Montclair Board Meeting: Focus on Progress and Strategies to Improve the High School

montclair high school

Monday’s Montclair Board of Education meeting was the first to be broadcast live on Fios Channel 33 — and with a new school year under way, there were many new things to report.

Superintendent Penny MacCormack kicked off the meeting held in the Montclair High School Auditorium remarking on what she called a successful September and thanking all those involved with the opening of the 2014-2015 school year. Breakfast for the first time is being served at all schools in the district, she said, and 94 percent of families received one of their top three magnet school choices, while 80 percent received their first choice.

Parents of K-5 students will see new report cards this school year and can say bienvenido to the return of language arts instruction. High schoolers returned from summer break to find renovated/remodeled bathrooms and cafeterias, the latter designed with small round tables more conducive to group discussions, a lounge area and charging stations. The teens will soon be surfing the new high school website, which officially launches on Friday, September 26.

Treating M.H.S. Like a V.I.P.

MacCormack continued her series of 2013-2014 progress reports on the school district’s Strategic Plan, concentrating this month on the seventh goal which focuses on numerous strategies to improve Montclair High School.

way finding signs

In addition to the renovations to the cafeteria and bathrooms, way finding signs will be installed in the hallways later this fall, she said. Other facility needs identified in surveys and focus groups conducted last school year will be embedded in the district’s long-range facilities plan to be presented in the coming months.

Projectors, whiteboards, and computer carts carrying 600 new Chromebooks were purchased over the summer and are now up and running, MacCormack said. WIFI was also improved and teachers were trained on the new technology. Additional technology needs will be included in the district’s technology plan to be presented in October.

Director of Technology Barry Haines will continue to work on the district’s technology plan and look to form partnerships with Montclair State University, local businesses, community and religious organizations and other possible sources of digital and wireless resources.

In order to better support the principal at the high school, Content Area Supervisors began spending half of their time at MHS in 2013-14. CAOs and Content Leads are also now part of the MHS Leadership Team.

During 2014-15, MacCormack and Montclair High School Principal James Earle are exploring three areas: creating a counseling/tutoring center, developing a rigorous/consistent in-school suspension program with an instructor who can work with students and adding a dean to support social/emotional/academic needs.

Other points addressed in MacCormack’s progress report:

  • After collecting magazine ratings and methodologies in the 2013-14 school year, the district will now consider whether it would like to use those ratings as part of their strategic planning.
  • In an effort to improve communication, all administration in the district and staff at the high school are now required to reply to parent emails in 24-48 hours.
  • Flow charts for math, science, social studies and English/language arts are published on the district website and will be part on the new high school website to help students and parents understand how to navigate through those subjects.
  • High school parents can also look forward to updated syllabi templates, increased emphasis on high expectations for students, and improved communication about Small Learning Communities to eighth and ninth graders.

Survey Says … Or Does It?

Following Superintendent MacCormack’s progress report on the Strategic Plan, Board Member David Cummings asked whether the district is relying too heavily on surveys.

“Is there a certain number of participants you would consider to make a survey valid?” Cummings asked.

The New Jersey Department of Education sets the bar at a 25% response rate, MacCormack said, adding that’s a good standard for the district to use but that she would like to reach out to Montclair State University for feedback.

Cummings followed up by asking about the demographics of respondents.

MacCormack said demographic information could be collected by adding questions to future surveys. “If we decide to do that, we want to communicate well why we’re doing that,” she added.

The School Bus Fuss

Board Member Jessica de Koninck asked for clarification on an article which recently appeared in The Montclair Times concerning bus safety.

The vast majority of school buses do fail their first inspection as the article stated, explained Chief Operating Officer Brian Fleischer.

Rigorous standards could lead an inspection to fail for a ripped seat cushion or broken light bulb, Fleischer said.

But there’s no cause for alarm, he said.

“If a bus is dangerous it is removed from service and cannot be used for our students,” he said. “Everything has passed every safety measure before starting the school year.”

Public Comment

District parent Laurie Orosz spoke out against education reforms. “Who is to say what is college and career ready?” she asked. Orosz said schools in New Jersey are among the top in the nation, and Montclair has always ranked well. “Why are we intentionally destroying what worked?”

Lynn Fedele, mother of two sons in the high school, asked about the district policy on overcrowding. Fedele said both of her sons have repeatedly experienced classes with more than 25 or 30 students, which she called “highly problematic.” She said her sons have been denied classes and have not received textbooks because of overcrowding issues. “Class size needs to be added as an objective in addition to everything else that is being addressed,” she said.

