway! Neither can I speak to the experiences of dissatisfied parents that I don’t know. All I can share is that we love it and our son is thriving there. And by thriving, I don’t mean enjoying gazing at his belly button, I mean learning. Really learning. I have, as I’m sure do you, many friends at MKA, Lacordaire, Hudson and at every public school in this town. Each school has its die hard fans and its disgruntled parents. However, seeing as you raised it, while I have to agree that there is sometimes a perception in Montclair that the Coop lacks ‘rigor’, I often wonder what this is based on. And I have to come back to the lack of regular testing. Some families, no matter how well their child is doing, can’t get past the tests and grades their friends’ kids are brandishing. The Coop is not for these parents, even if they believe themselves to be ‘progressive educators’. If you are confident in your own ability to read your child, to gauge his academic growth and to personally witness his development every day, you are probably going to be happy in the Coop. If you need to have your kid benchmarked against their peers every few weeks to reassure you that he is advancing appropriately, then a traditional good school like MKA would be the right choice for you. I dissuaded a dear friend from applying to The Coop recently because she too readily admits she needs that regular evidence of her kid’s progress. I get a ten page detailed report on my child twice a year, I get three two hour sessions with his teachers each year, not to mention frequent mini updates – you might call this disorganized, I call it layered, detailed communication of how my son is doing, where he excels, where he needs support, how we are going to give it to him, etc. And when my son plays with his non Coop friends I certainly don’t get the impression that these other children are in ANY way ahead of my son in academics, and they certainly are NOT ahead in social development and age appropriate conflict resolution.

    So I’m back to the fact that tests do not equal ‘strong academics’. Independent schools who build their entire reputation on strong academics and rigor face the same problem as the public schools. They cannot destroy their own brand so they will focus their every effort on making sure those kids pass those tests. And that is not the same as learning.

    As with each year, many of our graduating 8th graders are headed to MKA for high school in September – none of them have been asked to take ‘make up classes’ over the summer. They can’t be that academically lacking or MKA wouldn’t take them. So the funny thing is that my child and your child will very likely do the same last four years of high school but my child will have had at least 9 years of inspirational, hands-on, project-based learning which I believe will stand him in better stead for the more complex challenges that adolescence, college and the big wide world will throw at him as the years roll by. Oh. And he’s excited! 😉

  24. Montclair’s gotta love walleroo. The Board of Education, without a single education credential shared among them, hires a “professional” who “comes with a plan.” She is surely here to “run the schools” through her enormous capacity for “wisdom sharing” (and scapegoating).

    The “thousand amateurs” that oppose this lone “professional” are surely all wrong. (Of course, there are many true educators, inside and outside Montclair, that oppose autocratic and bureaucratic “professionals” that do not have an understanding of learning.)

    Well walleroo, you have your “plan” now. It is costing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer (amateur) dollars, and it will end up costing millions. The Superintendent’s salary and pension alone will cost these naive and silly amateurs millions of dollars. It is a plan without the support of a large part of the students, parents and teachers – but it is, yes, “a plan.”

    How dare amateur, uninformed, naive, fanciful, unprofessional . . . students, parents and teachers oppose “a plan.”

    Good that there is one “professional” in Montclair that supports it. Or does walleroo now make that two “professionals?”

  25. As you all probably know by now, I am on the fence with all this. Testing, not testing, tracking or not, etc., etc. While my daughter is vehemently against the quarterly testing (even though I told her two of them will replace the mid-term and final exams, she still wailed, “but they’re going to be cumulative!!” – actually she sounded a little like that blueberry girl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) I am not totally against it, and here’s why:

    As my kids spend more time at the high school, I have come to realize there are some big-time duds over there. I am sorry to be so blunt but it’s true. I have said this elsewhere so I apologize for the redundancy. Interestingly, just within the past couple of days I got the same feedback, totally unsolicited and unprompted, from a few moms whom I respect, and whose kids are in some of the same classes as my girl. Their kids are bored and uninspired, and in some cases, not learning a darned thing. One said her kid didn’t even bother taking a particular AP exam knowing that the teacher hasn’t prepared them for it, said he ‘learned nothing’, yet he got a B in the class!

