Montclair Board Meeting: Kindergarten Readiness Program, Class Size, School Action Team and More

Montclair Board of Education meetingKindergarten 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.

Montclair Board of Education meeting

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.




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  1. So, there it is. Each and every school has now reported that the quarterly assessments are not working. Each and every school has provided details to support this opinion, and it seems that each has been ignored by our superintendent.

    The Renaissance teachers spoke eloquently last night as to why the quarterly assessments do not work, including references to the lack of training and materials related to the CCSS, as the other schools’ teachers have. They also eloquently addressed that teaching – good teaching, anyway – is not formulaic but dynamic, and the quarterlies do serious damage to teacher and student creativity and to classroom autonomy. (If anyone thinks it is easy to become a teacher, go to the state DOE website and look up the certification requirements.)

    But I most appreciated their concentration upon the negative effects these assessments are having on the kids. These negative effects include increased stress, and the teachers’ reporting of an increase in students reporting to the health office needing help in dealing with depression and anxiety, which included mention of an increase in cutting, is indeed very worrisome. In the name of data, of accountability, of rigor, the central services administration and the superintendent are marching on, and the fact that district policies seriously affect the lives of children seems to be lost on our current administration. Are there other issues affecting student stress? Of course, but to add stress and disaffection from school and learning to whatever else a child is going through is terrible. Our kids spend the bulk of their days in school, after all.

    As a parent with two children in the school system, I cannot perceive any benefit to my children’s education through these assessments, and after last night’s report, I count myself very lucky that my children at least do not seem to have been harmed. Apparently, not all families are as lucky.

  2. Am I missing something regarding the Watchung class sizes? Aren’t those fairly normal class sizes for elementary schools in Montclair? I know the three first grade classes last year (when my child was in first grade) at Bradford had just one less student, I believe (classes of 26, 25 and 24). Are there schools with smaller classes? I must be missing something here regarding the concern over what appear to be normal class sizes (at least normal from my experience at Bradford over a good number of years).

  3. According to a Watchung parent who spoke last night, the numbers listed here are not accurate, as they mention only non-classified students, and there are apparently more students in each class when the special needs students are factored in. If I’m wrong, someone please correct me, but this is what I understood last night.

  4. Ahhh. I couldn’t understand the reference to the 5 special education students. Thank you. But it does say they go to other classes during instructional time.

  5. The kindergarten readiness program looks very interesting/promising, I’m eager to see how this one will progress. Wish them all the best on their efforts.

  6. (At these numbers we should consider building a new school….. I would say look into the soon-to-be-vacant Immaculate, but that might be a wise choice. Instead, I say BUILD A NEW SCHOOL!!! We can budget it for 10 million, and watch it end up 4 years delayed and costing 35 million.)

  7. … 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.

    Do people really say things like this out loud? I guess so… And we’re reading it as “news,” no less.

  8. Teachers… said the tests were not working, claiming that the students were suffering from increased pressure and anxiety because of them.

    News flash: kids don’t like tests.

  9. How come nobody talks about the stress and anxiety the quarterly assessments place on the teachers?

  10. And what about the increase in cutting the teacher mentioned. Is that okay and normal too?

  11. Sorry, should have been more specific. The teacher stated there was a huge increase in stress, anxiety and children cutting themselves. So Frank I am asking you if you think that is normal and okay.

  12. The teacher stated there was a huge increase in stress, anxiety and children cutting themselves.

    How much of an increase, in what sample size, over what period? Correlates with the tests how exactly? Etc.

  13. Seriously, Waterloo? If it’s one kid cutting himself once, is that ok? How large of a sample size do you need? How many kids do you want to see bleeding? If they say there’s an increase, and if they say that it’s tied to stress, is that really not enough for you?

  14. As a parent of a High school student (over the course of the past nine years) I can say definitively that the quarterly assessments at the High School are far LESS stressful than the absurd mid-terms and finals ever were. They correlate to what students are learning in class (for the most part) and provide far lower stakes than the midterms and finals did. I think its time to start separating out the discussion of quarterlies as they affect the High School, the middle schools, and the grade schools. A good, reasonable evaluation of how it went at each level is key.

