Kindergarten was on the minds of many at the Montclair Board of Education meeting that began on the evening of June 16 and ended in the wee hours of June 17. District Transition Coordinator Tammarra Jones presented a kindergarten readiness program to be implemented this summer.
Kindergarten Readiness Program
Jones spoke of the plan to bring in anywhere from 27 to 35 underprivileged preschool children to prepare them for kindergarten. For two weeks this summer, from July 21 to August 1, in sessions from 8 am to 2:30 pm, Monday through Thursday, the Montclair Kindergarten Readiness Program seeks to provide support for struggling children the social and emotional instruction to prepare them for kindergarten and continue giving them support during kindergarten and into the next couple of grades. Dr. MacCormack added for the benefit of the board that measurements and assessments would be used to see if the students are on track with extra support given if necessary.
“What we found,” Dr, MacCormack said, especially through this year, we’ve had some students come into kindergarten and just struggle, emotionally and socially, to a degree that we just thought there is something we need to do to support these students.” She said that the two-week program Jones is running is a beginning , and Jones hopes to include more children who need the support. There is room for up to fifty preschoolers.
Board member Jessica deKoninck said that the program was a good idea but was indicative of how much Montclair needed to play catch-up with preparing kids for kindergarten since public pre-K classes were discontinued.
Watchung School Class Size
Many Watchung School parents spoke out on the plan by Watchung Principal Joseph Schmidt to handle the larger first-grade class for the 2014-15 school year.
Schmidt explained during the meeting that he looked at every option for reducing the first-grade class size but found that the building was just too packed, given the five special-education students to go to other classes during instructional time, to make classes any smaller. The current plan is to divide first grade in to three classes of 25, 25, and 26, with teachers’ assistants for each class, after a meeting Schmidt had with Watchung parents to try to work out a viable solution.
Resident Renée Marchand commented on the plan, which was agreed to earlier in the day. “While four classes seemed to be a push earlier in the year for many people,” she said, “the resolution that came across today regarding keeping three classes next year for the first grades as well as adding three general education assistants for each class, seems to be an amenable solution.” She thanked Schmidt for his work, adding that transfer students should be limited to keep class sizes in check. But resident June Raegner said there was a lack of communication with Schmidt, Schools Superintendent Penny MacCormack, and Chief Human Resources Officer Felice Harrison during the previous year regarding the first-grade students-to-be while they have still been in kindergarten, claiming it has marginalized parents and created “a loss of confidence and a loss of trust.” Raegner also said that parents ought to have access to information regarding how large kindergarten classes have on the children’s performances Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) testing.
Renaissance Teachers Report
Renaissance School, meanwhile, was the last school to present a “what’s working, what’s not working” progress report. Teachers from the little middle school said that the school’s interdisciplinary program, its curriculum, and support from the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence was working to make the school able to teach creative thinking, but they said the tests were not working, claiming that the students were suffering from increased pressure and anxiety because of them. A Renaissance parent, Brian Lonergan, spoke glowingly of the components of Renaissance School that did work for his Arthur, who has autism, enabling his son to speak in complete sentences and write a three-page essay — something educational experts had told Lonergan and his wife that Arthur would never do — because of the school’s ability to work with Arthur at his comprehension level and to get him up to speed. Lonergan’s emotional story led to a standing ovation from the audience, even from members of the press.
For her part, art teacher Joyce Korotkin, who has been at Renaissance since its inception, said that she realized how the district overall was faring when she saw how Montclair district alumni would meet people of similar educational backgrounds and find them more intolerant and less curious about the world than themselves. The general condition of the Montclair school district, she proudly concluded, does not need fixing.
School Action Team Resolution
The meeting extended past midnight when the board debated the last of forty resolutions, which was to adopt a policy and regulations for the School Action Team for Partnerships debated at the previous meeting. The plan calls for parents and staff to get involved through committees in supporting children’s academic endeavors. Disagreements on how to establish rules and regulations, though, led the board to support only the basic policy of the SATP program, with specific regulations to be discussed later.
Also, the Montclair High School’s School Action Team reported that the high school would soon have a new student center, with new amenities, and increased bandwidth and WiFi for computers, among other improvements. Action Team co-chair Grace Grund also made it known that she was stepping down from her position.