New Leadership: Say Hello to Montclair Schools Superintendent Kendra Johnson

It’s official: Dr. Kendra Johnson is the new superintendent of Montclair Public Schools.

Montclair Schools Superintendent-designate Dr. Kendra Johnson

The Montclair Board of Education voted to ratify the final contract with the newly hired superintendent, which was approved by Essex County on April 3 during the spring break.  The vote which, was 4-0, was taken with board members Jessica de Koninck, Anne Mernin and Eve Robinson absent.

School board President Laura Hertzog described Superintendent-designate Johnson as a woman of great experience in education, a teacher and a chief academic officer in other school districts who was also skilled in instruction and budget planning, and she singled her out for having helped upgrade textbooks for the district.  Board President Hertzog said Superintendent-designate Johnson was the logical choice as the only one of the three remaining candidates who submitted a written plan for the Montclair district going forward, and she added that her top priority was to ensure a world class education for every child in the school system.

The vote to award Dr. Johnson the position comes after three years of interim superintendents’ leadership in the district. Board President Hertzog reviewed the process from the beginning, explaining how interviews were conducted with various candidates in mid-January, how Dr. Johnson and candidates Rachel Goldberg and Ross Kasun were chosen from the semi-finalists interviewed in late January, and how the board identified a lead candidate from the finalists based on the superintendent candidates’ forum on February 26 and from feedback gathered from that forum.  Board President Hertzog told the assembled residents that, on February 28, all three candidates were informed of the lead candidates’ identity and asked if they wanted to remain in the process.  All three candidates said yes, though Kasun, then Goldberg, both withdrew.  As agreed from the beginning of the process, the search firm did a detailed background check that the board received on March 19.  Nine days later (March 28), the board chose not to vote on a superintendent because there was no final contract approved by the county.  The board, Board President Hertzog said, did anticipate that if the contract could be approved by the week ending April 14, they could call a special meeting to ratify the contact; the county approved it on April 3. She said the process took a reasonable amount of time for such an important position.

In public comment, June Raegner said it was about time that a superintendent like Dr. Johnson was chosen to move Montclair forward and to close the achievement gap, saying that change may be scary but that it has to happen.  Resident David Herron took issue with the meeting itself, saying it was called too quickly and publicized too late, and questioning the process by which it was scheduled.  Hertzog responded to this complaint, saying that the notice was “communicated” to both newspapers designated by the board 48 hours in advance but did not have to be published 48 hours in advance; Business Administrator Emidio D’Andrea confirmed that the policy of advance notice was properly adhered to.  Board President Herzog reminded the residents that she was a lawyer and, that as a lawyer, “one of the things I’m actually good at is following the rules.”

“I like lawyers,” board member Joseph Kavesh, himself a lawyer, deadpanned.

The Montclair Board of Education

Kavesh, however, made it clear what he did not like – the fact that it took the district so long to find a permanent replacement for former Superintendent Penny MacCormack once she left in April 2015.  He lamented that it took such a long time for the process to begin in the first place, and he attributed the strife in finding a permanent superintendent to his dramatic weight loss.  Kavesh said it was unfortunate that the other three board members could not be present for such a momentous vote.  In fact, de Koninck, Mernin and Robinson were busy or away, and they said they could not make the meeting.

The Reverend Jevon Caldwell-Gross, whose own time on the board is drawing to a close as he prepares to move to Indianapolis, urged residents to engage with Superintendent-designate Johnson and help her lead, adding that Montclair residents had to hold her, themselves and each other accountable in striving for the district’s success.

For her part, Superintendent-designate Johnson said she was grateful for and honored by the appointment, thanking friends and family for their support, and she said she was eager to get started and work with anyone ready and willing to work with her, to tremendous applause.  She officially takes over as Montclair Schools Superintendent on May 1.  Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak, whose last Board of Education meeting is April 16, said she was “never so happy to leave a job” in her life, and she explained what she meant by that, saying she was happy that Montclair had found a permanent superintendent and she had come to admire and respect Superintendent-designate Johnson through working with her in the district.  Dr. Johnson’s current role is Montclair’s assistant superintendent in charge of equity; her superintendent’s contract runs through June 30, 2021.