  15. @flynnie

    Do you object to quarterly assessments in general, or just to the nature of the specific quarterly assessments that were given to the students this past year?

    I’m trying to figure out whether your position is: 1) quarterly assessments are OK in theory, but the district’s quarterly assessments were poorly designed; or 2) the students should not be subjected to any type of quarterly assessments.

  16. At the high school level, the midterm/final exam schedule more closely approximates what students will do in college, so if we are interested in college readiness, that pattern is far more logical. This may not be appropriate for younger students.

    The quarterlies in Mtc have been a mess from the start. They were designed initially to reduce/remove teacher autonomy in academic pacing and curriculum design. This is a major issue given the nature of our magnet elementary schools. That they were created by teacher teams did nothing to lessen this aspect, and then we learned that even the teachers on the committees that created them were largely unhappy with the results; there was not enough time or resources to do them properly, never mind to discuss district-wide by departments or grade levels the implications the tests would have for curriculum design and implementation. When they were turned back over to school and teacher control, I was greatly relieved. At this point, the only aspect of their initial purpose that really remains is the pacing (as far as I know. This may not be the case if the teachers are expected to cover a given set of standards in a given order), which is still in place to push teachers to push their kids, even if the kids are not ready for a given assessment. What they do at this point is cause nothing but frustration.

    I agree that different grade levels have different demands. Let the schools decide what is most appropriate. The high school should have some larger scale assessments; testing kindergartners this frequently is ridiculous. I believe, however, that MacCormack persists because she believes her authority and her agenda for top-down reform are more important than what is best for our children. At least, I have seen no indication otherwise. Has anyone seen anything positive come out of this?

  17. I would like to add that when I think of assessment, paper and pen (or computer-generated) exams are not the only option, even for the high school. There are schools that use alternative assessments, such as portfolios and performance assessments, with great success. Again, these are options that should be available for schools/departments to discuss, design, and implement where appropriate.

  18. Seriously, Waterloo? If it’s one kid cutting himself once, is that ok? How large of a sample size do you need? How many kids do you want to see bleeding? If they say there’s an increase, and if they say that it’s tied to stress, is that really not enough for you?

    I want to see dozens, hundreds, thousands of kids cutting themselves. I want teachers cutting too. That’s how much of a monster I am.

    I am sure there is no other explanation than quarterly tests for some unknown number of kids (let’s assume it’s at least one) cutting.

  19. Waller, I am relieved that you did not intend to make yourself look like a monster, but take a step back and reread your comment. It reads as monstrous.

    That said, if you read my initial comment or the article about cutting, then you would know that neither the teachers nor I claim that the quarterly assessments are the sole cause of the rise in student stress, anxiety, and depression. But school stress is a significant factor, as school is an incredibly important part of a young adolescent’s life. And, let’s face it, they are young; they do not have fully developed coping mechanisms and frequently turn stress inwards, which can result in self-destructive behaviors (Adults do this, too, though not as dangerously, as we reach for a drink after a hard day at work to take the edge off…). If school is increasingly stressful for them, this will result in some students not handling it well, and this begs the question as to why school is more stressful. What changes have occurred over the past year that would spark an increase in harmful behaviors? Should we not look to change these practices? These are our kids.

    It’s not just Montclair. Search for articles about increased testing, common core standards, and student stress. We should be worried, and I am grateful to the Renaissance teachers for raising the issue.

