Montclair Schools Posts BoE Meeting Q&As on Website

rp_iStock_000004964980_ExtraSmall.jpgMontclair School district announced earlier this week, in an email to parents, the creation of an online document to share the specific questions brought up at BOE meetings, and to address these inquiries with responses. The document has since been removed, but below are some questions asked at the last BoE meeting on October 20, that were answered on a Public Comments page by the district.

The text of this post with excerpts of some of the questions was copied and saved before the document was removed. We didn’t include all the questions, as we were providing a link to what we believed would be a live document and that readers would be able to read all questions and answers in full on the Montclair Schools website. When we hear back from the district with any explanation regarding the document’s removal, we will update.

Marcella Simadiris asks …

I want to know who chose to make the High School wait until August to get a Director of Guidance? Stop running from question. Did it have to be a national search? Who decided that leaving the HS without a director of guidance, despite all the scheduling concerns that were brought up during BOE meetings, and putting the HS at risk was worth waiting for Mr. French?

District response:

Dr. MacCormack, Mr. Earle, the District’s Chief Talent Officer and the formal search committee for the open position worked together to recruit, interview and select the High School’s new Director of Guidance. Their collective experiences in these matters are deeply respected and highly regarded and addressing a national search like this takes a great deal of time and effort.

No one chose to wait until August; rather the district took the necessary time to find the best possible candidate. District hiring practices are not dictated by deadlines alone, the top priority is finding the best potential employees that can serve our students and represent the values of our community. Our students deserve nothing less. From speaking to parents across the district, Mr. French has received very positive feedback transitioning to his new role and we believe the district’s investment in him serves our students and our parents well. Marcella, prior to your question, Superintendent MacCormack offered to meet with you personally to ensure all your concerns were fully addressed and you refused this meeting. If there is a change of heart, please know she is available.

 Laurie Orosz asks …

Do we have a PARCC opt-out policy/procedure like last year’s opt-out policy – so opting-out students don’t have to stay home and can be teacher’s helpers? In addition, can the district please detail all PARCC-related MHS graduation requirements for 2016?

District response:

We fully understand there are concerns about PARCC. We hope you please review this communication from Superintendent MacCormack that hopefully provides some fair context and updates. In addition, the District will be holding a series of PARCC forums, which we hope you will consider attending. Please click here for the dates and times.

Regarding High School graduation requirements, as you have likely read, the state recently announced the creation of a plan regarding PARCC and students graduating from High School. Specifically, the state has determined that passing PARCC may be used to meet graduation requirements. In addition, the state is also planning to offer students the opportunity to “substitute” a minimum score on the SAT or use some other college entrance exams, as well as the option of going through an appeals process to meet graduation requirements. It should be noted that not passing PARCC will have no effect on whether a student is able to graduate. These options will be available to students in the classes of 2016, 2017 and 2018, after which the state will plan to reevaluate the policy. For students graduating in 2015, the state will use High School Statewide Assessments (HSPA) as a determination for graduation.

Regarding your question to opt out, the State has recently provided direction on this issue, which can be found by clicking here. We are currently reviewing all options within the district and will follow up shortly with additional information.


Jim Zarilli, Michelle Fine and Maia Davis all asked a version of this question:

Why are we picking on the lowest-paid employees in the district? Why showing paras such disrespect?

District response:

We believe you are referring to the Union President’s contention at the last Board meeting that all paraprofessionals should be paid immediately for attending our district-wide development day for all teachers and staff.

As the MEA contract states, paraprofessionals attending the professional development day would be paid on an hourly basis for the actual days and hours scheduled and worked. The pay for our paraprofessionals are calculated assuming there are 184 days scheduled and worked. To be crystal clear, if at the end of the year the paraprofessionals have worked more than 184 days, they will indeed be paid for any additional days, including their attendance at the district’s development day.

While we are more than willing to discuss new ideas and additional options in future contracts, the district office must following specific procedure defined by the current MEA contract, which is all we are doing.

It should also be noted that the Superintendent, the Board of Education and the community of Montclair hold our paraprofessionals in the highest regard. While Montclair’s previous School Boards and Superintendents have allowed widespread cuts to our paraprofessionals, we have prioritized their valuable work in each of the recent budgets. We view each paraprofessional as an integral member of the district’s education team, so much so, the district wanted to ensure their participation in our district-wide Professional Development (PD) Day.