The board also approved appointing the absent Jessica de Koninck to the Board of School Estimate and approved Genova Burns as a labor negotiator with the teachers’ union.

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  1. 3 Board members didn’t bother to show up for the most important vote they will ever be asked to cast?


  2. Silly question, but was this a yes/no vote or were they choosing between the three final candidates (two who had already dropped out)? By the way, I was at the parent Q & A and in my opinion, Dr. Johnson was the weakest of the three finalists. Then again, that event was pretty much a waste of time. The pre-written questions were so generic they were basically useless. A quick side note: last year, Dr. Johnson was one of two candidates remaining for the Teaneck Super job but their BOE was so unimpressed they started the search all over again. Oh…and Teaneck was searching to replace Barbara Pinsak, who retired from Teaneck and then became the interim Super for Montclair. And the circle of life is complete.

  3. “Superintendent-designate Johnson was the logical choice as the only one of the three remaining candidates who submitted a written plan for the Montclair district going forward…”

    Of the 3 finalists for Superintendent job, only 1 of them did the homework? Great job by the selection committee.

  4. Congratulations to Dr. Johnson and all the best to her on her challenge going forward. She is highly qualified and committed to the mission of addressing the persistent and embarrassing achievement gap in our town. It should not go without mention that perhaps even more of an embarrassment is the fact that three Board members from the previous majority which did nothing on the super search while they lead the Board couldn’t even be bothered to show up (johnlayne is correct). Think about that. It is perhaps the most important vote of their term, and they can’t even clear their collective calendars to vote “no” if that’s how they feel? The ultimate responsibility of course lies with the Mayor, who sought to blow up the process a few weeks ago, and can’t seem to make up his mind what sort of BoE he’d like to have. Most certainly, those who worked on the excellent choice of Dr. Johnson will bear the brunt of his politically motivated actions, if they have not already. We should have an elected BoE. JB

  5. Not sure an elected BOE is the way to go, but jonbonesteel raises interesting points. Besides the obvious – not reappointing those BOE members who voted for Johnson – what else can the mayor really do?

  6. Funny you should ask “johnlayne”. On this sunny and warm day I happened upon some information “around the watercooler” so to speak. In addition to his responsibility to appoint Board of Education members, the Mayor also is the leader of the council when they choose other volunteers for various leadership positions around town. For example, the Public Library Board, the Planning Commission, or the Civil Rights Commission. The information I received was in regard to the last one here – the Civil Right Commission. Joe Kavesh, in addition to being one of the most recent BoE appointments by the Mayor, has been the chair of the CRC for about 4 years or so. It’s an important position and he’s made a great deal of progress for us in town. I’m told that Mr. Kavesh has not been asked to return to this position by the Council. Now, given my source, this may or may not be true, but we will know soon enough. Do you think this is happenstance, or would you think it might have something to do with the fact that he was the 4th vote to approve Dr. Johnson against the Mayor’s public wishes? File under if it quacks like a duck. JB

  7. Jon,

    Seriously? That’s your case?

    Not to pile on Mr Kavesh, but this BoE has not performed at a minimally acceptable level. Just maybe the Mayor wants Mr Kavesh to focus all his abilities on serving education over the next year.

  8. You’re joking, right? After the other story here detailing the Mayor’s decision today, maybe you would like to rethink this. He’s playing politics with the BoE at the expense of our kids. If you don’t understand, I’ll explain it to you. The announcement of the next position to be filled is essentially Kavesh’s. He has proactively told him he’s a shorty timer. Piling on Kavesh was a cheap shot by you.

  9. It could be for Turner. I considered both.

    Of course, the Mayor has a problem in that a traditionally female run BoE would now be without a white male.

    I think the diversity thing with the BoE is overrated as a factor in whether they can be effective. Others would disagree. The makeup you propose would present a new problem. Sorry to have to point this out to you,

  10. Frank, while your comments here are often astute – thank you for that – you are naive if you fail to see the politics being played here.

