After Monday afternoon’s surprise announcement by Mayor Jackson that he was withdrawing three appointments to the Board of Education, the BOE met Monday night and, after coming out of closed session, Superintendent Bolandi stated that the Board had agreed to delay their scheduled reorganization meeting and reconvene on Thursday, May 19, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. The Board then publicly voted to approve the decision.
The meeting was then opened for public comment. Mayor Jackson spoke first to explain his reasons for withdrawing the appointments.
He began by thanking current Board members David Deutsch, Robin Kulwin and David Cummings, for coming back to duty. Because Jackson has not replaced them yet, they remain on the board for now. Jackson had previously announced the appointments of Rev. Jevon Caldwell-Gross: Pastor, Joe Kavesh, Esq and Franklin Turner, Ph.D. to replace the three members, who he said had decided to move on for various reasons.
During his comments, Mayor Jackson reiterated the reasons he had cited for withdrawing the appointments on Monday afternoon, saying he felt “the temperature of the town is hot” and that the hiatus would “allow us to cool down a little bit… and really begin a healing process.”
The BOE had been scheduled to hold their reorganization meeting on Monday, swearing in the new members, designating officers, and passing numerous resolutions. However, there were divisions among Board members regarding who should assume leadership of the Board, apparently leading to Mayor Jackson’s decision to try to avoid yet another heated BOE meeting until cooler heads could prevail.
Jackson stated, “I think that we all love our children, we love the school system. And I think we’ve just got to manage to find a way to talk about… philosophical differences in a more lady-like and gentleman-like manner, one that will move us forward constructively. So that’s why I have decided to put a halt button on for awhile to see where we go. My fervent hope is that, as we’re doing this, that we’ll begin to talk to each other constructively, with the purpose, again, of providing the best system possible for our kids, because there’s nothing more important…. We can do better. Again, my fervent hope is that we will, starting tonight.”
He went on to express confidence in the leadership of the Board, as well as the Superintendent and Business Administrator, and urged everyone to “pull together…come together and really make this the town that we all know and love.”
Several speakers expressed disappointment with the “drama” happening repeatedly at the Board of Ed meetings when there are so many important issues that should be addressed, such as issues pertaining to the new high school counseling program, addressing the needs of dyslexic children, and searching for a new permanent school superintendent.
Paula Donaldson, a Northeast School parent speaking at public comment for the first time, expressed dismay at the decision by Jackson to withdraw the three appointees and questioned why there needed to be a cooling off period now, considering that there have been other divisive issues at BOE meetings.
James Harris of the NAACP spoke about the issues of segregation in Montclair schools, pertaining to both staffing and the classrooms.
“The affirmative action process in town really needs a thorough review and inspection. We need to look at who is being recruited to our classrooms, who is being promoted, who is being retained, and I daresay, who is being eliminated,” he stated. He said he wondered “if we can afford to get rid of people who want to be here when we have so few of the racial composition.”
“A second area of great concern is the achievement gap… Some of this [the recommendations] has been embraced and is moving forward. But we need a bit more transparency and more of a kind of checkmark to see which of those things are moving forward and which are not.”
He continued, to applause, “The re-segregation of the schools in Upper Montclair needs to stop,” and rejected the explanation “that the parents want their children to be in certain schools and not in other schools,” comparing it to 1954: “That’s why we had segregated schools then, and that’s why we’re going to get re-segregated schools in Montclair. Don’t go that way!” He said that has to come from the Superintendent and the Board has to monitor it.
He said the NAACP is “adamantly opposed” to a charter school in Montclair, referring to the charter application by Fulbright Academy to open a French language-immersion school in town. He cited various private schools in town, and said if parents want their children to have something not offered in the public schools, “let them pay their money” and create it there. He also commented that he thought “China was where we need to be going, not France,” in terms of the language immersion.
He also praised Superintendent Bolandi and several others for their recent efforts. He urged the Board to stay focused on the children.
Sarah Blaine spoke in support of “an array of opinion” on the Board, but emphasized they must move beyond the divisiveness. She said that during the past year, she has seen positive changes in addressing real issues, and would like to see them continue to move in the right direction. “At the end of the day it is about the kids, but it’s not going to work for the kids if we don’t have a community of adults who can put aside their concerns and put aside all of this garbage…and it can be about the kids. And that’s about healing the relationships of everyone.”
She went on to say that her brother attended both Montclair and Millburn High Schools and that he felt he learned more in one year in Montclair High School in terms of “life, people, and how to get along in the world and function in society,” than in 12 years in the Millburn public schools, because of Montclair’s diversity.
Several other speakers spoke up against the Fulbright Academy charter school. According to The Montclair Times, “the school will use a “two-way immersion model” in which students receive literacy and content instruction in two languages…There will be a 90/10 approach in grades K-2, in which 90 percent of instruction is in a foreign language and 10 percent in English, followed by a 50/50 approach by fourth grade.”
Objections to the school ranged from criticisms of its education model to the fact the school’s funding would be siphoned off of funds designated for the public schools.
Christine McGoey pointed out that the Hatikva Charter pulls students from 27 districts around it, as well as speaking about the level of segregation these charters cause. “Once something like this comes into your community, the losses are catastrophic,” she said. She urged everyone to send a letter opposing the charter school.
Superintendent Bolandi confirmed that the BOE must vote to allow him to send a letter opposing the charter application at the next meeting in order to meet the deadline to submit a response by the end of next week. He said they had 60 days from the time the application arrived in the district to respond.
The Board will reconvene on Thursday, May 19, 2016 at 6:30 p.m.