  20. I’m only an “n” of 1 but here’s my personal take on the year. I have 3 kids. They span 3rd through 11th grade. I am not for more testing. Practically, I did not see the assessments increase the total number of tests my kids took during the course of a year. It’s not like Montclair Public Schools had no unit tests or other marking period tests previously. These new quarterly tests/assessments seemed to take the place of ones that would have been administered right around the same time to make sure the kids were learning. I did not see any increase in stress or anxiety among my children related to testing. I feel the same way as a previous poster that at MHS the quarterly assessments definitely removed two high-stakes tests (common midterms and finals that collectively account for about 20% of a final grade — the same as a full marking period grade), making the year less stressful for the students. I do think in elementary school, there were real issues with pacing…not all teachers/classes/kids were able to cover as much information as included in the first assessment. I’ve seen comments from Gail Clark, the Chief Academic Officer, that pacing issues are/have/will be addressed and I look forward to proof of that. One of the reasons I gave these quarterly assessments a chance was negative experience one of my middle schoolers had with Algebra in 7th and 8th grade a few years ago (pre MacCormack). After marking period after marking period of excellent Algebra grades, my student bombed the common district 8th grade final exam for Algebra — as did many, many in 8th grade that year. And we didn’t get the result until AFTER school was out and the kids were enrolled in their next/9th grade math class. I have to think that if there were more frequent check-ins (aka a ‘quarterly’) on the kids’ progress during 8th grade, the teachers would have realized the students were sincerely struggling with some concepts, would have addressed the identified issues, and the students would have been better prepared for the freshman year math classes. Again, that’s my “n” of 1 personal/family perspective. I think the introduction of the mandated Common Core, the mandated new teacher evaluation system our district assessments was an incredibly heavy lift for everyone involved. I thank all my kids teachers for the work they did this year — and every year.

  21. @flynnie

    I think we can all agree that there needs to be some type of mechanism by which teachers and parents can determine whether students are learning the subject matter. You make some valid arguments that the quarterly assessments implemented by the district may not achieve this goal.

    I hope this isn’t taken the wrong way, but if the “MCAS crew” were to come out of constant “attack mode,” MCAS’s message may be heard more clearly.

  22. I agree with tallahassee. Attack mode obscure good arguments. For example, after having listened to Dr. MacCormack on many occasions, Flynnie’s statement “I believe, however, that MacCormack persists because she believes her authority and her agenda for top-down reform are more important than what is best for our children” is ridiculous. You may disagree with her methods (and I don’t always agree with them myself), but her priority is clearly the kids.

  23. flynnie,
    Thank you for correcting my misunderstanding. I did read it as cutting class. I was not trying to make light of it.

    As I understand the issue of pacing, I have to say it was a problem back before even the magnet concept was implemented. It, as you might expect, occurred in the math, English and foreign language curriculums within and between schools. I don’t know how the magnet system impacted the problem, but, by your post, it seems to remain an ongoing challenge.

    Summer solstice in 84 hours!

  24. Just to be clear, the teacher was reporting on the information given to her by the school psychologist on the increase in anxiety and stress and the self mutilation. The school psychologist blamed much of this increase on the increase in testing.

    As a parent, I do not understand why children should be forced to undergo such stress and frankly, no child should be feeling anxiety over school. How many adults would like to live with constant stress and anxiety and constant fear of failing? Children’s brains continue to develop till about 21. Do you really think living with constant stress and anxiety doesn’t have a negative impact on development?

    I entrust my son to his teachers every day. If I trust them to take care of him, then I also trust their judgement. If they say the children are being tested too much and the quarterlies provide no useful information, I believe them. They are the ones working directly with the children and have years of education and experience.

  25. Frank, counting down the hours! And I do apologize for the misunderstanding on the cutting.

  26. Some kids got stressed by the quarterlies, others didn’t. But overall, the tests caused tremendous disruption in the district, including:

    – $500K spent in test and associated curriculum development
    – unnecessary subpoenas
    – unnecessary (and expensive) lawsuits
    – unnecessary harassment of a BOE member
    – unnecessary confrontation between the BOE and the City Council
    – unanswered questions about an unprotected district server resulting in the scraping/uploading of the assessments to
    – unanimous protests from teachers in every school in the district that the quarterlies were disruptive and not effective

    Given the above, I’m wondering:

    1. After a year of their implementation, what were the specific “benefits” that the quarterlies delivered?
    2. How did they prepare our kids for the PARCC tests, or make them “college and career ready”?
    3. Does the Superintendent plan to spend another $500K this summer on the development of next year’s quarterlies? If so, how and where has that been budgeted?

  27. no child should be feeling anxiety over school

    None at all? Until they’re 21? Hmmm, I suppose we could keep them anesthetized, on feeding tubes. But they’re in for quite a shock when they wake up!

  28. I take the point that they’ve bungled the whole kit and kaboodle, flynnie. That’s been pretty well established. Even Assessmentgate and I agree on that. But I’m skeptical about all the “increased stress” from these tests. That sounds like hooey to me. As Huck Finn said, show me. That’s why I asked for details. Not sure how that qualifies as “monstrous.”

