A steady drop in the African-American student body was at the central topic during a presentation given on the 2018-2019 Montclair School District enrollment report highlights. It was given by Felice A. Harrison-Crawford, Ed. D. director of Operations and School Support Services during the Montclair Board of Education meeting held on Monday, January 14. According to Harrison-Crawford, the overview is based on the 2018 enrollment data and is required and reported to the state of New Jersey annually.
Harrison-Crawford confirmed with board members that there has been a trend of a drop in the district’s enrollment of African-Americans through past decade. Joe Kavesh, board vice-president, called it an “alarming trend,” when he referred to the population as consisting of 32 percent of the student body in 2010.
Required by the state for the purposes of state aid, the data is based on the October 15, 2018 enrollment data and is reported during the fall report. The report shows enrollment for the district, each grade level, and each school. It also shows racial composition of the district for each grade level and school as well as zone configuration by school. Additionally, it shows all aspects for all regular and special education in place and out of placement. The research was the result of a four-year comparison on the district enrollment, which includes all students in general education, special education and out of district placements.
Harrison-Crawford reported that this year’s total enrollment is 6,763. which is 14 more students than last year’s total enrollment The elementary schools’ kindergarten through fifth grade population increased by one student when compared to a decrease of 42 students in 2017. The middle schools’ sixth through eighth grade population, increased by 18 students compared to a decrease of 13 students in 2017. The high school’s ninth though 12th grade population decreased by 25 compared to an increase of 70 students in 2017. Out-of-district placements increased by 20 as compared to no change from 2016 to 2017.
“Overall, our district had an increase of 14 students,” Harrison-Crawford noted.
Also notated in the report was a gender breakdown that was skewed for female, with a 52.1 percent female student population. Harrison-Crawford explained that the algorithm was designed six years prior specifically to deal with socio-economic balance issue in the district.
“In July 2018, the data resulted in it being impossible to create gender balance at Edgemont for kindergarten,” she explained. “This year, 43 families chose Edgemont as their first choice, including student who were placed prior to the lottery, which included siblings and English as Second Language (ESL) learners, and the group happened to be perfectly zoned and balanced. This left one slot to be filled.”
The enrollment projection for 2018-2019 was made by advancing the previous years’ enrollment numbers to the next grade level, resulting in the kindergarten class size to be changed from 22 to 24.
The district’s total racial composition for 2018 consists of the student population comprised of six percent Asian, 24 percent black, 12 percent Hispanic and 51 percent white. Seven percent consisted of multi-race. Among the district’s continuous improvement plans was to include making July placements based on the actual enrollment numbers and reviewing trends for later determinations regarding placements. The district also utilized a database called Genesis, which generates an algorithm for student placement by grade, in alignment with the state’s School Placement Request Policy and Regulation.
Another presentation given was the concept of restorative justice and the impact it has had on the district since being introduced. The initiative is a system of criminal justice which focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large. It is less punitive and focuses on the offender taking responsibility, peace building and having educational entities involved at every level.
Petal Roberston, president of Montclair Education Association (MEA) spoke of the concept of restorative justice since being implemented in the district and its impact. The initiative has allowed the first opportunity for the board and the MEA to work together. She also said that the district is the first in New Jersey to be the recipient of a grant in order to provide staff training sessions and have staff attend workshops to be trained. Gayl Shepard, who was made teacher on special assignment by the district to lead the initiative, also spoke during the presentation, along with several teachers and administrative staff who gave testimonials during the public comment stating that it has made a positive impact.
“The restorative justice model shows us that people are less likely to cause harm when they’re in relationships with each other,” said Tara Crisafulli, English teacher at MHS and part of the restorative justice team. “The philosophy is rooted in the belief that human beings are happier when they are more cooperative and productive and are more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them rather than to them or for them.”
Many Montclair High School students also came out to protest the board’s potential plan to take away the dance classes that are currently used as a way to fulfill the physical education requirement at Montclair High in order to align with the state’s requirements for PE. Students voiced how it would not be feasible for many who came from lower income families to continue with dance or further pursue it if classes were only available as electives. The students implored board members to come to some agreement where they would leave dance intact and allow students to continue to use classes to count toward their physical education requirement. School superintendent Kendra Johnson assured students that the dance program was not being dismantled but that the board must do what is “robust” and align to state requirements.
Two schools gave performances at the Board of Education meeting on Monday. Students from Watchung Elementary School performed songs from their production of The Wizard of Oz Our Buzz Aldrin Middle School students Mr. Zeta coo art of their upcoming winter concert