To Tour Or Not To Tour? That Is The (Montclair Schools) Question

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One of the traditions connected to choosing a school in Montclair’s magnet system has been touring the various schools, starting with the seven elementary schools, followed by Montclair’s three middle schools. In the past, kindergarten tours took place in March, but last year, tours were moved to late January. This year, there have been no announcements about when the 2016 school tours would take place, but this morning, an email went out to all Montclair PTA school presidents from PTA Council President Diane Anglin, stating that Montclair will not have physical tours. Copied on the email were BOE president Jessica de Koninck, as well as Felice Harrison-Crawford, director of Operations and School Support Services, and Janice Risimini, Registrar. Harrison-Crawford and Risimini were also thanked by Anglin for “a wonderful meeting yesterday, where I receive the most current information regarding the virtual tours.”

Anglin writes…

Montclair will NOT have tours like we had in the past. I figured I’d get right to the point.

Instead our district has come up with an innovative way to have every family see our schools and receive the same information. This means that every family will view a quality, comprehensive “video” (it’s probably called something else). Every elementary, middle school, and our high school, will have one available.

I know many of you are saying, “People are still going to want a tour and that is going to fall on the PTA’s”. The answer is, there will be NO physical tours. This is a change. It may take you a few minutes to take all of this in. That’s okay. This is going to work, and we are going to help spread the word about the positive steps our district is taking.

I know that many of you feel that tours are important, and they are. What is more important, is the safety of our schools, communicating the same information to all families, and being able to reach families that are out of the area/unable to come to the school. Families will no longer have to take off from work, and students will not miss valuable instruction time visiting the middle schools. Families will now have the opportunity to view our district schools, over and over and over again.

Also this morning, a little more than three hours after Anglin’s email about spreading the word about no physical tours went out, another email was sent, this time from Interim Superintendent Ron Bolandi, stating that in fact no decision has been made to eliminate the tours.

Bolandi writes (copying all those mentioned in the previous email as well as all the BOE members):

I’m concerned that misinformation was given to Ms. Diane Anglin and then an email was sent this morning to the executive Board. I had all intentions of having a discussion with Ms. Anglin next week during our regularly-scheduled monthly meeting to let her know some discussion has taken place with administrators regarding the possibility of handling tours differently.

At no time and I repeat no time has there been a decision made to eliminate tours. There has been a discussion about the possibility of doing virtual tours or a hybrid of virtual and regular tours. The discussion took place because of the concerns of many parents in the district who have spoken to me. Their concerns are for the safety and security for all during tours and the ability of working parents to have the opportunity to view the schools when they are unable to take off from work to participate.

To be clear, the discussion was started as a response to parents and their question to me about is there a way to do this differently.

We talk about communication in the district but it’s sad when I have to respond to an email when no one had the decency to pick up the phone and call me or copy me on the email that was sent to find our if the information received was accurate. To be frank with you, I could care less about how you do tours. I’m only trying to help the district become more organized and efficient. The way we presently do school tours is inefficient. Hopefully in the future, we can have a dialogue with the person who makes the decision before we create hysteria in the district.

And remember NO DECISION has been made.

So did Harrison-Crawford and Risimini give Anglin misinformation? Was the BOE even aware of discussions about the possibility of changing how parents and students tour Montclair schools? Will a discussion of tours be put on the next BOE agenda with an opportunity for public comment?

And what do parents think? Would you like to see physical tours eliminated in favor of virtual tours, due to concerns about security or accessibility for working parents? Do you think the schools can continue to have physical tours while still ensuring the safety of students and staff? Would a comprehensive video help you determine which school is the best fit for your child? And who are the stakeholders who should be involved in these discussions before any action is taken? Take our poll and let us know what you think. Feel free to elaborate (respectfully!) in comments.

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28 COMMENTS

  1. Longtime reader, first comment: Montclair, please continue the tours! Video is not an adequate substitute. I hear the concern re disrupting class, and I would be fine with night or weekend tours. I have a child going into K next year and really want to be able to see the schools, meet the principals, and meet some parents.

