The Montclair Board of Education, which is scheduled to meet not once, but twice this June, took time last night to honor Weston Award teachers, discuss AP program and board processes, heard Edgemont School teacher presentations, and voted to officially terminate its investigation on compromised assessments.
The meeting began with the annual Weston awards, funded by philanthropists Josh and Judy Weston, which brought teachers and students alike to the meeting for food, drink, and honors.
The Weston awards honored seventeen teachers from throughout the district:
- Marcie Chanin (Bradford School, 2nd grade)
- Beverly D’Andrea (Bullock School, 4th grade)
- Kathleen Hart (Edgemont School, 2nd grade)
- Maria Martire (Nishuane School, 2nd grade)
- Ivory Wise (Nishuane School, art teacher)
- Louis D’Amico (Hillside School, music teacher)
- Marjorie Noval (Hillside School , grades 3 to 5, visual arts)
- Honey Walia (Northeast School, 1st grade)
- Nancy Myers-Alvarez (Watchung School, kindergarten)
- Oliver Pruksarnukul (Glenfield Middle School, social studies)
- Shelley Stubbins (Glenfield Middle School, family and consumer sciences)
- Daniel Taylor (Mount Hebron Middle School, STEM)
- Pamela Herriott (Mount Hebron Middle School, Spanish)
- Todd Smith (Renaissance Middle School, 6th grade)
- Anne Baney-Gianpaola (Montclair High School, sophomore and junior classes)
- Ryan Casazza (Montclair High School, mathematics)
- William Wingren (Montclair High School, sophomore and junior classes)
Mrs. Weston, who announced the awards, promised that she and her husband would continue to honor Montclair teachers. “We want to keep doing it, as long as we have the energy and the money holds out,” she said.
Schools Superintendent Penny MacCormack’s report was, as always, chock full of presentations about the efforts to improve the district. Chief Talent Officer Michelle Russell and District Parent Coordinator Sylvia Bryant addressed proposed improvements of the School Action Team for Partnerships (SATP), which is aimed at supporting children through academic achievement through the involvement of parent and school staff members in committees that work with the principals in forming effective and cohesive teaching practices in the schools.
“Part of the work that we’ve been doing,” Russell told the board, “is to really get all of our schools to have school improvement plans. We’re empowering the School Action Team for Partnerships by collaborating with our principals to ensure that our school improvement plan comes to life for families.”
SATP members are to be given training by the district, with extra training for schools receiving federal Title I funding for high percentages of low-income students. SATP co-chairs for Title I schools are to support the development of a school parent involvement policy throughout the district.
Edgemont Montessori School Teacher Report
Edgemont School took its turn to report on what was working and what wasn’t. Edgemont teachers cited as examples of what was working the collaborative approach to teaching in the Montessori-themed school, along with cultural enrichment programs for the students and an active PTA. What was not working, they said, was the lack of a full child-study team available for the whole school week, a misapplication of the Marshall rubric to the Montessori approach to letting children choose how to learn a lesson, and the practice of penalizing teachers who go beyond the requirements laid out by the Common Core. They said testing was also a problem as they found the tests too hastily put together.
Board Discussion of AP Program
Board member David Cummings voiced concerns about the advanced proficiency (AP) program and the need to review AP courses, determine whether students who opt for AP are required to take tests, determine whether the district should agree to pay for that requirement, and then have a review to find possible barriers to get into AP.
David Deutsch, chairing his first Board of Education meeting since being elected to President in the May 19 re-organizational meeting, wanted to pass a resolution to send it the curriculum committee. Board member Anne Mernin balked at the resolution proposal, though, saying that the use of a resolution straitjacketed the board’s ability to discuss the AP issues freely by forcibly prioritizing goals and not allowing the free flow of ideas, a concern that new member Jessica de Koninck also expressed reservations about.The discussion over how to discuss the issue, which took over half an hour, ultimately led to a passage of a resolution meant to allow discussion of the AP issue. Cummings had said a process was needed to determine the board’s priorities.
During public comment, several regular members of the public sought to speak, and Deutsch had to deal with residents who insisted on going over their allotted three minutes.
Marcella Simadiris asked if any attention was given to special-needs students and how much was being done to foster diversity. Laurie Orosz declared that the time spent on testing was making students more averse to books and literature. Another resident, Garrett Morrison, expressed concern about a possible delay in the full-immersion language program. Such comments drew applause, but when resident Itai Dinoor spoke to commend the board for its hard work and the members’ ability to listen, there was notable silence.
Watchung School and Class Size
The biggest complaint was the size of the kindergarten classes in the year gone by, particularly in Watchung School. Concerns were mainly about the overcrowding of first-grade schools as the 2013-14 kindergarten students prepare to move up and the need for a fourth-first-grade class for 2014-15. Resident Adaora Udoji summed up the parents’ concerns. She said that there was lack of communication and transparency with confusion as to what the process was to resolve the issue.
“The fact that is has not been directly addressed, I mean, that’s of great concern, and here we are now, in May [sic], and we still have no sense as to plan is for September.” Udoji said that she needed to choose what was best for their own child, whom she said has suffered academically due to kindergarten overcrowding.
Board Votes to Terminate Investigation of Compromised Assessments
At the conclusion of the meeting, the board voted 5 – 0 — members David Cummings abstained and Shelly Lombard was absent — to terminate its investigation of the compromised assessments.
In January, the Board voted to suspend its investigation when the state’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance (OFAC) began its own investigation, which is still ongoing.
After the meeting, Board president David Deutsch told Barista Kids no new information has arrived from OFAC. “It just became clear that it wasn’t very productive to keep the investigation in suspension. We felt it was more productive to not make a more affirmative decision one way or the other.”
During the board’s investigation, $60,000 in legal fees were billed from its legal counsel, Weiner, Lesniak LLP. In addition to those costs, $69,000 were billed from Board member David Cumming’s attorney Stuart Ball who is providing legal counsel for him after Cummings was served a subpoena in November to give testimony.
When asked if Cummings legal fees have been covered by the board, Deutsch responded “No comment.”