Please note if the union disagrees with how we are handling this specific issue, it is well within their right to file a formal grievance.


Regina Tuma asks:

What about the data in the academic presentation are we celebrating and why are we awarding merit bonuses based on single year data trends that could be one-time aberrations or fluctuations? What’s material? How many of the changes in scores are actually meaningful?

District response:

The purpose of the academic presentation is to provide transparency and specific information that parent’s request from the district and, in some cases, made mandatory by state law. For those who did not have the opportunity to review the presentation, it can be found here. We believe there are many great results of our schools that we can celebrate, but fully respect your point of view. Regina, the Assistant to the Superintendent Matthew Frankel, has attempted in the past to outreach you regarding your concerns with the district presentations. He is available to listen to any specifics issue you may have. If you need any further follow up please let us know.


Alana Schreiber (Student) asks:

Why is a progressive town like Montclair supporting a “Powder Puff” football game and a “Gender Role Reversal Day,” both of which stem from a premise of binary gender identity and which actually reinforce the idea of fixed gender roles by making such a big deal about flipping it.

District response:

Both the district and Mr. Earle completely agree with this point of view, which is why after many years, the High School has made some significant changes in regard to this issue this school year. The “Powder Puff” game has been officially changed to the “Flag Football” game. In addition, the cheerleading component is now open to everyone, with participants learning actual cheerleading routines. We believe these changes are significant and have helped insure that this event is focused on being inclusive to everyone. We deeply value your activism on this issue.


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  1. So odd this should appear on Baristanet when Penny MacCormack and Matt Frankel were apparently directed to take it down, by the BOE. If you click on the link you will see it was removed.

    It should also be noted that speakers were misquoted in their questions and not all who spoke at that meeting are featured.

    Seems like the PR machine is chugging along.

  2. “a premise of binary gender identity”

    I thought that we were teaching science, and specifically evolution, in the public schools? Gender identification isn’t binary??? That concept is somehow offensive? When does the pendulum swing back to a more reasonable perspective of society?

  3. The bottom line is the Montclair BoE and Super are unwilling or unable to address questions posed by the public, in public. Well crafted, but incomplete written responses to self-selected questions, with no possibility of follow-up, is not a replacement for a direct dialog with the public.

  4. Pete – well they tried to answer the questions in this link that was taken down….probably better to not address the people asking by name – they are absolutely identifying the posters here so the typical parent knows who they are and sees the way they question everything which is always pretty much:

    why are you trying to ruin our town?
    why are you hiding the truth from us?
    why are you evil?
    why are you stealing money from the town?
    why are you running from my questions?
    why do you hate children and education?
    why do you hate paraprofessionals?
    why do you treat the district staff like slaves?
    when did you stop beating your wife?
    …and then a ridiculous question about the powder puff football game or some other preceived PC-slight. (which the BOE agreement with that point of view puts me closer to assessmentgate and everyone else who is in the anti-faction!)

    Can anyone on the BOE or the superintendent ever give an answer that would placate the handful who ask these pointed questions? I don’t love or hate the BOE or super, the jury is still out in my mind, but i do think that they are working hard and trying in the best interests of the children in the town. Just because some disagree with the approach doesn’t automatically make them the bad people.

  5. cspn55, we’ve hit on this before and I guess it comes down to what you expect of your public servants at a public meeting. I may have a quaint old view of what a BoE meeting should be. To me, there should be a two-way flow of information and view points. There should be comments and questions, and public servants should either be able to answer those questions and concerns directly, or they should not be in that position. It can be hard. It can be uncomfortable. But it’s what I would expect from an public servant, elected or not.

  6. Does anyone know why the document was removed? It seems useful, esp. as the collection of these grows over time.

    I’ve long been disenchanted with the way we hold “dialog” in town. While council members and the school administration push for people to call or email directly, this loses the benefit of a shared conversation. But asking questions in meetings often requires that there be research, consideration, and/or discussion before a reply can be issued. The answer comes in the next meeting, and then it may not be until the meeting after that when follow-up questions can be asked.

    Conversations with turnaround times measured in weeks are painfully slow.

    These online answers are a start at something better. We can read these, and be ready for follow-up questions at the next meeting.