  2. As a longtime involved parent in the district, I have always found Ms. Anglin’s actions to be well-thought out, fair and reasonable.She works tirelessly to support all children in the district and encourages others to do so. It saddens me that she is being criticized in this manner. Communication should start from the top.

  3. Why should Ms. Anglin expect to need to contact the superintendent to confirm information given to her by administrators in the district? I agree with a321: she doesn’t deserve this.

    As for the tours themselves: I think the videos a terrific idea; the more information we can make more available, the better. Not only will these inform about our individual schools, but collectively they’d inform about our district. However, I cannot see these videos replacing tours any more than I can see videos (or texts, for that matter) replacing schooling.

    If nothing else, replacing tours with videos would cost us the opportunities for people on tours – especially, but not exclusively, the 5th graders – to ask questions of their slightly older peers.

    As for the concerns: We should all have attention on security. But, if this is an issue, it is not one specific to the tours. PTA meetings are often held in school buildings during the day. A goal of the PTAs is to involve new parents, so those meetings hopefully involve adults not necessarily known to the staff walking through the buildings.

    There are also numerous other events that take place with adults in attendance, day and evening, with students in the building.

    With respect to working parents: the videos can certainly be a help here; that’s one of several reasons why I like the idea. But tours are already run both during the day and the evening. Scheduling of work, childcare, etc. can mean that some people can make one but not the other. The district and the volunteers involved – including the students – do an excellent job of making these tours available to as many families as reasonably possible.

    I can see the superintendent’s point regarding inefficiency. But magnet schools are going to cause “inefficiencies”, from the need for school tours to the higher cost of busing. These “inefficiencies” are the price we pay for the school system which motivated many of us to move or remain here.

    If there are ways to improve the tours, then let’s. We shouldn’t give them up. We don’t want to see information about school choices become dependent upon knowing the right people or having the right friends.

    …Andrew

  4. Clearly, it was not Anglin’s error here. She acted on what she believed was fact. What this really shows is no communication between the interim Super and his other staff/Board members. How can decisions at this level be made without checking with Alvarez, er… Bolandi? They went off the reservation and it won’t be the last time.

  5. I think the tours are critically important, although of course I also think that more knowledge and outreach are better, and that it would be wonderful if, in addition to the tours, the schools offered video tours and/or other resources for making this decision. But one should absolutely not replace the tours.

    First and most important, the tours send a message about our schools and our community. They tell the community that our schools are open, welcoming places, and that teachers, parents, schools, and administrators are proud of the work taking place in our schools, and are happy to invite the public in to see for themselves. For parents making a decision between either utilizing our public schools at all or sending their children to private school, that’s a powerful message that supports choosing public education for their children. And of course, the more our community is bought into our schools, the more support our schools will have from the community (where a large and growing private school population in town would certainly hurt the community’s support for our schools). Montclair is an example of the increasingly rare phenomenon of a suburban public school system with significant racial, ethnic, and economic diversity. Nowhere is that more obvious than in our public schools. For families considering moving to Montclair who take the tours, seeing that diversity in person is (hopefully) our biggest selling point.

    Second, there’s a lot to be said for getting the chance to ask questions of parent and student volunteers at the schools. Yes, the students are likely selected to be good ambassadors, but nevertheless, it’s important to have the chance to ask questions. If the tours were to end, some of that slack might be taken up by private groups offering panels (cf. the kindergarten choice panel offered by MCPK for many years, which consisted of former MCPK parents of children who went on to the various elementary schools), and whatnot, but the public schools should make that opportunity available to everyone in town (although the MCPK panel is open to the public, there is no guarantee that other such panels would be). Openness and sunshine go a long way toward making our schools welcoming, thoughtful, creative places, and to the extent possible, the school district should be assisting that openness, not suppressing it.

    Third, the tours give families the opportunity to get a vibe for a place. Rhetoric is one thing, but are they walking into or past classrooms full of children working in groups, on projects, or are they walking into classrooms full of lecture and students quietly completing kill and drill worksheets?

