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