  29. What I mean by anxiety is more the psychological disorder that would cause a child to cut him or herself. Of course a child is going to feel some stress in school whether it is an exam, a term paper or some kind of project. I just don’t think it should escalate to the point a child harms him or herself or makes themselves sick or depressed.

    So, again, addressing the increase in cutting, should this just be dismissed or should we be taking action to reduce the anxiety levels?

  30. nycmontclair,

    It’s walleroo’s choice to drop not-so-subtle hints that you have flexible standards, but I disagree. You clearly have not developed a set of standards yet.

    You are the queen of “show me the empirical data” and dismissive of authority citations.
    “As I have stated many times, I am interested in evidence based research.” Classic quote.

    Yet, you take hearsay threads from a non-professional and spin it into some whole cloth of god-awful proof. I would love to hear that health care professional go on the record citing quarterly assessments specifically as a cause.

    I don’t know what research work you did professionally, but you’ve undercut your own credibility here.

  31. Frank, how nice, you found a way to insult both me and the teacher who gave the presentation. Bonus points. So, you don’t believe the school psychologist provided the information to the teacher or you think the teacher took some information and made up the rest. Silly me, for believing our own teachers at a presentation before the Board and Superintendent MacCormack, who could very easily confirm everything they say.

    Now, I can call the Renaissance School Psychologist and see if he will confirm, but considering I am a parent who is having a ridiculous disagreement on Baristakids I’m not sure he will be able to provide me any information or give you a personal phone call, but I will be happy to try.

    A few weeks ago, I attended the Nishuane School Fair. My son, his friend and several other people witnessed a father abusing his 5 year old son. I didn’t see the actual abuse, but I called the police anyway. Should I not have done so because what I was hearing was hearsay? You may not believe I have standards, but you are not who I answer to. When children are involved, I’d rather take the risk I am wrong rather than let a child suffer harm.

    So yes, I do take it seriously when I hear a report that there is an increase in children committing self mutilation. If that’s not true, than thank goodness. But do you really think the possibility should not be investigated?

    But of course you don’t think it’s possible I might care about children that aren’t my own.

  32. What does the Nishuane School Fair incident have to do with the price of eggs?

    Back to the topic…
    Take it seriously, but challenge the source the same way you have challenged other people will viewpoints in opposition to yours. You took it at face value. That is the standard you have not yet developed.

    I think you really don’t see it.

  33. Frank, you are the one who doesn’t see it. Challenging either the teacher or school psychologist to show me his records is not the same thing as asking for evidenced based research. There is tons of research to show school stress is contributing to such behaviors as self mutilation, depression and suicide. The question here is, you seem to want me to question the integrity of either the school psychologist or the teacher that gave the presentation. Or perhaps they should be questioning the integrity of the students who are claiming to be suffering and who claim to be cutting themselves. Yes, let’s focus on that rather than the emotional health of the children. But then, I have no standards and as has been pointed out it is impossible to care about any child but ones own.

  34. flynnie,
    Absolutely not and you should know better. If a professional got up before the BOE and said there was a direct link to cuttings and the quarterlies, I would give it a lot more credence than if a non-professional got up and supposedly used the word “huge”. That was one really BIG red flag.

    Another was the lack of attribution to a healthcare professional and . Another was that we are the very last school into this working/not working process and Renaissance is the first to bring up this huge increase system-wide…or is just Renaissance?

    Why would the MEA think it was a good idea to bring up a health crisis in cutting during a “What is working, what is not” forum?

    The list goes on as to why I think the teacher’s remarks should be criticized.

  35. what exactly is a “huge increase” in the numnber of students cutting themselves? Is this really a result of quarterly tests or more a general trend that is going around because kids (in every generation) have been disaffected, do stupid things and copy each other?

  36. Am I the only one who is concerned that maybe, possibly, some line of privacy has been over stepped here on continually talking about a child (or children? I wasn’t at the meeting, I don’t know if this is one or more than one incident reported here) who was self mutilating in this thread? I feel for the family and child involved, and I hope those involved can get the needed help. I look at this incident not as a result of just the quarterly test anxiety, but a bigger issue here for the family & child involved. My thoughts go out to them, hoping they can find some sort of solution, recovery, and peace here.