    Fourth, for those of us who filed Freedom of Choice applications and switched elementary schools, the tours were invaluable. I know I never would have switched my then entering 3rd grader to Hillside if I hadn’t had the opportunity to again tour Hillside (and Nishuane for my little one).

    Fifth, the tours help the schools to be thoughtful about the magnet programs and how they differentiate themselves, because whether they’re express about this or not, the entire school knows that they’re going to have to present what sets them apart once a year. This is a strength of our community, and failure to allow tours might contribute to yet another weakening of the magnet theme.

    Sixth, without tours, parents will depend more heavily on other metrics to make decisions. Do we really want a town where average high-stakes test scores predominate in making decisions about which schools our kids should attend? Or do we want parents selecting schools based on the best fit for their children?

    Finally, I think the concerns about safety are overblown. Are we going to bow to the culture of fear, and attempt to protect our children from what — their very own community — in a misguided attempt to keep them safe from imagined dangers? What actual safety issues have our kids faced due to tours In the decades in which touring has been taking place? What’s next? Are our kids going to stop giving concerts or plays because those also involve inviting the public into the building? Should we outlaw sporting events because strangers might observe them? I do worry that some of this anti-tour rhetoric comes from those who don’t support our magnet system, and that ending touring is yet another attempt to diminish or eliminate our magnet program. Playing on abstract, unquantified, unnamed fears to eliminate public access to our schools seems to me to be part of a playbook intended to further reduce or eliminate the role of the magnets in our community.

    Montclair, we can do better.

    As to the attack on Ms. Anglin, that was uncalled for and frankly reprehensible. As other commenters have noted, it sounds like Ms. Anglin was given incorrect information by senior staff in the district. There is no reason she should not have been able to rely on that staff. Not for nothing, but isn’t it Mr. Bolandi’s job to manage his staff and make sure that the wrong message isn’t being disseminated?

    But for the paid leader of this district to attack a long-time community volunteer for doing her VOLUNTEER job — i.e., providing communication to the PTA presidents in as timely a manner as she could — that’s a low blow, and reflects poorly on this administration (and on us as a community if we allow it to stand without calling it out as the unfair attack that it is). How are parents supposed to support our community and its schools if parent volunteers risk being publicly disrespected in the media this way? Who would possibly want to volunteer for Ms. Anglin’s position knowing that suffering personal attacks, by name, from the sitting superintendent is a real risk? Mr. Bolandi, you can do better — and our BOE should accelerate the timeline for hiring a new permanent superintendent if you do not immediately issue a public apology to Ms. Anglin.

  6. Reading this again, while I still think that Mr. Bolandi erred and owes Ms. Anglin a public apology (an email to that many people from a public official as explosive as that one had zero likelihood of staying private, but admittedly my initial quick read and my comments above were to my initial impression of Mr. Bolandi having provided his comments directly to Baristanet — that is my bad for not reading carefully) I also wonder what people think of Baristanet sharing the email? I think it was in the public interest as I think that even the email attack was addressed to far too many people (and that email would be subject to OPRA anyway), but have seen comments elsewhere to the contrary.

    I, for one, would like to take a moment to thank all of our volunteers for their hard work, and I hope that our paid officials will think more carefully before they — whether publicly or privately — attack our local parent volunteers.

    Finally, can the district please make a decision on this issue soon!?!? Last year elementary tours were announced at the last minute to take place in January, which caused its own set of issues (and is part of the reason I am sure that. Ms. Anglin was so quick to try to get what she must have believed was accurate information to her PTA presidents, who have to mobilize volunteers, etc. to staff the tours). That was unacceptable, but even if the district ignores those of us who think that in-person tours are critical, how on earth is it going to get videos produced and available in time for parents to review them before school choice applications have to be submitted in March or April? It seems to me that either way, time is of the essence.