    Even better would be the taking of questions online as well. We’d all need to understand that we cannot afford to have our counselors, BOE members, town or school administrators, etc. swamped and therefore spending their time only answering questions. Still, this would permit a significantly quicker turn-around of questions asked and answered.

    This does nothing for people that are merely using questions as a way to attack political or administrative figures in town. But there are plenty of people that have actual questions and are seeking actual answers. More, this would make it easier for people in town to ask these questions; matters such as work or babysitting schedules would become non-issues.

    I hope therefore that the page returns, and – even more – that this is a real beginning towards improving how we have shared conversations in town.


  7. I too would love to know why they were put up and then taken down. Which makes me wonder if I go to the next BOE meeting and asked that , if I would get an answer online for a day and then have it taken down. It’s bizarre for sure and I am certain many wonder the same.
    I have a question for Baristanet though. Why does this version of the post from the BOE website not include the numbers of Paras working with benefits/without benefits? The original also had how many Paras are now hired as long term subs and per diem. I would really like to see those facts again. Could someone provide that info please?

  8. Interesting, the opt out question is also incomplete and missing a link. So, not only is it strange that days after the district posted these questions and then removed them, that Baristanet posted them, they seemed to have done so selectively.

    Andrew, just because you may not like a question or agree with the opinions of the person asking the question, that does not mean their goal is simply to attack the administration. Asking about opt out to instance is legitimate as many parents are rightfully concerned about this test and have a right to know if the district will treat the it children humanely if they decide it is in their children’s best interest not to take the tests. Similarly, questioning merit bonuses that are being justified by a supposed narrowing of the achievement gap, tied into data that may in actuality show no such thing, is valid.

    As for why the site was taken down, my understanding is it was considered disrespectful to those whose names appeared on the site, especially since these are partial paraphrases not direct quotes. Some of the answers were also considered disrespectful.

    I would appreciate if Baristanet could explain the posting without also commenting on the he site being taken down. It feels very much like Matt Frankel is submitting PR pieces. I guess he has to earn his $60,000 part time salary.

  9. I have a question for Baristanet though. Why does this version of the post from the BOE website not include the numbers of Paras working with benefits/without benefits?

    Thanks for your question. The text of this post with excerpts of some of the questions was copied and saved before the document was removed. We didn’t include all the questions, as we were providing a link to what we believed would be a live document and that readers would be able to read all questions and answers in full on the Montclair Schools website. When we hear back from the district with any explanation regarding the document’s removal, we will update.

  10. “Andrew, just because you may not like a question or agree with the opinions of the person asking the question, that does not mean their goal is simply to attack the administration.”

    Of course, but the reverse is also true. That is, just because you like a question doesn’t make it not an attack.


    “Asking about opt out to instance is legitimate…”

    Yes, it is. That’s not the only question asked, however. More, sometimes even that question is embedded within a speech about how the current BOE and school administration are destroying education in Montclair, presumably by following state law in this case.


    “As for why the site was taken down, my understanding is it was considered disrespectful to those whose names appeared on the site, especially since these are partial paraphrases not direct quotes. Some of the answers were also considered disrespectful.”

    Considered such by whom? Have you a cite or source for this understanding? The questions are on video, so any paraphrasing should be correctable.

    In fact, though it might take extra time to produce, it might be best to include the relevant fragment from the video with the response so that readers (viewers?) can see and hear the questions for themselves.

    Longer term, though, this merely strengthens the argument I made above for a way to submit questions online as well. That leaves no space for paraphrasing.


  11. Andrew, calling out members of the Board and MacCormack for their unethical, unlawful, inept, secretive, and corrupt behavior/decisions/spending isn’t an attack. It’s taking them to task for actions that are harming our district, students, teachers, and neighbors.

    An attack is totally different, like when an anonymous “watch” site shares private details about a union President’s 20 year old tax situation – details that have nothing to do with anything going on in Montclair.

    You know the difference, don’t you buddy? Of course you do…

  12. Liz,

    Your response to qby33 belongs within the body of this post, just before “XXX XXX asks…”, and I strongly urge you to immediately update it. It is a better explanation of what this post consists of, but being buried this far down the page within the comments, very few people will see it.

  13. Andrew,

    If the paraphrasing of questions is correctable now, after the fact, it was equally correctable prior to the document being posted.