  37. Okay, I will now do my best to get more specific information on the stress, anxiety and cutting information. Since I am a parent and not and employee in the district, I can’t promise I can get the information as much of this I would imagine would fall under privacy rights, perhaps even patient-doctor confidentiality, but I will see what I can come up with.

    But I will say it was definitely more than one or two kids and I honestly don’t know how anyone can minimize the situation. One child I would think would be one too many. And with all the research linking school stress to an increase in anxiety and depression and even suicide, I am very unclear why people don’t think this is a valid concern. Whether it’s just the quarterlies or a whole host of things, are children’s mental health not important?

  38. I am not minimizing the situation but think you are since your casuality to quarterly tests/school environment without any specific knowledge of the

    a. actual amount of kids that makes for a “huge increase” and

    b. cause of their self-mutulation being testing or the vibe at school

    is somewhat reaching. We know you don’t like the assessments – you have been very clear on that. In saying you don’t want assessments, you have asked over and over for everyone to consider the data out there. Is the stress solely or mostly related to school – if so, why aren’t my kids acting differently or talking about friends and classmates having trouble? The only thing I took away from the test was one of their teachers making it seem like a very big deal, but then they both thought the actual tests were nothing unusual when they took them. They got through the testing without any issues and I have not heard of a friend’s kids stressing out over these tests yet (and this has been a topic of discussion especially at the year-end school functions).

    how about this scenario – mom and dad are stressed out about not being able to afford to live in Montclair due to high property taxes, etc.. they often argue about money and whether or not to move us and it bothers the kid because he/she likes it here. it makes him/her depressed and causes anxiety and leads to self mutualation.

    or this one – the boyfriend/girlfriend broke up with the kid. caused depression and anxiety and leads to self-mutualation.

    or this one – mom and dad got divorced, kid is upset, depressed and cuts him/herself.

    or this one – kids in 7th and 8th grade are mostly idiots and will do things to rebel for no logical reason?

    or any other scenario that you can think of that causes a pre-teen or adolescant to have anxiety or become depressed? To blame it on the school environment and say “Do you really think living with constant stress and anxiety doesn’t have a negative impact on development” makes you the one who is minimizing the situation by implying that the school is the one causing some unknown number of kids to cut themselves. Especially when the adults involved are the ones putting stress on the kids.

  39. bravo, cspn55. Very well said. Cutting is a serious issue and highly individual in cause. It should not be brought in as a handy way to bolster anyone’s claim of specific stresses.

  40. As much as I am solidly behind MCAS and their concerns, and as much as I believe that overtesting contributes greatly to student stress, I would highly doubt that testing in itself would lead to self-mutilation. Cutting is usually a symptom of severe personality issues which have their origins in early childhood experiences.

    On the other hand, if a child is already emotionally disturbed, school stress could put her over the edge.

  41. It is distressing to here any incidences of self harm. I hope the family and the child (and the teachers who obviously care for their students) are receiving the support and services they need. This thread gives us all a great opportunity to revisit old math and Statistics classes and the critical thinking skills encouraged by our past teachers in mathematics, science and even philosophy about the differences between Correlation and Causation — important distinctions when reviewing scientific literature and hypotheses. We can find many correlations around us. The difficult bit is proving their causality or the direct link between the cause and the effect.

  42. While I try to get more specific info, I wanted to share a few articles I believe are relevant to the discussion:

    To clarify, it was not an MCAS member who brought up the cutting incidents, it was a teacher reporting on information provided by the school psychologist. Not sure why MCAS was brought up in this context.

    Also, I am not the one saying whether there is a causal link to the increased tests. I too am just reporting what I heard. If you want to challenge someone, challenge the teacher who spoke or the school psychologist. I am not purporting to have any personal knowledge of the situation.

    However, do I believe too much School stress can lead to depression and anxiety. Yes I do. Is it the adults putting the stress in the kids, of course it is. I am saying that too much stress and anxiety adversely affects a child’s development. Regardless of where that stress comes from.