Regina Tuma of Montclair Cares About Schools commented on the issue of transparency, specifically when it comes to budget reports shared with the public. Tuma called the reports vague and unclear. “As a parent looking at these categories. I have questions,” she said. “Will we get to see the vendors, where this money is going, the names of the tech companies?”

Kelly McDonald, a parent of three students, asked the board to look into the issue of student data and privacy in light of the district using Google Apps. What data is being collected? What data is being shared? “I would like to ask us as a district to investigate this,” McDonald said.

Climate and high expectations will be discussed at next regular public meeting of the Montclair Board of Education scheduled for Monday, Oct. 6, at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will be held in the Auditorium of Montclair High School, 100 Chestnut Street.




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  1. I think that was a pretty good meeting and I’m glad the safety of buses came up, I’m sure I’m not the only one who was alarmed by that headline. Don’t forget to thank your driver too, they’re doing the lord’s work getting all our kiddos back and forth to school everyday. Hey writer, nicely done on the Family Feud reference there at the top of the survey section. Hopefully those who get it still have strong enough bifocals to read the text that isn’t large and bold.

  2. Call me crazy, but wouldn’t it have made sense to have M.H.S. “way finding signs” installed and ready for use at the BEGINNING of the school year began, when incoming students really needed to figure out how to find their way around? Same with the High School website. We had all summer to launch the new website, yet the district waits until the end of September.

  3. I also think it would be wise to publish how much the Super and two of her subordinates received in “merit pay” bonuses and based on what criteria, especially when there is a crowding issue in the classroom.

  4. Also brought up at the meeting was the question about Paraprofessionals being continually hired as long-term subs. I have a problem with this happening year after year. They do the same job, yet get paid less and receive no benefits such as sick days or anything else as another person doing the same job. I hope someone gets an answer to this particular question quickly. These aides work with our children and deserve to be treated (and paid) properly.

  5. I’m going to risk getting yelled at by the rest of you for saying this, but was I the only one who noticed during a meeting with lots of good news, Maia Davis used here entire time to complain about the Montclair Schools Watch blog? She said it’s coming out of a district computer which I think would be kind of a big deal if true. Maybe someone got early access to one of those Chromebooks…

    That’s all. Now I’m going to hide in the safest place in the district – a bus.

  6. And am I the only who notices that certain individuals can’t wait to slander Maia Davis and other MCAS members? Was this really necessary. I too watched the meeting and I saw most of the people in the public comments section make negative remarks, but yet only Maia Davis is commented on? This seems very transparent. She’s not the only one who thinks This blog is tied to Central Office.

  7. I saw the meeting as well and I did think that among the good news and yes, some other criticisms, to spend the whole three minutes on some blog seemed a little myopic. But I suppose you are free to go up and talk about buses and school lunches or even the weather and fall fashion if you want.

  8. As usual, there are a lot of baristanet folks, including some new ones, telling people what to think about what they saw. Perhaps, being the independent critical-thinking type of town I hope we still are, we should instead encourage folks to watch the lifestream themselves:

    I watched it myself, including the public comments (at about the 50 min mark) which are one of the few unscripted moments in our town dialogue. Based on that viewing, I find several of the characterizations above here inaccurate.

  9. My impression is that Montclair Schools Watch is written by folks with PR or political experience, or some kind of spokesperson roll. They have a feed set up so when their group is mentioned in online text or comments they are right there to make positive comments or defend the district, but always a little too canned, often with a little harmless criticism thrown in for authenticity. And as t4m mentioned, we’ve seen what seems like new screen names pop up on some of the BoE/Super related stories.

    I’m curious to know what connection there might be to district computers, and how someone could determine with any degree of certainty where the traffic from the site is coming from?

  10. Just went back to this thread from May, about when the first posts by MSW started showing up…
    It’s interesting to look back at this now. There are three posters, all critical of the MEA president, that stand out. A quick search shows that two never posted on any story but this one, and one posted a single throw away comment on another story the same day. Not a peep before or since. It’s proof of nothing, but it suggests an orchestrated effort.

  11. I think the issue of data is really important. All grades and files on children are digitized and stored in hard drives and the “cloud” via Google apps. If major companies can’t keep their credit cards secured what chance does the district have of really keeping all that data private?

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