    “Yes, it is. That’s not the only question asked, however. More, sometimes even that question is embedded within a speech about how the current BOE and school administration are destroying education in Montclair, presumably by following state law in this case.”

    I am impressed by your firm grasp of the actual intent of the state’s laws, the current BOE, and school administration, and us parents are glad to have your support in the fight to actually save education in Montclair.

  14. Thank you Baristanet. I will be looking forward to that update and checking back often. I could be wrong, but it seems the Para question was the only one omitted. Could this be confirmed or verified?

  15. At the last Board Meeting Maia Davis requested that the questions and answers be put on the web for everyone to see. When Maia and the MCAS group did not like the answers they received they complained to BOE Board Members David Cummings to take it down. You can find Maia’s original request here –…that is if they have not lobbied to have that take down yet either. Amazing the kind of clout this group has with Cummings. They want something they seem know how to throw their muscle around.

  16. Yes Mcasgate, it’s amazing how much clout some groups have – especially the clout that the big money reformies in town have over Larson, Lombard, Deutsch, Kulwin, and MacCormack. And of course, Frankel.

    Must be really frustrating when something doesn’t go their/your way, hmmm?

  17. As predicted, another opportunity to slam Maia Davis and MCAS members. BecaUse everyone knows a group of concerned parents has leverage over the BOE.

    I am really wondering if the purpose of these postings is to have a place for these assaults.

    Thank you Mr. Frankel. Always good to see the tax payer money in operation.

  18. So MCASgate you are offending MCAS and Mr. Cummings. Interesting. I believe IF the posts on the MPS website had been thorough and accurate there would be no reason for them to have been taken down. I think it’s wise to wait for an explanation from the district.

  19. MCAS and any parent needs to question this superintendent and BOE regarding their ability to implement curriculum and test changes, when they seem to show a complete lack of direction. Do the upcoming PARCC exams count for anything at the elementary level since teachers will not receive scores until after their classes have moved on and if so how will they be used? What was the basis for the recent bonuses received by the superintendent and her staff? Will the BOE finally admit that the Paraprofessional’s contract is for 185 days and that they are owed for being made to attend professional development and therefore lose a days pay? Will the district follow Bloomfield’s BOE lead and provide alternate settings for parents who opt their children out of the PARCC? Why is instructional time being used for test preparation that depending on who you talk to (principal or assistant superintendent) is or is not supposed to happen?
    The blank stares, happy-perky-chirpy news from Matt Frankel, and when in doubt blame Frank Alverez, are not sufficient and should not be acceptable.

  20. Boy, when I was looking for a place to raise my child and searched for the best and most progressive public schools I only found wonderful things said about Montclair Public Schools. Can we still say that now?

  21. To address the point of this article, the now-missing website:

    I think it is such a typical example of what this administration thinks of as “communication.” There is no way to dialogue on that posting; it’s the gloss, the veneer of communication without any legitimate exchange of ideas. Look at all the Central Services modes of communication. We get email blasts telling us what they want us to know. They send out surveys, so many surveys, in the name of communication, but these are also really one-way streets. They decide upon the questions so that they frame the discourse. They then choose which answers to display publicly. The BOE meetings are never a dialogue; you ask a question and get nothing but stares in return. This attempt to “answer questions” is another falsehood – they didn’t even address the actual questions they were asked! Don’t we all get emails telling us that the meetings are taped? Couldn’t they have reviewed the tapes to at least get the questions right? The fact that they didn’t bother to achieve accuracy in even this respect speaks volumes. They do not want public input.

  22. Frank Rubacy I thought we don’t get nasty here on Baristanet? Why am I foolish because 12 years ago this town was the place to go if you wanted a progressive school to send your kid to and now it’s just not? Our next door neighbors Bloomfield look more progressive than we do! At least their BOE is having important conversations and giving their families attention to national concerns. All our BOE has done is conform. No questions asked of the state. A shame. People around here seem to think that because it’s the law, no one should question it. That is very closed minded. Many bad policies are made all the time and need to be reevaluated. We see a major pushback from all over the country. Get involved, listen to the educators who are speaking out.

