MontClairVoyant: Our Suburb’s Unsettling Superintendent Saga

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DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
I’m not sure when Dr. Kendra Johnson will pack for Maryland, but there’s a lot to unpack about her resignation as Montclair’s schools superintendent after little more than a year in that post. Can you first say something nice?

Sincerely,
Bea Kind

Dr. Johnson is smart, hardworking, and talked a lot about racial equity. Also, it’s not easy being superintendent in a town with so many involved, intelligent, opinionated stakeholders. (Put those stakes down! I’m trying to write a column!)

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
We wish her well, but there are also negative things to say about the situation. Please start chronologically from a few years ago, when the Board of Education paid a search firm and spent MUCH too long a time seeking a “permanent” superintendent…

Sincerely,
Endless Process

only to hire from within. A flyer on a store bulletin board would’ve been way cheaper — unless attached with diamond-encrusted pushpins.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Then came the BOE’s fateful called-with-little-notice April 11, 2018, meeting — with three members not there, making the 4-0 vote for Johnson less than a mandate. And the three absent members remain on the BOE while the four voters ARE NOW ALL GONE.

Sincerely,
One Fishy, Two Fishy…

Yup, one voter announced well before 4-11-18 that he was leaving Montclair, another stepped down after being accused of not living in town during part of his board tenure, another wasn’t reappointed, and another resigned. Then the BOE’s resident ghost was hired by Shirley Jackson to star in her 1959 novel “The Haunting of Hill House.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
To star in the novel, not in the movie version! So, Dr. Johnson felt she had much less BOE support in July 2019 than in April 2018?

Sincerely,
Year of the That

Seemingly, but I can’t read people’s minds. Still, if Zadie Smith wrote a novel titled “People’s Minds,” I’d read it.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Now, could you list some of the complaints you and others had with Dr. Johnson’s work as superintendent?

Sincerely,
Critt A. Sizing

Her unquestioning support of the awful/time-wasting/now-renamed PARCC tests, the ridiculously long time it took to start repairing the high school stairs, and the plan to cram students into the George Inness Annex during repairs with way too much study-hall time. That problematic plan was rescinded this spring after strong protest — including Inness rising from the dead to paint the evocative landscape “Mosh Pit in Montclair.”

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
I also felt there was too much education jargon in Dr. Johnson’s emails and other statements. Anyway, there have been four Montclair superintendents — including two interims — since 2015, with a fifth coming. Dismaying?

Sincerely,
Rhea Volving-Dorr

Yes, but still fewer than the number of liquor licenses in town.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Meanwhile, there’s a new website connected to the lawsuit against the history-harming and otherwise flawed Lackawanna Plaza redo wrongly approved by the Planning Board. (More than 150 residents are plaintiffs, according to SaveMontclair!) What’s the URL?

Sincerely,
Yu Arr-Ell

ABetterLackawanna.org, and you can visit it on your desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone, or manual typewriter.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
That last device sounds so 1969. Which reminds me that this Saturday, July 20, is the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in which Montclair hometown hero Buzz Aldrin took part. How will our burg mark this momentous occasion?

Sincerely,
Lou Ner-Module

With a July 20 event at the library, whose address will even be changed to “50” South Fullerton in honor of the anniversary. Oops, that’s always the address.

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
Near the library on July 12, there was a great turnout for a vigil against the Trump administration’s atrocious detainment camps for asylum seekers from Latin America. Is the Oval Office occupant a racist?

Sincerely,
Anne Ty-Black

I don’t answer or ask obvious questions. Say, did you know that the Township Council meets in the Council Chambers?

DEAR MONTCLAIRVOYANT,
But apparently no July debut for The MC, which may now have a delayed opening in August. What do you think of that Montclair hotel hiring a “director of lifestyle”?

Sincerely,
T. Hee

Such a pretentious title. How the heck does lifestyle get directed? I’ll direct my own lifestyle, thank you very much. Maybe the BOE, as it gears up to replace Dr. Johnson, can seek a “superintendent of magnet-system lifestyle.”

Dave Astor, author, is the MontClairVoyant. His opinions about politics and local events are strictly his own and do not represent or reflect the views of Baristanet.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. “I also felt there was too much education jargon in Dr. Johnson’s emails and other statements. Anyway, there have been four Montclair superintendents — including two interims — since 2015, with a fifth coming.”

    —both The Irony Meter AND The Lack Of Self Awareness Gauge shattered after just two sentences. Kudos, Dave!

  2. Coincidentally, I just made an appointment today with PSE&G to get the gas meter for my apartment replaced. The shattered irony meter will remain. 🙂

    Thank you for commenting, jcunningham! Well said!

  3. Can you first say something nice?

    Wow. 6 words. A surgical post-mortem.

    I assume you are not buying the self-narrative?

  4. Ha! Thank you for the comment, Frank! I was trying to make the column “fair and balanced” ( 🙂 ), but overall I was not a fan of the superintendent’s brief tenure.

  5. I picked-up on that belief. Many decided that before she was chosen…like another former, female superintendent. What was her name?

    Anyway, Montclair’s base constituencies have not worked well with our female superintendents. I’m not completely sure what that is about, but several reasons are embedded institutionally. Others are embedded in our local media, e.g. when they apply the “embattled”, or like label.

    So, MPSD will really pay the next superintendent. If it is a male (likely), the historical optics on the pay inequity is will be ugly. So now we pay this guy $300K+. The current educational establishment is unwilling and/or incapable of conducting a 20/20 hindsight on the superintendent mess.

    The key takeaway will be they prevailed. They will do the same as they did before – and fail. So, this BoE will give premium pay for a experienced, proven, conventional-thinking male. He will be perceived as faring better initially simply because of his gender, pay and conventional experience.

  6. Frank, before she was chosen, I didn’t have strong feelings one way or another about how Dr. Johnson would do as superintendent. But the way she was chosen (that weird scenario of only four of the seven BOE members at the 4-11-18 vote meeting, and those four not being among the BOE-member favorites of quite a few parents, teachers, etc.) gave me some pause.

    I don’t think Dr. Johnson being female had anything to do with the way she was perceived by most people in Montclair. (Of course there are always some sexists around.) Heck, Dr. Johnson’s predecessor, interim superintendent Barbara Pinsak, was fairly well regarded. And there’ve been a number of very respected female BOE presidents (such as the current Eve Robinson), very respected female Montclair Education Association presidents (such as the current Petal Robertson and her predecessor Gayl Shepard), and very respected female principals (such as Dr. Sack at Buzz and Naomi Kirkman at Bradford).

    Because of the pay cap being lifted by the state, the new Montclair superintendent will indeed most likely be paid more — whether that person is female or male. I hope a woman is chosen.

  7. Sexism is a specific, out-of date term that was a subset of gender inequity.

    Montclair has countless women in leadership positions across the spectrum. I am simply focusing on The Leadership position in education, in Mtc. I focus because it is the 2nd biggest industry in town and residents tend to walk differently when it comes to doing right for their progeny.

  8. I hear you, Frank. Unfortunately, some people might feel differently about a woman as superintendent vs. women in other local leadership positions. I very much wish that was NOT the case, but…

  9. While we agree, I think my intended point was generally unclear.
    We have this history because there is a significant bias by both men and women with a women in this position. I also wish that was not the case.

  10. Frank, if there’s any bias against a female superintendent in Montclair, I think that bias is felt chiefly by men. But I suppose there are always some women biased against other women in high positions, just as there are all kinds of biases among some men.

Comments are closed.