    One of them suggested it may be the low wages paid to our beginning teachers. I haven’t looked at the numbers lately but I do remember a few years back being totally shocked that one of our favorite elementary teachers, still a newbie and recognized winner, started out at about $42K. I pay taxes too, and I know that every time we talk salaries our collective heart rates increase, but what if we encourage more teachers who really want to teach to come work for us (one of them is My Favoritest Teacher of All and She Knows Who She Is!) and encourage the ones who are tired, or resentful, or bitter, to go do something else. OH I am going to get crucified now, I know it! But at least something to consider…

    But you know the ones…teachers who brag about using the same lesson plan for 15+ years, who lose homework and then claim it’s the kid who’s not turning it in, who are boring as all get-out, who berate the kids and call them names in class, whose idea of gym is to walk to the bagel store, who show movies of other teachers giving a lesson, whose final exam package is missing several pages of required reading text, who can’t answer an email with any clarity whatsoever…it is SO disheartening!

    Frankly I am also beginning to feel like my daughter is skating, even in some of her High Honors and AP classes. In at least one of her classes she was given the option not to even take a final based on her prior grades. (should I be proud? or annoyed?)

    The worst thing is that she hates being there now – and she has another year to go! She’s lost the joy of discovery. Things started off well in 9th grade, I would say she had four great ones. She had two great teachers in 10th grade, and this year has really been marginal.

    So: my questions are:

    (1) Would a common assessment program across the board finally put an end to this disparity? Would the duds finally be held accountable for their stale techniques and bad attitude? But – what if they still manage to produce good student scores on the PARCC? What’s the goal?

    (2) I realize teacher evals would be based only in part on the assessments – and I think it would be helpful to have more in-class observation. However, it’s just plain human nature – how many teachers ‘shape up’ as soon as the admin walks in? (How many of You see a Trooper up ahead on the side of the Parkway, and let off the gas??) When my son’s teacher says the due now is on the board only in case an admin stops by, what is the point of that!? How infuriating!

    (3) I know that handing every 5th grade math teacher a rubric that says “Your students must know X, Y and Z by the end of this year” will then result in teaching to the test. It has to! If that teacher doesn’t cover X, Y and Z then his kids will fail the year end assessment. Now, the methods that teacher uses to cover those items is what is left to the teacher’s creativity. So new tests are not necessarily a bad thing, but what of the resentful educator who has to throw out her 10-year old lesson plans and project rubrics, then complains to the class about having to prepare new ones (which in some cases I can totally see happening!) That’s depressing! And it doesn’t take long for a kid to shut down in that environment.

    (4) I like the mix of kids and size of our high school. IMO many of our kids emerge from it far more well-rounded, tolerant and understanding than kids from certain other districts. I heard from moms with older kids that MHS is viewed well by colleges because of this. True? I guess we’ll find out next year when my girl starts getting some envelopes in the mail. This social microcosm is a big bonus that sometimes we forget and take for granted.

    (5) I found the posts above regarding the Co-op school very interesting and insightful. I don’t know that I would change anything about my kids’ K-8 years, but wish that MHS had the sort of environment that the posters described. Maybe it’s not possible, given the importance on testing, APs, SATs, etc. – but I soooo wish my girl had something to look forward to.

    Right now, she doesn’t. 🙁

  26. -The Board of Education, without a single education credential shared among them, hires a “professional” who “comes with a plan.-

    Angelica Allen-McMillian was one of the BOE members who hired Dr. MacCormick and she is an educator.

  27. A happy addendum: my girl came home excited today! She *loved* the physics department’s catapult-building final project! Kudos to the staff, and a special shout-out to the brave teacher in a pith helmet who took a few eggs for the team! Yay!

  28. R. King. Fair point. But Angelica Allen-McMillian is gone now and there are no education credentials on the Montclair Board of Education. (And some of the credentials are simply scary.) Of course, they have no understanding of “the plan” and even less of leadership in education. Angelica Allen-McMillian served her time and left. We can only speculate as to why.

    But going back to that fateful day in August last year when the BOE made this disastrous decision, even then the writing was clearly on the wall. Andrew Gideon himself described Penny MacCormack then as “a pro-charter flunky.”

    The worse fears are being surpassed.

    Kay, I doubt your child learned a thing of value yesterday for Monclair’s new education system: Catapult-building is simply not functional for standardized testing. And surely taking eggs to a helmeted head is against some bureaucratic rule – expect that teacher to get a good reprimand by the Super if not an on the spot demand for a resignation with an office lockout.

