The Montclair Board of Education discussed budget woes, videotaping of student teachers and a new interim superintendent to take over for current interim superintendent Ron Bolandi at its February 8 workshop meeting. The principal topic of the night, however, was reforming world language instruction. World-language consultant Jessica LaSusa explained her recommendations before the board and members of the public.
LaSusa began by saying it was important for students to learn other languages to start with one language in kindergarten and stay with it through the end of middle school in order to reach what she called “novice-high” level ahead of continuing it in high school. She said that it takes up to 540 hours of pre-high-school instruction to reach that level, but the elementary schools and the middle schools they correspond to reach only 290 to 300 hours at best, the exception being the Nishuane-Hillside-Glenfield continuum with 492 hours. She advocated increased teacher training and development for the 2017-18 school year, with students and their families committed to staying with a single language and keeping languages consistent at the middle school level. LaSusa found Mandarin, Spanish and French to be in the most widely taught languages at the high school level in Montclair, while languages such as German, Italian and Latin tended to draw fewer students. (Watchung
Middle Elementary School was omitted; LaSusa said this was her mistake.)
LaSusa said that ongoing professional development and a study of past data was important to improve language studies for the 2018-19 school year, and that class sections in one or two of the lesser languages could be eliminated to streamline the process and save money for critical-needs languages like Arabic and Hindi. By the 2019-20 school year, benchmarks should be thoroughly implemented. She said that there had to be a commitment from students and teachers alike.
Board member Joseph Kavesh asked if either Russian or Japanese could be considered critical-use languages instead, given their use in business instead. LaSusa said that the choice of such languages was up to the board. Board member Laura Hertzog expressed concern that three of the elementary-middle school streams were far behind Nishuane-Hillside-Glenfield. She asked if that should be changed and if ninth graders should be given placement tests to gauge how far along they are with world languages.
“It’s important to know the difference, especially as a parent,” LaSusa replied, “to select the schools based on their value of world language, so just in knowing there’s a difference, there’s value. I don’t recommend the changing of the elementary school schedules right now.” She elaborated that the district needs to focus on professional development before changing the schedules because schedule changes could take away from something else. Interim Schools Superintendent Ronald Bolandi noted that languages have not been a priority, so students are inevitable going to take something else. He said the subject has always been a “back-burner” issue in Montclair. He said they had to look at how to get more students in the courses.
Concerns About Videotaping in the Classroom
Superintendent Bolandi also said the state Department of Education started a pilot program for student teachers to teach in a public school to get their licenses and evaluated by an outside agency, in concert with the teachers’ colleges, and agree to be videotaped for review. The Pearson company is in charge of the videotaping, and Superintendent Bolandi found out that their tapes are used to instruct other student teachers. The tapes, however, feature children in the classroom. Superintendent Bolandi, aware that parents did not want their children to be videotaped and shown in training videos without their consent, said he would not allow student teachers to be taped. Pearson offered to tape just the student teachers, but the superintendent said that half of an evaluation of a student teacher is watching how he or she interacts with children and such a compromise would be useless. He hoped to talk to Montclair State University, which is part of the program, about this in the coming week. Student teachers had been evaluated by live teachers in the classroom, a system Superintendent Bolandi preferred greatly.
Budget Woes: A Couple of Million Dollars in The Hole
The 2017-18 budget was another topic for discussion. Superintendent Bolandi told the board that the 1 percent increase in teachers’ salaries and the changes in the district’s insurance policy have affected the budget to the point of “a couple of million dollars in the hole,” and he added that some schools were overstaffed. He then got frank with the board and the public, saying Montclair has long thrown money at problems with special courses and that “boutique programs” have led to the need to tighten the belt. He said it was important to re-allocate funds to programs that have proven to be effective and evaluate others, and he said the school system had been overstaffed for a decade. He said he would go into further detail on the latte point at the next meeting.
The budget schedule itself has been thrown into chaos by Governor Christie’s decision to release school-aid figures late, on March 2. This prompted the board to revise its meeting schedule. The February 21 meeting has been cancelled, while the budget meeting that is scheduled for February 27 will go on as planned. An additional meeting for adopting a preliminary budget will be held on March 6, with a meeting to adopt a final budget – after which the budget would be submitted to the Board of School Estimate – tentatively slated for March 13. Superintendent Bolandi would like to oversee the budget process toward the end of the month, and the board plans to ask the state if he can stay through March 24. The superintendent insists he only worked for the district for five days in March 2015 and should be able to stay a little longer.
Meanwhile, Board of Education President Jessica de Koninck announced that Superintendent Bolandi’s interim successor, Barbara Pinsak, will attend the February 27 meeting and introduce herself to the public. Pinsak retired as the superintendent of the Teaneck district in September 2016.
Also, board member Eve Robinson said work on the Straus-Esmay bylaw/policy page has been completed, and it is now on the district Web site and can be accessed through drop menu on QuickLinks, as shown below.