  43. mcinmtc ,
    You seem to have a solid grasp of statistics…thoughts?

    From the above link

    “Analyzing 79 cases of primary and middle school student suicides in 2013, Cheng found that 92.7 percent of them did so after arguing with their teachers or having lived under the heavy pressure of study.”

    How can you arrive that percentage conditioned on an “or” clause?
    I assume this was a translation mistake, but that odds seem unfavorable.


    If you are going to share references, it might help your case to first click through to the original article and read it to the end.

    More bonus points? Can I redeem online?

  44. Frank, I don’t think the “or” trivializes the story. But I guess Chinese students killing themselves because of too much stress doesn’t matter. Stress is an awesome thing. Thank goodness I have a ton of it.

  45. I should have phrased my question better. I was wondering how the study arrived at 92.7%. It was taking the percentage to one decimal place that caught my attention.

    That means 73.233 of the 79 deaths. How does one get to a fraction of a death?

  46. I’m going to comment on the Watchung kindergarten class size. Currently it stands at 30, 29, an 28.

    As a point of reference, Northeast is 18, Bradford is 19, and Nishuane is 18. I suspect Bullock and Edgemont are pretty close to that.

    For those that have ever spent time in the classroom with 5-6 year olds, you know that it is EXTREMELY difficult to instruct that many children at one time, even with many adults in the room. I am, honestly, very surprised there was no push-back from the K teachers about this. At least not any that us parents heard.

    What hurt the most is that instead of fixing the error, Dr. MacCormack spent 3 months defending Dr. Harrison, saying it was a “computer” error that caused this. Finally, in January, they said it was “human” error, but, alas, no consequences for that human, as there rarely are at the BOE.

    I know, I am beating an old horse, but I am sick and tired of Dr. MacCormack and Mr. Schmidt saying they are doing everything for our children. It would appear that, once again, instead of creating and offering an actual solution, the BOE, our superintendent, and our Principal have decided that the best course of action is to cross our fingers and hope for the best, i.e. attrition, or parents that will be outraged enough so they will change schools or districts.

    The overcrowding is now being blamed on the fact that by some measurements Watchung is “the best” and most requested school in the district. While I may not agree with those categorizations, this is why we have the lottery system. Not everyone can get their first choice.

    This course of action is not appropriate and it shows profound disrespect for the parents. They are failing the Watchung children, the children they have an obligation and responsibility to educate. Watchung will not remain “the best” for long, if we continue overcrowding the classrooms and demanding from the teachers to maintain order and educate that many children. It is not fair to the teachers, and most importantly, it is not fair to the kids.

  47. “I know, I am beating an old horse, but…”


    The lottery system? I’ll just say the school lottery does not have the attributes of a fair and impartial system.

    The question that you should have asked: “What steps have CS & Watchung School taken to ensure this doesn’t happen again?”

  48. Wait-did you really post an article referring to a study in China about student stress & suicide and relate it Montclair, NJ?

    Also, from original article source (the link you share is from the Gothamist coverage of the study) states -hint, Causation vs. Correlation argument/point clearly jumping out here:

    “However, Chu Zhaohui, a senior researcher on basic education at the National Institute of Education Sciences, said academic pressure is only one of many factors that lead to suicide among teenagers.

    The circumstances of the middle and high school years should also be considered, he said. “The middle and high school period is a special stage for children, a transition from children to adult. During that period, children tend to be rebellious. ”

    So-does including this into our conversation pass the correlation or causation test here?

    Are are you just pulling whatever link you can find from a Google search of “suicide-self harm-test stress-adolescence”, that happened to be from a study in China? Because when I did, this was one of the top 3 results results I got…that’s not research, that’s Google.

    Here’s the other blog post that was at the top of that Goggle search that you didn’t include-it discusses some of the difference between typical American students/and typical Asian students. Topics reviewed are homework & study time, free time or play time, use of social media, cultural norms, etc, etc.

    It also points out the suicide rates in Asian countries for this age group vs American kids in the age range, breaking out by 5 and 10 year ranges, cultural, socioeconomic information, etc.

    From this blog post:
    Often the “let them play and read what they want” advocates cite suicide rates in South Korea, Japan and Singapore as an example of what we are creating in the US…

    Worth a read if you have some time.