    The Mayor’s preferred BOE leader, de Koninck, is the mother of Jackson’s campaign manager from 2012 and 2016.

    Ms. Church, who has been promised a seat on the BOE by 2019, is married to Jay Church, who managed William Hurlock’s campaigns in 2012 and 2016. Hurlock is a close ally of Jackson’s.

    Announcing who he will appoint to a vacancy that does not yet exist, a year away from the next appointment cycle, is a clear sign that Kavesh and possibly Turner are goners. Pass that fork.

  11. jonbonsteel: I think your comments (“. . . the fact that three Board members from the previous majority which did nothing on the super search while they lead the Board couldn’t even be bothered to show up (johnlayne is correct). Think about that. It is perhaps the most important vote of their term, and they can’t even clear their collective calendars to vote “no” if that’s how they feel?”) are unwarranted. This was an impromptu, last-minute meeting and the board members who didn’t show up, I am sure, had already been committed to other plans. If the meeting had been scheduled with more advance notice, I am confident that they would have been there. I don’t appreciate negative comments when the facts are not known.

  12. Agree. I am poor at politics. Not a strength of mine.

    I have consistently said that many, many smart & capable people have served on BoEs- Boards that were notable for their lack of achievement. There is something that is just downright poisonous about the body in Montclair. I really don’t care who the Mayor appoints or wants to send a signal to. However, the Mayor can not have an appointed 7 member board in Montclair without a white male appointment.

  13. Above..some wrong-headed speculation run amok.

    The three white female board members were not there because the meeting was called for last second. That’s all. Each announced they had prior work related commitments scheduled before and couldn’t attend. And that’s regardless whether they would have voted no. So no one here asked why the other four Board members chose to hold this key vote on a day when not all members could be there? Why further more “racial” or divisive optics with such a rushed meeting? What was so important about meeting before the end of the week? Look how many people now think the three no-shows were intentional…or racially based? Was that a smart move by the majority to help further board member and public congeniality? Just the opposite.

    On can’t have your cake and eat it too. Can’t complain that Jackson, or any Mayor doesn’t provide enough leadership at the BOE and then, when they do speak out, talk about what they think a Superintendent needs to bring to the table for experience….or make decisions on their appointees, now turn-around and criticize them for speaking their minds. That makes no sense.

    Remember, Joe Kavesh and the Mayor have had some public tiffs in print over past Civil Rights Commission related issues. Kavesh first ran to the newspapers to highlight those differences. Or maybe Jackson doesn’t like his over-obvious, racially pandering style — or the personally combative manner that he clearly projects in public. You have to be blind not to see this.

    Where Jon Bonesteel gets it is how the BOE’s political culture somehow inflicts even very smart people who serve on this Board. How they become almost poisoned and are then not able to work the process to help the town get anything done with education.

  14. opps…that was Mr. Rubacky, not Mr. Bonesteel commenting on the effects of the system’s poisonous atmosphere. My apologies.

  15. The last minute argument is a lie. As Ms Hertzog noted, full appropriate notification of the meeting was published, as per the Board rules. Most certainly the other members were notified/requested to attend even before that. And of course any employer would already know and make exceptions for their employees if they had important business to attend to. Stop making excuses for their failure to attend, much like their failure to do much of anything when they led the Board. Also curious why you seem to want to make this a racial issue. I don’t see any evidence of that at all. In regard to the CRC and Mr. Kavesh, let me ask you a question, if his valid legal concerns about the process that installed our “Acting” town manager did not hold water, why is the title for Mr. Stafford still “Acting”? You’re happy to attack Mr. Kavesh, but the Mayor smacked at him publicly for the truth and a valid issue. Seems very “trumpian” to me.

  16. Jon,

    When it comes to Montclair’s schools, it already is a racial issue. There is no making it one. Most acknowledge the institutional racism. Institutional racism is a senior management responsibility. We created and hired into an Asst Superintendent of Equity position! We then promoted our Asst Superintendent of Equity to Superintendent partly based on this skill set and the solutions she can bring. To say appointees to the BoE does not involve our racial issues is to be in denial. And those that recognize it are not pandering.

