The Montclair Board of Education had an uncharacteristically short workshop meeting on Febraury 6. One issue concerning Schools Superintendent Kendra Johnson and the board was where the Class of 2019 would hold its graduation ceremony; another issue, brought forward by board member Eve Robinson, was the ongoing consternation over the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests required for graduation.
Superintendent Johnson has been trying to find an appropriate place for Montclair High School’s 2019 graduation ceremony in place of the amphitheater on the school campus, which the ongoing staircase issue has rendered unusable. Among the options she proposed were an outdoor ceremony at Montclair State University or Woodman Field, which would require a rain date due to the lack of indoor space in both venues. The Wellmont Theater is also a possibility, but the limited space would mean that students can only receive two tickets each for friends and family. Superintendent Johnson said she also considered the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, but its location out of town – Montclair State University’s campus is at least partially in the township – gave her pause.
Board Vice President Joseph Kavesh, chairing the meeting in the absence of Board President Laura Hertzog (board member Anne Mernin was also absent), asked if video streaming was being considered should the Wellmont be used. Superintendent Johnson said it was, and added that a second location for watching the video stream was being considered. No decision was made at this meeting regarding the location. Meanwhile, though, the board later approved a resolution putting out a bid for construction companies to repair the Montclair High School staircases.
Robinson, meanwhile, reiterated her displeasure with the PARCC requirements, saying that the state was adhering to them in spite of the abandonment of the program by other states, and she noted that Montclair has had the highest opt-out rates of any district in New Jersey. She asked students and parents to call Governor Phil Murphy’s office and ask that he agree to a request from the Educational Law Center that PARCC be dropped as a requirement. Her comments, made toward the end of the meeting and for the benefit of public-access TV viewers, almost didn’t get out; a momentary power outage brought the meeting and the broadcast to a halt, but she was able to broadcast contact information for the governor once power was resorted and TV34 was back online. She advised that people call Governor Murphy at 609-292-6000 between 9 A.M. and 5 P.M. Monday through Friday.
Superintendent Johnson had information for those who wanted to opt out of something else – physical education. Students who participate in varsity sports can opt-out of physical education courses in order to devote more time to study by utilizing study hall. All student athletes are eligible, though any student athlete already scheduled for a study hall will not be automatically granted an opt-out. Exemption information sheets were available at the meeting.
Also, Greg Foster of the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence (MFEE) updated the board of the group’s activities. MFEE is donating more funds to Buzz Aldrin Middle School’s Poetry Slam program to promote poetry and storytelling and help forge a stronger bond between students and teachers. The school, in association with Lifelong Montclair, is also pairing students and senior citizens to share and develop for presentation stories about what the American dream is all about. Students would present their stories publicly in June. Foster was especially excited about engaging the community in a discussion about race and equity with a screening of America To Me, a documentary exploring scholastic race relations in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Illinois, in the hope of spurring a grater dialogue about race and equity in Montclair. Oak Park has a racial and ethnic mix similar to Montclair.
Resident Irving Geddis raised concerns about ongoing racial issues in the Montclair school district in public comment, citing his own history as the grandson of a slave and how he had been forced to travel in segregated public transportation – having to move to segregated rail cars on train trips south of Washington, D.C. – as well as his familiarity with lynchings in his home state of South Carolina. While Geddis thought progress had been made in race relations, he admitted to being disturbed by an incident at a school board meeting in December, where he believed the board showed disrespect to women voicing anger over race-related issues in the schools. Geddis, 88, urged the board to form an advisory committee to deal with such complaints, and he added that he was upset when people are angry over an issue and nothing is done to resolve it.
The meeting began with recognitions for Montclair teachers in the Governor’s Educators of The Year program. Those receiving certificates were Sean Finnerty and Megan Randall of Bradford School; Georgette Mbayed and Grace Ann Furnari of Bullock School; Kate Megdaris of Buzz Aldrin Middle School; Avril Fagan and Sade Henry of Edgemont School; Courtney Anderson of Glenfield Middle School; Amanda Senior of Hillside School; Andrea Smith-Morgan of Montclair High School; Robert Hastins of Nishuane School; Karen Maleszewski and Danielle Schragen of Northeast School; Rachel Dunn of Renaissance School; and Berdine Clinton of Watchung School.