Montclair Superintendent Penny MacCormack Resigns (UPDATED)

Penny MacCormackMontclair Superintendent Penny MacCormack, who became Superintendent of the Montclair Public Schools on November 1, 2012, has resigned.

Montclair’s previous superintendent, Frank Alvarez, resigned in February 2012 after almost nine years. MacCormack was named as new superintendent in August 2012. MacCormack’s first day on the job was during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

See statement from Montclair BOE president David Deutsch and the memo from MacCormack to staff below:

Statement from Deutsch: “Dr. MacCormack notified the Board on Friday evening that she will be resigning from her position as Superintendent to pursue a position with a new educational services organization located in New York City. Her decision was unexpected; the Board will discuss and determine its next steps during executive session at its Board meeting scheduled for Monday, February 23rd. Dr. MacCormack has assured the Board that she will do all she can to ensure an orderly transition and the Board plans to update the community formally at Monday’s board meeting.”

Dear Staff,

Last Friday evening I informed Board of Education President David Deutsch that I would be resigning from my position as Superintendent of the Montclair Public Schools. I have accepted a new position, based in New York City, focused on instruction and professional development.

The decision came after a great deal of reflection with my family and friends and did not come quickly or easily. I wanted to communicate to each of you directly this morning, after our short break, to inform you of my decision.

Together, all of us have worked long hours and served our community passionately for a simple, but most important reason – to provide our students with the best possible future.

Thank you for your dedication to the students, families and community, and thank you for making me a better person and leader. Thank you for showing me the greatness of Montclair. This experience will carry me far into the future, and I am so proud to have served this unique community.

Sincerely Yours,
Penny MacCormack

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  1. I rarely read Baristanet because I understand it is a forum for venom spewing people hiding behind nicknames. Did you witness the treatment that Dr. MacCormack endured at BOE meetings practically from the time she took the job? I did. That the allegations against her were politically driven, half-truths was one thing. The total lack of respect and humanity on display was beneath what any of us would expect from our fellow parents/caregivers, teachers and neighbors. I have never seen anyone work as hard as she did for our students. This is a sad day for our town.

    Save your breath – I won’t be reading from now on.

  2. deborahvillarrealhadley,

    (if that’s a real name…)
    Your characterization of Baristanet is off. We usually have a healthly debate about the happenings in our community. And while you will certainly find strong opinions (would you expect less from a well educated, civic minded community?), we have a diversity of opinion.

    Here, some will cheer this news, seeing it as evidence of a bad plan (see PRCC decision), others will see this as evidence that while we pretend to want change, we really don’t.

    Either way, if you were to have read and even participated in our discussions, you’d see your comment, “venom spewing people hiding behind nicknames” is not true.

    And even silly.

  3. I liked her. She is smart, articulate and seemed like a straight shooter. I think we should be concerned about the large bonuses the next Superintendent receives…but, I am sorry to see her go.

  4. I hope that the board will have a more open search process for this superintendent and have more meaningful involvement from parents and other community members. Last time, they scheduled one opportunity for each ward on short notice instead of following the district’s past practice of more robust community input.

    p.s. Ms Hadley – I attended/watched board meetings, and I can agree that there were a small handful of people who were not always respectful. However, the vast majority of people who made public comments were civil and respectful. Vigorous disagreement is not the same as disrespect.

  5. Very pleased to see her go. I think that the pressure from parents with a far different vision of education had a lot to do with her departure. Like others, I am hoping that the public gets to participate in the search for her replacement, and that the current BOE will not appoint another Broad Street type.

  6. Is it too soon to nominate RoC for Super? He hasn’t posted on here in a while, but he’s a level headed person, who cares about our kids.

    Whadaya say, RoC? Cathar would be a good option too, but I realize he’s be a divisive choice to some vocal members of the Baristanet community who I fear would let their feelings be known.

    Me? That’s a nice thought. In truth, it’s a job I could do, am qualified to do, but would have to decline as I have some new plantings to consider in the way-back of my Palatial Estate in UPPER Montclair.

  7. As a parent of a school-aged child, I am positively delighted to hear that Ms. MacCormack has opted to invest her energies elsewhere. My only hope is that the BOE has learned its lesson about hiring theorists over experienced practitioners.

    Her brief tenure was an epic disaster on so many fronts that it is hard to be anything but gleeful that the school district managed to extricate itself from her services without further cost or distraction.