  7. It’s not logical to blame Bolandi here when the fault may also lie with deKoninck or Harrison-Crawford. It’s just as possible that they went off without checking with him [redacted]

  8. I feel compelled to share I echo many of the sentiments already stars here. As an active volunteer I have many times expressed an interest in a policy bring set after tour week concludes and parents continue to call schools requesting private tours. It’s disruptive and asks a lot of already busy volunteers to field at times. I would live to see videos available as a user tool. My concern is the videos are already getting underway next week and limited to an edited 3 minutes air time. I would love to see a policy so all our schools have a level playing field when it comes to dealings post tours. Hey, parents just want to know what’s it’s all about and it’s confusing as a new parent entering the school system. As far as I’m concerned, I would love us all to think back to when you first entered the school system, let’s become user friendly and get out new parents the info they are seeking about the school system. Why can’t we create a combo plate?

  9. “It’s not logical to blame Bolandi here when the fault may also lie with deKoninck or Harrison-Crawford”

    I assume that this should refer to Janice Risimini instead of Jessica de Koninck, but perhaps I missed something.

    Regardless, it certainly seems likely that those staffers provided Ms. Anglin with inaccurate information. That does leave open the question of whether this was their error, or if they themselves received inaccurate information.

    This seems independent of Mr. Bolandi’s tone regarding Ms. Anglin, though. Had he apologized for his staff’s confusion, or some such thing, it would have been a very different message.

    As I asked above: Are we supposed to assume that any information received from a staff member of the district needs to be confirmed with the superintendent?

    As for the posting of this email in public: I admit that I’d some initial qualms about that. But, as was also noted, this was very widely distributed, sent to several public officials, and is therefore subject to public scrutiny anyway. I concluded therefore that publication is perfectly reasonable. More, a discussion of policies surrounding school tours, esp. as these can impact the success of our magnets, is very much in the public interest.

    …Andrew

  10. I am very disheartened to see yet another school volunteer, who spends countless hours of free time not getting paid, to be thrown under the bus. Diane Anglin has worked very hard to improve our school district in myriad ways. She even approached the special needs community, unsolicited, as PTA council president to see how communication with parents and the council could be improved. Please remember that we are all trying to work to make Montclair safer, kinder and fair for all of our kids and to treat each other with respect.

  11. Yeah, yeah, yeah. The ongoing lack of teamwork among the major players in Montclair Education continues. This time it is the PTA. Last time it was the MEA. And it always involves a freestyling BoE member or two. The only constant is the Superintendent always seems tone-deaf.

  12. Why wouldn’t a potential big change like this be discussed publicly before a decision was made?

    I don’t understand what Montclair has against advance planning. Shouldn’t a decision have been made about this long ago? How are videos going to be produced before April registration or volunteers lined up to conduct tours if no one has any idea what is happening?

  13. There is no decision here. This is about certain players each making a display during the post-holiday doldrums. Even the MT ran an article just to participate. This is their time before the annual budget drama starts next month.

    Back a couple of centuries ago, there was a marketing concept called the unique selling proposition. Basically, your product differentiator that you spend oodles of $ marketing. The magnet system is ours and the school tours is our way of reinforcing the USP…and providing the reaffirmation the customers need. Unfortunately, a companion concept from back then is that the customer was always right. Apparently and expectedly, some customers want special treatment creating an additional & unacceptable high cost. It is an easy fix, but also a great filler issue this month for various players that want to remind us how critical they are to the process. I can;t wait for MKF to jump in to say they are providing the free internet so that all families can view these 3 minute video streams.

    The only teamwork here is the ragtag collection to force Bland out. He seems capable, but a bad fit.

  14. Offer the video, keep the tours. Eliminating them because not all parents have time is misplaced egalitarianism. I suspect someone wants to make their life easier.

    Bolandi seems boorish: “At no time, I repeat, no time…” Was he being deposed? And his “solution” to AGAP is hire more black teachers. How does that work?

  15. I find it outrageous and completely inappropriate that baristanet published the emails no matter how many people were on the email chain. There was no need to publish them. They could have reported on the issue with yours and the clear lack of communication between central office and PTA without printing the emails.

