UPDATED: Added info about Larson’s comments regarding Superintendent’s bonus guarantee in the contract.
on The Montclair Board of Education hoped to make news with its announcement of Dr. Joseph Putrino as new principal for Glenfield Middle School and an explanation of its implementation of its new standards for the 2013-14 school year at its July 15 meeting. However, the board, which got a late start with the public part of its meeting for July 15 owing to an executive session that ended at 8:30 pm instead of the customary 7:30 pm, found itself embroiled in yet more criticism surrounding its standardized assessments and grumblings that Schools Superintendent Penny MacCormack lacked a proper certification mandated by the state and that her contract contained a bonus guarantee that was not made public when she was hired. These charges were reported in the July 11 edition of the Montclair Times.
Fourth Ward Councilor Renée Baskerville addressed the board expressing concerns about the apparent lack of transparency in Dr. MacCormack’s hiring, saying that she was concerned that hiring process appeared to be an act out of the norm and that the information about her hiring should have been disclosed instead of letting Montclair residents learn about it by having to read the Montclair Times.
Board member Leslie Larson sought to put an end to the controversy once and for all by reading a statement from current and former board members explaining the process of Dr. MacCormack’s hiring. She said that Dr. MacCormack was chosen as the result of a nationwide search, with ten community forums held to gauge what Montclair residents wanted in and expected from their new schools superintendent, dismissing any charges that the public was excluded by the hiring process as “baseless.”
“All meetings were well-publicized, and residents who could not attend could offer input to the Board of Education’s website,” Mrs. Larson said. “Once all of this information was processed the search began. Numerous highly qualified candidates were interviewed, many of whom were from out if state. Dr. MacCormack was the board’s unanimous first choice.” The process was kept confidential until a superintendent was found in the interest of potential candidates avoiding awkward situations with current employers, and Mrs. Larson—later backed on the same point by board member Shelly Lombard—said it was ridiculous to expect any out-of-state candidate for the job to be ready at the start with a New Jersey superintendent’s certification in place. Dr. MacCormack, who has such a certification from Connecticut, has time—specifically, until January 2014—to acquire the same certification from New Jersey.
Larson’s statement also addressed the bonus questions by stating, “Dr. MacCormack’s salary is limited by the cap on superintendent’s compensation imposed by the state last year. Dr. MacCormack earned approximately 25 percent less than Dr. [Frank] Alvarez did, and even if she receives the maximum bonus, it will only amount to less than 6 percent of her salary. Dr. McCormack’s compensation is in line with market norms and is certainly in line with the her [responsibilities].”
Meanwhile, Dr. MacCormack and Gail Clarke, the newly appointed Chief Academic Officer, led a lengthy presentation to the board detailing the district’s efforts in writing new curriculum under the state’s newly adopted Common Core standard.
MacCormack gave a recap slide show of all her points from previous meetings about how Montclair needed to develop more rigorous standards in reading comprehension and to be able to write clear, defensible essays to support opinions with facts, as well as develop an understanding of how to pursue mathematical problems with more analysis and a greater understanding of how formulas work, in line with the Common Core goals and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC) standards. The plan is in reaction to state objectives.
“We are a very good school system,” she said. “Yet we are being asked, we are being required to implement standards and assessments that will be more challenging for our educators and for students.”
Gail Clarke addressed the board on the progress of 50 three-teacher teams in the district formulating new curricula for the 2013-14 school year.
Among the teachers offering progress reports were science teacher Delia Maloy, who explained that her teams were emphasizing assessments on lab work and on students’ abilities to explain their work in writing, in the interest of getting kids to “think like scientists.” Social studies teacher Davida Harewood talked about an effort to get students to improve their reading and comprehension and apply their language skills to understanding ancient and modern history, while math teacher Emmett Murphy stressed the need for geometry and algebra students to not just put numbers into formulas to get the right answer but also be able to explain and understand how formulas work.
The detail of all these plans exasperated many people in the audience, some of whom thought the district was moving too fast with too much, particularly with assessments. Mrs. Lombard defended the testing, saying it was important to know where students stood academically and who needed improvement and in what subjects. Mrs. Larson said the accelerated pace of strengthening standards and of assessing students to see how they fare with such standards was imperative.
“We’re playing catch-up,” she said. “A lot of this is coming from the state. We don’t have a choice. We’re doing the best we can.”