  29. idratherbeat63 — Hey-that’s an excellent use of your Google skills there that I have just noticed! Stu, it’s not just fear mongering, there is some investigative know how there as well!
    But seriously, it’s nice to see that you know my product line. We’ve worked hard on trying to have the best out there. I’d be happy to answer any questions that you might have for developing your classroom library, all disagreements about this issue aside.

  30. “Andrew Gideon himself described Penny MacCormack then as “a pro-charter flunky.”

    After the apology further above, I’m especially astonished at this. The full statement from the above cited URL is:

    “Finally, considering the antipathy that the BOE has had to the idea of a charter HS in town, I’m a little puzzled at the implication that it would be hiring a pro-charter flunky. It just doesn’t seem to make sense.”

    Yet you try to assign to this statement the reverse of its meaning? That’s well beyond the “creative” or “fanciful”. Be ashamed.


  31. “One of them suggested it may be the low wages paid to our beginning teachers.”

    I’ve not seen details of the new contract yet, but I’ve heard a rumor that it’s more “front-loaded” than before. That is – and this is partially my interpretation – we pay more for starting teachers but the slope of salary increase is somewhat reduced.

    If our starting salaries are too low, this may help.


  32. “The result is thriving, inspired children who love learning and are effective communicators.”

    I know that this school works well for some, so I’ll simply say that this experience at that school is not universal.


  33. Since more students signed the petition than any other group, I think we should let them draw up a plan for the schools. To that end, I have done some canvasing of my own. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

    Eliminate tests entirely (because they’re dumb).
    Eliminate homework (ditto).
    Move the start of school back to 10 am (because studies show adolescents do better with more sleep).
    Move the end of school up to 1 pm.
    Extend lunch hour to two periods.
    Distribute medical marijuana as a palliative for stress.
    Supply each student with an iPhone and a MacBookAir (with retina).

  34. The Co-Op is terrific for younger children. There are some truly exemplary teachers there that can spark and nurture a thirst for education. There is a heavy emphasis on creativity and the Arts. The kids do elaborate projects beginning in the earliest grades, work cooperatively, and grow socially. Our experience, however, was that we observed students in other more traditionally based private schools were well into developing a mastery of mathematical concepts and traditional, age appropriate achievements in various subjects, while our child’s teacher insisted that such ideas were too advanced and therefore didn’t teach them until well after their peers at other schools, if at all.
    We came to view the relative absence of academic rigor, and dismissal of the inability to understand fundamentals as simple idiosyncrasies with increasing concern fairly early on. The Co-Op has many strong suits, and can be the correct environment for many students, but it is not a model for the town’s educational system overall.

  35. Andrew Gideon, apologies. I did not think I was misinterpreting you when quoting from earlier. I still see it difficult to read it the way you suggest it should be, but I do accept that you meant the opposite of how I have read it.

    walleroo, you are correct. Children should not be in charge of their own education – and in no society I know of is this the case. We do know, however, that the experience and considered opinion of children regarding their education is extremely valuable to good education and one ignores it at the peril of the education itself. A child’s opinion/viewpoint is not something I would ignore and laugh away as simply immature or irresponsible.

    I doubt in all seriousness that the children/students signing the petition had in mind the changes your personal canvassing suggests. I recognize and appreciate that you find the “thousand voices” that oppose large parts of this plan or the plan in its entirety as “amateur.” Your private canvassing, however, seems to go beyond the “amateur” toward ridiculing a large group of students who want themselves to share in the responsibility for their education and seem to many (even if not to you, Superintendent MacCormack and the Board of Education) to be behaving in a serious and mature fashion.

    By the way, professional educators know you are wrong. For example, it is well known that when students are allowed to grade themselves, a large majority will grade themselves much harder than their teachers would have.

    I don’t doubt the results of your canvas, but I do doubt the intentions and professionalism of the canvasser in this case.

  36. apologies… I do accept… you are correct… I doubt in all seriousness… I recognize and appreciate…

    Who are you and what have you done with idratherbeat63?

  37. idratherbeat63 is shackled and drying on the whipping post while the interrogators rest their weary arms. The penalty for shameful flights into fanciful creative writing still being extracted.

    Further instructions awaited.

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