  49. The Watchung school kindergarten situation is ridiculous and was utterly, utterly avoidable. It was not the fault of Mr. Schmidt, the principal, either, who was put in the unenviable position of having to deal with it after it happened.

    The district unevenly distributed the kindergartners last year–and it wasn’t an error, but a choice. So why did they make this choice?

  50. The uneven class size situation has been going on since I’ve lived in Montclair — over a decade. It often varies from school to school over the years, with certain schools usually on the larger class size end, and some usually on the lower end. It has absolutely no basis in who the Super is, admins are, etc. Back when my oldest was in second grade in Bradford and the district allowed students to transfer from Nishuane classes of 19-20 to her Bradford class of 28, several of us met with Bruce Dabney to discuss stopping the influx of transfer students from schools with lower enrollments to schools with higher enrollments. We got absolutely nowhere (but he was very charming), and this was under Alvarez. Unfortunately, it is well known in Montclair that if you make enough noise, you get your way. Well known. I haven’t experienced this myself, but know many who have succeeded through these tactics. As long as the BOE, under whatever Super it may be under, allows people who throw fits to get their way, this will continue. I have always thought there should be greater equality of class sizes amongst the elementary schools in Montclair. But this takes standing up to parents, enforcing lottery results, and saying no. And the BOE seems unable to do this. I am not saying they shouldn’t accommodate the unique child who has particular issues that can only be addressed in certain environments. But most of our children are not like that. If the lottery results were mostly enforceable, then we’d see class sizes evening out better, with less situations like this happening.

    Btw, Bradford has classes of 19? Are you sure? With multiple children going through Bradford, we have never, ever, experienced classes of less than 25. I would be very interested to know from Bradford parents whether this is indeed true.

  51. pac2,

    You’re right, but your point didn’t fully explain what happened last year at Watchung and is rippling now thru the school.

    The total student population of about 455 at Watchung has been flat over the last 6 years. Clearly, the building has remained constant.

    Why is the MEA not complaining or say it is not working? Why is the Watchung PTA keeping a low profile?

    I believe it may be just a case of the squeaky wheel – the Watchung PTA – wants more resources and figured out a way to get them. I think it is just that simple.

  52. In defensive of no one or no one Central Office Administration, I concur that these types of elementary and middle school registration problems (with the “hot” school allowed to be grossly oversubscribed) have been present in Montclair Public Schools for years. My children have been in the district for more than a decade, and the name of the school may change but the dynamic doesn’t. In our experience, it was transfers into Hillside at 4th grade and ‘Freedom of Choice’ switches to Glenfield that sometimes left my kids and their teachers without enough desks in the room. I also agree no matter who in Central Office was responsible for last year’s kindergarten assignments, the Superintendent has to own responsibility for this problem and clearly illustrate the system by which Central Office staff will fairly apply the “lottery” system and show us the checks and the balances that will ensure kids/building assignments are protected from a “computer error” or inconsistencies in staff decisions. Mistakes happen…but the system should have the capacity to catch and correct mistakes before they impact kids. This should also insulate staff from the most “persistent” parents among us. The upside is — for incoming kindergarten parents who may be reading this — is that there is no one “best” school in Montclair. The elementary and middle schools are different, but kids do well in all of them. Ours succeeded academically and socially in the track that we originally were placed in, but I know they would be supported, loved and generally taught well in each and every building in the district.

  53. Totally agree, mcinmtc. I firmly believe my children, in general, would have done just fine in any of the schools. I actually instinctively am gun shy of the schools with the “top” scores in our district, as I fear they may draw more of the hyper-competitive parents who really place importance in standardized testing scores, and will do anything to get their child into that particular school (no, I am not saying all the parents at these schools are like that — I know many wonderful parents at these schools who don’t fit this description. But I do think they get more of the Type A parents who need their child there no matter what kind of fuss they need to raise to get them there). We have had wonderful experiences at schools that were not the “popular” ones at the time my children entered. Wonderful. Wouldn’t change them for anything. And even Mt. Hebron has had oversubscription issues here and there in the past — nothing like having your child several years ago tell you she had to race to Geometry to make sure she could get a desk!

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