  23. @qby33, yes you can still say that, due to our highly effective and collaborative teaching staff, administrators, and Paraprofessionals. And that we live in a town that has many resources to assist our students and their families, access to local facilities such as the Y and Montclair Art Museum youth programs, as well as our libraries and school partnerships with Montclair State.
    But we will not tolerate, nor accept carpetbaggers who come here to destroy our schools for profit or personal gain.

  24. qby33,

    How hard is it, really, to cut and paste my name so you don’t misspell it? Or, is it the MCAS passive aggressive mantra? The point remains – 12 years or not – you didn’t do the minimum amount of research for your children. And you are criticizing who?

  25. Meccamagic, I certainly agree with you about the teachers and Paraprofessionals.
    “But we will not tolerate, nor accept carpetbaggers who come here to destroy our schools for profit or personal gain.” -yup, that too.

  26. “their families attention to national concerns.”

    This is similar to when the town council votes to make some pointless statement about national policy. Agree or disagree with the policy, the town council is not the place for it. Had they nothing better to do, were the roads and finances and so on in great shape, I’d not be concerned. As it is, I want them to spend what time they have on Montclair.

    Similarly, I don’t want the school district spending time on national or state issues. You don’t like the PARCC? Fine; take it up with the state. You don’t believe districts should buy curricula from companies? Fine; take it up with a district that didn’t pay its teachers to build them.

    Had the district or the BOE nothing better to do, it could be a fun and diverting debate. As it is, there’s plenty to do in Montclair.

    Plenty of people seem to want to try to make Montclair ground zero for their state or national agendas or aspirations. I don’t think we should permit our town, our schools, or our children to be used in this way.


  27. “They send out surveys, so many surveys, in the name of communication, but these are also really one-way streets.”

    On what basis do you write this? How many surveys is “so many”? As for “one-way streets”: I attended two different SATp/PTA meetings just this past week where building administrators went over survey results and the plans to improve those results. I imagine that the other schools have been having similar meetings.

    I agree that dialog is tough the way meetings work, but this is because of how the meetings are structured. Most questions of substance require research and consideration for a response to be formulated. This just cannot happen in a brief public comment period in the midst of a business meeting. That’s one reason why we should all be pleased to see answers in public like this (though disappearing answers are obviously less helpful, even if our editor did bring Google to the rescue {8^).

    An excellent example of responsiveness appeared just today. Earlier this week, a question was asked of the Glenfield Principal during the SATp/PTA meeting. His response was several pages long in his weekly “newsletter” that was sent today. Not only do we get a complete and considered response, but the entire school community gets the benefit of that information.

    As I wrote above, I hope that the BOE and administration takes the next step of accepting questions online as well. Again, we’ve the need to avoid swamping staff, and there are probably other practical details to resolve, but this could greatly aid communication as well as open up the [virtual] floor to people unable to make evening meetings. Certainly, there’d be neither need nor room for “paraphrasing”.

    It also gives those asking the questions a wider audience. That should be a good thing, right?


  28. Interesting Andrew that you point out that the Glenfield Principal sent out “a complete and considered response”. Must be he picks and chooses who he answers questions from because I have been awaiting an email response from same man who never seem to answer my emails, at least not until I follow up and CC someone. I thought the district had a policy on returning emails? I guess it only replies to select people. Wouldn’t you agree that any question a parent sends (or asks at a meeting) regarding their child should be handled with equal “responsiveness”?

  29. I don’t see how teachers collectively deciding between 2 or 3 math programs is designing curriculum. Similarly, I don’t see sheer these math sheets and constant multiple choice quizzes in math and science were designed by our teacher. Judging from the work coming home for my Bullock third grader, I would say very little is designed by his teacher.

    It is at best naive to think that state and national policy doesn’t affect Montclair or our school curricula. Do we live in a bubble? We are taking the same standardized tests the. Rest of hue he state is taking and we are very clearly doing test aka tech prep in the classrooms. It is the responsibility of School Boards to make responsible decisions for the children in their districts. Just blindly following unfunded state mandates that have been shown in districts like Washington D.C. to either be ineffective or even harmful to children, is not showing they are making responsible decisions. So, as parents and taxpayers if we believe their decisions are not in our children’s best interests then it is our responsibility to question those decisions. Take at look at Bloomfield. Their Board has issued resolutions both opposing high stakes testing and mandating humane treatment of children who refuse to take the PARRCS.