  16. I just want to chime in that the personal tours were absolutely irreplaceable for me personally. When my oldest was at Montclair Pre-K, her teacher suggested a particular school, but our extended family was pressuring for another one, for various (and mostly ignorant) reasons. I visited those two schools, plus a third for comparison, and my reaction was immediate and visceral. Hands down I knew which school was right for my girl. I would never have gotten that vibe from an online tour. Same thing happened when it came to middle schools. Videos would be better than nothing…but the tours are invaluable. I know it’s disruptive and for that reason, I think private tours should be strongly discouraged…

    I think this whole email back-and-forth is just really unfortunate. Maybe it’s that I’m a little obsessive, but when I am all fired up about something I will pound out a response and then let it bake for a while. I end up editing a bunch of times until it is more civilized. My reading of this is that there was nothing nefarious behind Ms. Anglin’s message, and knowing it was/would have been a big change she wanted to get the word out right away; but the Super’s response seemed very defensive, like he was doing damage control.

    I’m sorry to say this but in many ways, I am glad my youngest is a HS Senior. My kids’ lives have been touched by a lot of wonderful educators and administrators in this town (and some who seemed to be only in it for the paycheck); but between budgets, administrative issues, testing, and other puzzling things… it will be a relief to be done. (Makes me sad.)

  17. LOL, Frank!!!! How’d you know?!?!! HAHAHA
    it’s so bad that I usually copy and paste my posts into Word before I actually hit Submit!! ROTFLMAO
    Well …at least I can laugh at my own OCD!

  18. “here is the ragtag collection to force [Bolandi] out”

    Sigh. This was bound to come up sooner or later. It’s like the insurrectionists in Oregon: The Federal Government permitted supporters of Cliven Bundy to point weapons at officials w/o consequences, and now they’ve taken over a federal facility.

    We permitted a mob to oust a superintendent because it didn’t like a line on her resume; we can now expect this to become a regular part of Montclair Education.

    As for “And his “solution” to AGAP is hire more black teachers. How does that work?”, note that this was an explicit recommendation of the AGAP report: see list item 15 on page 37 of . People attacked Dr. MacCormack for addressing parents’ concerns (ie. enforcing consistency between different sections of the same class); let’s not do the same thing for Mr. Bolandi.

    I disagree with Mr. Bolandi’s communication on this matter of the tours (as well as on other matters, such as the use of fans in the classrooms), but that doesn’t mean we should be attacking him or trying to run him out of town.

    …Andrew

  19. Bolandi is actually looking to improve operations in the district like MacCormack before him. So of course, “This is not the Superintendent you are looking for.” There will soon be cries for him to go. Bob

  20. Andrew, a recommendation by AGAP committee to hire more black teachers is hardly evidence that doing so would reduce AGAP. In following suit without asking how that strategy works just shows he’s willing to pander.

  21. “is hardly evidence that doing so would reduce AGAP”

    I would hope that the report is informed by evidence (though I don’t know that we should be awaiting certainty), but this strays from my point. Correct or not, we should be reluctant to punish educators or other leaders for taking actions we request.

    In an ideal world, we would be listening to their feedback and adjusting our requests accordingly. In practice, recent history shows that at least some of us do not.

    …Andrew

  22. You gave chapter and verse from report-did they provide evidence?

    I would prefer a super who rejects bad (or baseless) suggestions rather than incorporating because “community” made them. I’m going to go out on limb here and suggest that hiring better/the best teachers would help the most, regardless of their color.

  23. Please do not cancel the tours!! All I have heard since moving here was how important the tours were in deciding which school to choose. The videos sound like a great addition, but I’m sorry, just not enough. I would like to be able to see the inside of the school, talk to the principle/teachers and other parents. I would like to see how the school operates, what kind of “vibe” it has. It just doesn’t seem like we’re going to have all the information we need to make a well informed decision and I guarantee the rate of switching schools would most likely increase without the tours. I feel confident that there is a way to go about setting up the tours in a safe manner. Some sort of registration process perhaps, where ID’s were required? Most of the other parents I’ve spoken with who also have children entering K next year are disappointed, angry and confused about how to proceed if indeed the tours are cancelled. It’s not making a very good initial impression on the Montclair public school district, that’s for sure!

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