  8. @ Deborah….Methinks that when discourse is not going your way then you decide to tune out.
    I’ve seen many who can’t take a verbal punch leave this site and disappointingly so with the vaporization of RoC, Cathar, Croi, and surprisingly the Big W formerly know as Walleroo. They have become lurkers in the back, bending back the venetian blinds and not gracing us with their opinions…Why? Due to lack of respect? Re-location to retirement communities where they watch the swaying of palm trees and search out the next barbeque joint? Hopefully their silence is not due to illness or slipping into the final darkness of this time around?
    So I guess those of delicate egos, take some Vitameatavegamin and get back in the game, say your piece go get a cup o’ joe and peek once more thru the venetian LCD blinds of your laptop.

    PAZ trying to pass thru the eye of a needle into a new lunar new year.

  9. jcunningham your words are so hurtful.

    I only take heart that perhaps, dblespresso might feel otherwise.

    Right, dblespresso?

  10. The budget is a Hot Mess! It was going to be time to show me the money, and that was going to be hard to do with all of the uncertified, highly paid chiefs, supervisors, legal fees, PR mavens, and bonuses.

  11. “Yeah complainerpuss, you were right from the start.”


    Just hope you remember what I said about it not mattering.

    Celebration seems such an odd choice now. The vision-challenged MCAS crowd will either ratchet down the rhetoric or pick a new target. The only winner in this is the MEA. Well, it’s going to be an interesting bed they made.

  12. Oh, Professor, don’t let it bother you. For a smack to sting, it must first make sense, right? Cunningham appears to believe that a rock is an “inert lifeform”. Correct me if I’m wrong but is it not true that no rock – regardless of whether it is igneous, sedimentary, or metamorphic – is actually a life form?

    The one exception, of course, is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

  13. I’m still not sure how I feel about testing as the path to accommodate Common Core standards and I think many parents here feel the same. That’s because we really did not have an open dialectical debate as a community to come up with an educational policy to move forward. Instead, a new Supt. was hired to implement her policy without this debate first – given the coming national standards. Today, many have entrenched positions, either against or for the testing roll-out. Opt in…opt out? But the full policy review, with all issues, facts and research on the table presented by varied experts in a real educational forum – not just advocating the positions of one side — has yet to be held. It’s only when controversial issues are vetted fully and openly, is a community able to move forward. Why? Because just as important as the final policy decision is the need to feel that all views and all voices have been heard and considered logically by those making final choices. That process has yet to occur. Hopefully, it will now before the next selection of leadership.

  14. Matin,
    I see your point and totally agree with how we got here, e.g. what didn’t happen. I wonder how such an undertaking that you propose, where the BOE would have to take the leadership role, would overlay with what is coming over the next four to six months – a challenging budget without the benefit of a large surplus, the MEA contract negotiation, an expanded vetting process for selecting a replacement, a salary cap challenge, and, most importantly, the results from this first round of PARCC testing.

    Would it make sense to you to hire an interim Superintendent as other NJ towns have done?

  15. And as to the PARCC test results, I would think that the important metric would be how MPS scores relative to other districts. The 3 basics scenarios are ‘we do better’, ‘we do worse’, or most likely, ‘the mixed bag’ result when compared to our peer group. Should the community discussion include the results?

    Or do we just go with the premise that we are teaching 3rd grade to 4th graders and leave the question of testing out of it since it is a State mandate?

  16. I can’t speak for those others, PAZ. But I’ve been far too busy to hang about here. I don’t mind the verbal punches, or even the limp-wristed slaps from cathr and ROC and the Prof, et al. Just busy, is all!!

    BUT, I do want to weigh in on this matter, and due to modern technology I am able to send footage of myself discoursing on the subject from my designer kitchen in Ballybumfook. I think that, after hearing what I have to say, you’ll find me as informed as the next fella!

  17. I haven’t been following a lot of the school stuff lately, but my overall feeling is that Dr. McCormack was hounded on all sides and was not going to “win,” whatever winning means. As a former teacher, I can tell you that it takes a certain type of person to stay in such a visible, political, and demanding field. (And this is true whether you are a superintendent or a classroom teacher.) I left the field, and though I miss the kids, I do not miss interacting with well-meaning parents many of whom had different agendas and desires for their children. Sometimes, I think about going back, but it literally makes my stomach hurt. Dr. McCormack is smart and will do well. She’ll probably never look back!