  17. Noted and agree with you. All board members had a choice to vote. I assume all members fully understood where their colleagues stood on the candidate, the employment package and the start date. The vote reflects the outcome would not have changed.

  18. More wrong facts…more off-base speculation. Again the three no show votes just couldn’t make it. Everyone was asked when they were free that week for the special meeting. Each of the three were not free that night. Yet, the majority still scheduled their Superintendent vote then anyway. Why, if board cohesion and public continuity and image were considerations?

    Here’s why they had to rush the vote then when the hiring process had been dragging on for years? Because State Education law required the BOE to advise interim Super Pinsak by April 16th that she would not be reappointed for another year and her contract not extended. If she was not officially advised by that date, she would just continue legally in her role and more monies owed to her. So the majority realized that they now had to officially act last week and fast.

    Further, if they started Dr. Johnson’s new contract after May 16th, 2018, the date that our school board officially reorganizes itself yearly and votes in a new President and Vice-president under local (and maybe state statutes), they faced possible legal ramifications after that they had no legal right to appoint Kendra Johnson given the various theories found within that Gonzalez case. That case ruling over-turned a Superintendent appointment. It’s not a slam dunk, but could be a possible basis to overturn the majority’s new Superintendent vote, should Johnson started on July 1st as originally planned, the day after interim Super Pinsak’s official term ended and after the Board legally reorganized itself.

    That’s really why the last second, rush dance last week to meet, hire Johnson and change the Pinsak end and Johnson start dates. Now, Pinsack leaves April 30th and Johnson starts May 1. In addition, if the Mayor had not reappointed Board President Laura Hertzog, a Johnson supporter, there could have been even further justification found that the new Superintendent hire vote be made invalid if legally opposed, since the majority board support for Johnson would have been lost. Remember, last week the Mayor had not acted yet on his reappointments. Add Minister Gross’s leaving in July to the mix and you now see there could be a reasonable basis for legally opposing the current board’s actions under the legal theory that an older board cannot dictate its Superintendent to the new one. And that’s why the board dance went down the way it did.

    So question, is any compensation payment now being made to Pinsak with taxpayer monies for the last two missing months of her contract, to “help” Johnson or the Board with their “transition”? Is some payment being made and possibly masked as a consultant’s payout, or as severance? Some here just want to ask and know.

    PS…Jackson conspiracists also need to better stay on top of insider moves. Former Board Chair Jessica De Koninck’s campaign consultant son did not handle the current council’s 2016 campaign for Jackson and company. He did work their 2012 campaign. There’s just a slight chance that Jackson instead picked his mom for the school Board here because she was a State Education Dept. official before and prior legal counsel to another local school board in the past, therefore it made sense she would be a knowledgeable Board member and topper – regardless of the job you thought she ultimately did. So that on-going refrain of for some about the corrupt Democratic party, union support angle — really does not always come into play.

  19. Nice spin on the facts, I’m not buying it. The majority wanted Johnson since February, if not before.
    Why the Mayor and others did what they did in the interim before the vote is just a bunch of he said, she said.

    You left out all the calculated moves by the Mayor in his official capacity. You give the Mayor a free pass on his behavior and focus solely on the behavior of the Board member majority. The bottom line is the educational leadship in this town are split, played tit for tat, which led to the eventual hardball options played. Every one got their respective political outcome they calculated knowing the vote wouldn’t change.

    I do take exception to the financial impropriety angle your raised with the interim superintendent ‘s departure. That was not up to your standards and now have to wonder where you fit into this. Very disappointing.

  20. It was just announced at the BOE meeting last night that Pinsak would remain in a consulting capacity last night, as was suspected — to close the maneuvering loop. That’s payment for the 2 months of her lost time…now without an official contract.

    So sorry, Mr. Rubacky. The Spot was still on target here.

