Buzz Aldrin Middle School received a big check from the Man on the Moon Committee and the Montclair BOE was treated to a performance from super cute cowboys and cowgirls square-dancing from the Bullock school, but the main event of the night was a presentation and subsequent reactions to the findings of Hazard, Young and Attea (HYA) and Associates — following community outreach and an online survey to develop the desired characteristics for the next Montclair Superintendent.
Before the presentation started, the Board also had some news to report. Board president Jessica de Koninck announced that Interim Superintendent Ron Bolandi has to leave at end of February 2017, not at end of March as the Board previously believed. As a result, the BOE will need to look for another interim superintendent in December to serve until the permanent superintendent, is found and hired for a more realistic July 1st start date.
Dwight Pfennig of Hazard, Young and Attea (HYA) and Associates said the firm met with 23 different types of groups/individuals (including teachers, parents, students, staff, community members and other stakeholders) to develop a leadership profile for the next superintendent with the outstanding characteristics that the Montclair district and community value. In addition, some 584 respondents filled out the online survey.
HYA said the community participation developed a list of strengths that are valued in regard to the Montclair School district. These include the magnet themes; diversity; Montclair’s segregation history that led to the formation of a magnet system; culture,sports and the arts; and engaged parents.
Challenges identified in the district were the need for diversity of hires; the achievement gap; and consistent and transparent procedures/policies for students/staff/parents and community. Pfennig added that respondents felt the district was doing better but “not as good as it could knowing the resources we have.”
Other important issues raised were a need to expand the vision of the high school, a concern that resources were not equitably distributed among programs at the high school as well as concerns about equity among the different magnet schools.
The key desired characteristics for the next superintendent include someone with an ability to attract diverse staff; someone who is accessible, approachable; a career educator not a Broad grad; communication skills; and technology savvy. Pfennig added that those surveyed said the person needed to have a thick skin and an understanding that some citizens are annoyed by taxes but still passionate about education.
One interesting finding, said Pfennig, was the congruence of opinion. “The online surveys echoed what people said in focus groups. The same themes came up overall, whether it was support staff, administration, or community members.”
That congruence was evident in the study’s #1 priority which was diversity appreciation and a safe, caring environment. Some 50% of responders chose this as their top priority.
Board Members Comment On What They Want Most In Superintendent
Following Pfennig’s presentation, board members also shared what they wanted in the next superintendent.
Jessica de Koninck said she was pleased to see the first item was a diverse, safe caring community.”For me, a commitment to that is the first thing I’m looking for, as well as an understanding of curriculum and someone who is a good manager. Being a manager and a leader are two different things, but we need someone who can do both, like Ron,” added de Koninck, gesturing to interim Superintendent Bolandi.
Joe Kavesh wants someone with teaching experience and ideally principal experience. “I’m not 100 percent convinced it has to be someone with prior superintendent experience. I also want someone who really gets out into the community and not just to a football game. We pride ourselves on our diversity, so that someone needs to get to know and be active in different groups.” Kavesh added later in the meeting that the biggest challenges facing the next Superintendent are the achievement gap, special education and infrastructure.
“I don’t want a disruptive force,” says Laura Herzog. “Or someone who wants to start from scratch.” Herzog also added that she wanted someone who could be fiscally responsible.
Rev. Jevon Caldwell-Gross wants a “visionary, but someone not afraid to make tough choices,” and who could also continue to take the district to next level.
“I not only want an experienced, seasoned educator and leader, but someone who can restore and create joy in our district,” says BOE member Eve Robinson. “You cannot learn if there is no joy and there has to be joy for students as well as for staff.”
Anne Mernin wants a superintendent who values that Montclair is socioeconomically diverse. “The incoming candidate should see it as a value and an asset rather than something to be managed.”
Franklin Turner wants a candidate who can work with principals who are “the cornerstone of our schools.”
A Renaissance parent spoke about inequities in the middle school math curriculum, specifically that Renaissance is the only middle that does not offer 6th graders the opportunity to take Algebra and that this disparity from what is offered at Glenfield and Buzz Aldrin throws off the magnet system and creates a disincentive for parents to choose Renaissance and Bullock.
Andrew Gideon also spoke about math. Holding up an Algebra II textbook, Gideon opened it to the cover page and showed a list of signatures down the page, indicating 20 years of students using the same text book. Gideon urged the Board to consider when approving the budget, to consider what the district was spending money on.
Kristin Wald asked the BOE to recognize growing hostilities locally and nationally and referenced local incident of vandalism and disturbing posts on social media. “We request the BOE issue a proactive statement reinforcing the policy on harassment and intimidation,” says Wald, adding that it should be a formal statement like those sent by other places of learning that expresses the school district’s respect for people’s differences and zero tolerances for acts of hate.
Alma Schneider discussed how special need students suffer at recess emotionally and are often ignored and not included. She urged the BOE to come up with a recess policy that includes facilitated activities that show how inclusion can work on the playground and not just during academic time.
Nina Cooke John, another Renaissance parent, asked the board about its recently passed resolution limiting field trip costs to no more than $50. “I understand a committee will review the policy and I want to make sure you consider Renaissance at Rand,” says Cooke John, adding that trips to Philipsburg in Sleepy Hollow or Gettysburg and Washington, D.C. connect student learning to real life. Cooke John stressed that the trips are essential to the Renaissance magnet and should be funded, much in the way arts staff and art facilities are funded at Glenfield or tech and science labs at Buzz Aldrin.
At the end of the meeting, the Board, to applause from those remaining in the audience, agreed to direct their representative to vote against the NJSBA’s Proposed Changes to Burden of Proof and Production Processes, with de Koninck adding that the district supports the rights of families of students with special needs and that the burden should be on the district and not the parent to prove anything to the district with regard to providing services.