  18. Ihateplaydates, with all due respect, MacCormack initiated more than her fair share of the hounding. In fact, she was a champion of a school of reform that believes that if imperious, dictatorial Supers micromanage, bully and hound teachers in bumbling, failing districts, performance will somehow improve.

    This is not a personal attack; it’s simply stating what should have been clear before her hire: MacCormack had no experience running a large district – failing or otherwise – and carried only the thinnest of credentials from an unaccredited think tank whose ideology couldn’t be more at odds with Montclair’s values or the realities of its school system. It is confounding that Montclair brought in the type of command-and-control leader one might expect in Paterson to run its school district.

    Her rapid erosion of support and trust is a product primarily of her approach, style and decisions. A Super’s job is difficult under any circumstances. It is short-lived though, when you spend your brief tenure alternating between shooting yourself in the foot and trying to shoot your constituents.

    As a former teacher, this should give you a sense of the magnitude of her negative impact: upon hearing the news of her resignation, teachers were literally hugging in school hallways. Now that says something. Good teachers. Skilled educators. Hugging as if Paris had been liberated by the allies.

  19. What about the BOE?…
    I’m not a fan or foe of MacCormack. I think that she was selected to merely implement decisions that were made as a result of previous poor leadership. Period. Change is difficult and strong leadership is critical in times of change. I don’t think that she is an effective leader and as a result – relationships in the district fell apart in a time of conflict.
    However – I think that as a community we should focus on our board. They are appointed. They are not elected and as a result are not accountable to the public (except in extreme cases). They selected and hired the superintendent. They are supposed to represent the interests of the people and (most importantly) children of this town. In fact, lets not forget their (lack of ) oversight with Alvarez and what a disappointment he turned out to be. How great is it that we will continue to fund his generous pension with our hard earned dollars despite the fact that he manipulated reporting of testing results.
    How can a progressive, modern, diverse town throw away the right to an elected BOE? Please! Lets move to an elected BOE! IF our BOE is so great, then we can CHOOSE to elect to retain the current board. I feel that our BOE singularly focused and dismissive of the towns broad needs. Their behavior in meetings is as disrespectful as the behavior of (some) town members. They should set the example for respect, transparency and order. A more representative BOE may, in turn, select a superintendent that is also representative of our needs.
    Thank you for your time.

  20. Just a reminder that tonight the Bloomfield Board of Education and Bloomfield Education Association will present and discuss the documentary “Standardized” at 7 p.m. at the Bloomfield High School. Last weeks “Take the PARCC” event was very informative, but the folks leading the discussion asked that the night remain informative and the politics of the subject be left for tonight’s discussion. It should be fun and informative.

    Martin is completely spot on that there was very little open debate about the direction of education in Montclair, but I really wonder if the folks in charge really want to have that debate. The choice of MacCormack as the super tells you that the vision of the Mayor and BoE aligns more with the “reform” minded, pro-CC/PARCC folks that currently populate the NJDOE, and not the generally progressive citizens of Montclair. Obviously there’s a disconnect.

    dblespresso said it perfectly – “MacCormack had no experience running a large district – failing or otherwise – and carried only the thinnest of credentials from an unaccredited think tank whose ideology couldn’t be more at odds with Montclair’s values or the realities of its school system.”

    Bottom line, as straightshooter says above, “How can a progressive, modern, diverse town throw away the right to an elected BOE?” I imagine, after the last two years of “creative disruption” the citizens of Montclair may have a new found appitite for an elected BoE.

    And Frank is 100% right, Montclair should hire an interim Superintendent. There is too much going on, and the selection of a new Super, this time more than ever, will require careful consideration.

  21. with a superintendent salary cap of $175,000, I will be surprised if we get someone really excellent or who has the experience many are calling for. Not to offend anyone who doesn’t earn this much, but that’s low pay for a position that requires PHD-level education, years of experience, calls for ability to manage $100MM+ budgets, hundreds of employees and thousands of students and is likely all consuming of one’s time. Oh, and the job comes with a big fat target on your back from the public you are to serve. No matter who is chosen there will likely be critics from day one and we have seen it get pretty ugly. Anyone with this level of expertise in the business world will earn well more than this. Why would anyone voluntarily be a superintendent in a town like ours where you are capped at $175,000? (or have to skirt the rules to earn more (

  22. Straightshooter you are absolutely right!! We must hold the BOE accountable. They hired her and they did so without any transparency or consideration for who would be the right fit for our community. I hope we move to an elected board and we must demand that the process for hiring the next superintendent be open and transparent.