  21. spotontarget,

    I generally eschew conspiracy theories – Oswald acted alone – and, thus, would ordinarily be inclined to agree with your concerns about “Jackson conspiracists” on this thread.

    The problem is that you have openly telegraphed your “dog in the fight” allegiances and dislike of a certain BOE member.

    You gloss over the 3 no-shows by saying “they simply couldn’t make it.” Well, right, they didn’t make it (or couldn’t, or wouldn’t). It was also the most important vote any of them will ever be asked to make. We will never know the reasons those 3 members failed to show, true or otherwise. Bottom line: for such a critical vote, they ought to have shown up. 90% of life is …

    Further, in revisiting some of your earlier posts in this thread, and Bonesteel’s, you refer to Board Member Kavesh’s “tiffs” with the mayor in print; as well as Kavesh’s alleged “obvious racial pandering”. I’m sure everyone here would be interested in your proof of his alleged racial pandering. Are you suggesting Kavesh voted for Johnson because, wait for it, she’s African-American? No chance he and his colleagues voted for Johnson because she’s eminently qualified? Or are you saying the 3 African-American Board members who voted for Johnson (Hertzog; Turner and Caldwell) get a pass, but not Kavesh, since he’s just a panderer?

    As for the “tiffs” you refer to, I found 1 newspaper article – 1 – indicating a tiff. Look it up: Andrew Segedin, Montclair Times, November 2014. The Civil Rights Committee, chaired by Kavesh, questioned the manner in which the Township Council hired Timothy Stafford as Acting Manager; and expressed its concerns about violations of Affirmative Action hiring laws and the Township’s potential exposure to litigation. After all, that would sort of be an area of concern for any Civil Rights Committee, right? The mayor used harsh words (“racial pandering on steroids”), and, unless I missed subsequent articles, the issue appears to have withered on the vine. Other than the fact that 4 years later Stafford is still “Acting”.

    Every other article in the Montclair Times and the Montclair Local regarding that Committee is devoid of any mention of “tiffs” between the mayor and Kavesh, and, for that matter, between the mayor and the Committee.

    There are many archived articles in the Montclair Times from when the Civil Rights Committee was chaired by Steven Knox. Are you saying Mr. Knox ran to the press? News flash: the Montclair Times (at least when it actually covered Montclair), the Montclair Local and Baristanet SHOULD cover such meetings: Planning Board; Town Council; BOE; Zoning Board of Adjustments; Civil Rights, etc. So your comment that Kavesh “ran to the press” holds no water. The press covers meetings in town, as it should. Unless you believe that meetings should be held in cigar-smoke backrooms, a la Hudson County.

    Otherwise: thank you for keeping the conspiracists honest here.

  22. No dog in this “fight” Johnlayne. And no animus against any specific board member or official. Everyone involved is acting as they see fit for the best interests of the township. That’s very clear and it is a good thing.

    The Spot is just trying to provide complete clarity for all the actions being taken.

    PS Mr. Rubacky, no one said that retaining Pinsak as a consultant was financially improper except you who alluded to that view. It is a time-honored transition tool. Just that here, now, it is part of all the maneuvering involved, to accomplish steps which the board majority are clearly undertaking.

  23. I read it as spending taxpayer dollars to shore up the board’s selection. That she needed help and the Board wanted a problem-free transition that maybe wouldn’t be required with another candidate.

    You might recall a month back where I said a scenario of employing both a new superintendent and Dr Johnson gave the district a means to have two high caliber people in a state with a salary cap. I view this scenario of overlap thru October as a creative & positive step by the board. To have, in effect, two superintendents on the payroll can only help to achieve the Board’s goals & objective for 2018 and beyond. The cost, maybe $80,000, is workable compared to the potential payback. Bottomline is the circumstances allow us to exceed the salary cap for 6 months at an annualized rate of $250K..and get two headcount, too. Isn’t that what the public school advocates here in town wanted?

    PS: “dog in the fight” John Layne is dog abuse – an ongoing problem in this State. Sorry, it is a peeve of mine.

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