    And of course, if as a parent you approve of the Board’s decisions it is your right to defend them. But your rights do not supersede our rights any more than ours supersedes yours.

  30. “I would say very little is designed by his teacher”

    Well, that may be true. Not all teachers agreed to be a part of the original process. As I understand it, though, more have become involved since. That’s a good thing.

    I keep reading comments like “I don’t see how teachers collectively deciding between 2 or 3 math programs is designing curriculum” from people that claim to support teachers. If the teachers chose to do research and leverage ideas, materials, and even patterns that already existed, how is this a bad thing? More: why are some people in town so quick to dismiss the work of people they claim to support?

    “It is at best naive to think that state and national policy doesn’t affect Montclair or our school curricula.”

    If this is intended to respond to me, it misses the point. Of course we’re affected in many ways by state and national policy. What so many people seem to be missing is that Montclair doesn’t guide that policy. If you want to fight against academic rigor or the affordable care act or whatever “interference with your freedoms” you find offensive, take it to the appropriate venue.

    Every time someone shouts about PARCC or some other state or federal issue in a public meeting here, that’s one less opportunity for a parent to raise an issue that actually can be resolved by the people listening to that meeting. Take a lesson from the student that spoke at the last BOE meeting. Whether you agree or disagree with the expressed concern over the “powder puff” game, it’s an issue that can be addressed here.


  31. Andrew, you are missing my point. A BOE can take a position against unfunded mandates as Bloomfield’s BOE has done. And speaking before the BOE to request policies on opt out is certainly relevant to Montclair since this is the district we need the policy from. And speaking to curricula is also what the BOE is supposed to oversee. I have seen a narrowing of our curricula. Science is now largely consisting of videos followed by multiple choice tests. The math program was chosen for all the elementary schools. There is virtually no room for any creativity or differentiation on the part of the teachers.

    I value our teachers very much and wish they could have actually designed the math curriculum rather than buying a program that many consider to be poor at best.

    And I find your up language terribly offensive. To say I am fighting “Against academic rigor or the affordable care act or “whatever interference with your freedoms” you find offensive” is incredibly demeaning and dismissive.

    Opposing poor, developmentally inappropriate standards that is already being shown to widen the achievement gap is hardly fighting rigor. I am supporting high quality, progressive curricula and teachers ability to write their own curricula. I can just as easily slam your position and say you have had a right to support harmful standards that only support big money, testing and tech companies, institutional segregation vilifying teachers, but that is not the point of my post.

  32. Andrew, finally – something we can agree on: individuals in Montclair shouldn’t use our district as a forum for their national/political education agendas. This is especially true for folks in town like Sam Cole, Donald Katz, Jon Schnur, Tim Carden, Amy Rosen, and others who are some of America’s leading education reformers. As per your argument, these individuals shouldn’t be providing backdoor financial, advisory, or other guidance that advances their national/political aims to MacCormack or members of our BOE.

    That’s in line with what you’re talking about, right?

    BTW, your sentiment about not allowing national/political aims to poison our local school district is a word-for-word cut and paste from a number of posts that can be found on the odious Montclair Schools Watch blog:

    Quite a coincidence, Andrew. Or is it?

    ***WARNING: for Baristanet users who’d like to examine these posts, beware. Montclair Schools Watch is observing and noting the IP addresses of visitors to their blog. Here are the details:

  33. BTW, qby33 and nycmontclair: don’t waste your time going back and forth with Andrew about what he deems permissible and not permissible regarding questions for our BOE. His position is clear: if MacCormack or members of the BOE make a decision, your job is to sit down, shut up, and OBEY. Any disagreement is an uncivil attack.

    Which, interestingly, is a mindset that Montclair Schools Watch embraces:

    This overlap is getting very interesting…

  34. I really detest internet trolls. I have met the members of MCAS, and I have heard them at many BOE meetings, and they are a remarkable group of talented and dedicated parents. They are protecting our children and our schools from these so called reformers who are underhanded and money driven. Look at what is happening around the country and you will see that there are now many groups of parents like MCAS who are selflessly working on their own precious time to save our children’s education. I am extremely grateful to MCAS for holding the likes of Penny McCormack and her cronies accountable. Thank you MCAS for your integrity, and strength. You are making a difference.

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