  23. My understanding is that the salary cap is state wide. If so, then why is our town education system such a mess and others are doing well?
    – Redbank
    – glenridge
    – livingston
    – westfield
    need I go on?
    Our BOE is the fox watching the hen house.
    Forgive me if I am misinformed.

  24. #s 2-4 don’t have nearly the amount of poor kids we have. Compare our wealthier students (of any race or ethnic background) to those towns and we are right there.

    When I grew up in Monmouth County Red Bank schools weren’t very good, the town has boomed over the last 15 years so maybe they have improved but they probably are similar to Montclair.

  25. ihateplaydates and friedchix: you are obviously fans of MacCormack. It will be interesting to see your reaction when it’s revealed that her secretive and wasteful spending over the past 2 years (which was enabled/supported by the majority of the BOE) has left us in an $8MM+ budget shortfall.

    Cuts are planned for AP classes and freshmen sports in the high school, the paraprofessionals, the arts, and other areas that have made our district great. One area that’s spared, however: Central Office. In fact, MacCormack has actually budgeted for increases in Central Office staff while recommending massive and painful cuts throughout the school system!

    She’s made a huge mess. The majority of the BOE ok’d it. And now, she’s skipping town.

    It’s going to be messy.

  26. All the back and forth on here and elsewhere are basically a waste of everyone’s time. Be patient, after Monday’s BOE meeting, the reality of this mess will come to a head. Then the tax paying supporters will cry at the amount of money GONE. Get your wallets ready.

  27. Yes, an interim temporary Superintendent…but someone who knows the system.

    There are a few individuals who have retired over the last few years who could fill that role. Then a full and transparent vetting process for next Super. That’s both for testing policies and their views on programs that will reduce the achievement gap/pre-k. The appointed achievement gap committee is supposed to report back shortly. They should still do so even without a Super, so we can at least begin that public debate.

    With a challenging budget coming without any surplus, none of this is going to be easy.


    Ballooning of the central office at the same time superintendent makes painful cuts to schools and classrooms.

    The production of “data” that is false or cherry-picked, and then used to justify reforms.

    Power is centralized.

    Decision-making is top down.

    Culture of fear of reprisal develops in which teachers, principals, staff, even parents feel afraid to speak up against the policies of the district or the superintendent.

    Some of us tried to warn you as soon as she was hired…

  29. As battle lines are draw and sides taken, several things need to be kept clear and in focus. The current BOE, did not hire MacCormack. She was hired by a board appointed by mayor Fried. That consisted of Larson, Lombard, Kulwin, Coke, Wilson, Rosenbaum and McMillan.
    That is the board that hired Penny, in a rather non transparent process. They did, what was expected of them. Kulwin, Larson and Lombard are still on the board,and appear to be strong supporters of MacCormack. None of Mayor Jackson’s board appointments, were on board, when MacCormack was hired.
    The MacCormack hiring process was less than transparent, much less, and many in the community had serious concerns about that process. Montclair needs to appoint/hire an interim super, but that person must know Montclair. Montclair also needs to have an open transparent search for a new super.

  30. Superintendent MacCormack’s resignation has caused me to go back to some of the debates about standardized testing and the Common Core, and I was reminded of this WaPo piece (which itself quoted in its entirety a post by Diane Ravitch, speaking in her most measured and reasonable voice) that summed things up rather nicely:

    For my part, I suspect that if Common Core had been implemented differently, in a manner that acknowledged its as-yet-indeterminate effect on student educational attainment, things might not be quite as contentious, and we wouldn’t be talking about “battle lines” at all.

  31. Thank you willjames for pointing out the unfortunate use of militaristic terminology. I’m not picking on dherron as it is pervasive in our culture and I am guilty of it at times. Its hard not to be, but that does’t mean I find it acceptable in my speech.

    I question if we are making a big fat assumption the Common Core concept is the solution. If it is not, how does that change the discussion on our local level about the goal of significantly improving public education? Maybe we need to revisit the problem assessment before we debate how to implement the proposed solution. It might be more productive & economical in the long run to start anew and build it up from a different foundation.

    With all the recent coverage about how the Federal Government intends to improve the Pentagon, I keep thinking has the equivalent of 50 Pentagons.

  32. Ok, ok, after much prodding I’ll take the job.

    Montclair schools now will run from 10AM to 5PM. Testing will be left to teachers. We will sell the administration building and my office will be mobile as I will bounce between schools, accompanied by my drug-sniffing dog. Oh, and all foodservice will end.

    Get busy people. Lots to do.

  33. FrankR,

    In the higher-education context, with which I am more familiar than el-hi, there is a general tendency toward *formative* assessment, as opposed to *summative* assessment. The latter is high-stakes, and seeks to take a one-time snapshot of students’ knowledge and skills. The former is more of a process, taking a student’s temperature, providing context-specific feedback, then prompting the student again to demonstrate proficiency. This formative method is commonly what we all think of when we think of the verb “to teach.” In its analog context (i.e., the classroom, with real human beings), it is labor-intensive and personal, which of course is a good thing for the student and the teacher. But there are also very interesting digital learning products emerging that do a great job of both assessing the situation at any single moment AND helping all students clear whatever hurdles they need to clear to achieve the course outcomes. These programs can spit out freeze-frame data, which the ed-reform crowd so desperately craves, but more importantly, they don’t stop there—-they then prompt students to keep scaling the mountain, using techniques that are complementary to what their teachers do in the classroom. When properly designed, formative assessment tools become part of the instructional calendar, not a disruptive interruption of it, as high-stakes summative assessments do.

    If Common Core had been implemented with a class-tested formative-assessment pedagogy (and, ideally, an optional digital component) and if it had been made optional (but incentivized in some way) during the first decade, I bet that eventually ALL states would want to be onboard. As it is, well…it is what it is.

  34. I will second that there are not “battle lines” in Montclair’s teacher/administrator/family community. Education is evolving and the Superintendent was charged with bringing Montclair to the next stage. To that end she was fairly successful and I wish her well on her next endeavor.

  35. With the publication of the letter of no confidence and questions regarding a budget shortfall of more than $6 million from the Montclair Principals Association, just published in, we, citizens and taxpayers of the township, must demand an independent audit and the immediate resignation of COO Brian Fleischer. Mr Fleischer should be replaced with an Interim School Business Administrator who is Certified and experienced. This is beyond battle lines, but hints at financial malfeasance that is going to affect our Children and Families for some time to come.

  36. They have become lurkers in the back, bending back the venetian blinds and not gracing us with their opinions…Why? Due to lack of respect? Re-location to retirement communities where they watch the swaying of palm trees and search out the next barbeque joint? Hopefully their silence is not due to illness or slipping into the final darkness of this time around?

    PAZ, oh PAZ… Thank you for the kind thoughts. Nothing drastic has happened. I’m still kicking, or shuffling along. Posting here just wasn’t bringing out the best in me. And the site in general has become too much like one of those free magazines they drop on your porch in the spring. I do miss the camaraderie of old friends.

  37. We miss you too roo. Glad you’re okay. I was afraid the piles of snow had trapped you under Liz’s porch.

  38. Free mags?….You lucky hopper! I don’t get no free mags, just windblown recycling from around the hood.
    The other day I had some real exciting reading of someone’s bank statement.
    Welcome back W…..Nobody’s expecting your best, just your quirky take on things when you’re not peeking over the top of your cubicle wondering who’s microwaving all that garlic for their lunch.

  39. willjames,

    Well back in the last century when I went to elementary school, class sizes were 22-26 children at Bradford. There was even one classroom where they taught both 5th & 6th grade with a teacher and a TA, but that was it. In fact, for about 6 weeks or so, one handful of undergrads from MSC would be assigned to some early grade classes. It seemed like the teachers quizzed us on everything weekly – even handwriting. We each had our own analog supplemental material & tests to bring offsite, but it was required – not optional. There were report cards and once a year, parent/teacher conference were, through intermediaries, I was given “context-specific feedback” to prompt me to demonstrate proficiency….and soon.
    That was called teaching back in the day.

  40. The Montclair BOE is ultimately responsible for the budget mess. The BOE members seem not to be comfortable with numbers. Hence, no one seems to get into the details on the numbers. This is unfortunate.

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