MontClairVoyant: Serious and Silly Superintendent-Survey Submissions

The superintendent search! There were public-input sessions this month, and then an online survey asking people what they want in our school district’s next leader. Did you fill it out?

Inboxing Day

I did, and submitted serious replies I’ll summarize near the end of this column. But first I’ll answer those same survey questions here in a humorous way. Why? Because…um…it’s Mitch McConnell’s 78th birthday!

(Agonized scream.) Anyway, the first survey ask: “Please indicate your relationship to the Montclair public schools.”

Pry Me a River

I tried to start a relationship with the Buzz Aldrin building by asking it to have some lentil soup with me at nearby Marcel, but that middle school couldn’t fit through the door.

Survey question two: “What are the most significant strengths and achievements of the Montclair public schools and the Montclair community?”

Besides Biceps

The Glenfield building, which dates back to 1896, has staved off the ravages of old age by working out at the Y.


The Letter

As I said, to stave off the ravages of old age.

Survey question three: “What would be helpful for the new superintendent to know to better understand the uniqueness of the Montclair public schools and community?”

Mountie Python

The plot of “War and Peace.”

Survey question four: “What critical issues faced by the district need to be addressed immediately?”

Sermon on the Mountie

Given that Board of Education meetings can be long, place sofa beds in the George Inness Annex. And limit the public’s three-minute speaking time to 180 seconds.

Survey question five: “What critical issues will the school district face in the next 3-5 years?”

‘In the Year 2525’ (Minus 500)

Finding room for runways on school properties when the buses transporting our kids start to fly.

Survey question six: “What educational background, training, and experience should the new superintendent have?”

Besides Breathing

Foosball skills are a must.

Survey question seven: “What leadership style/supervisory characteristics are important in a new superintendent?”

Sue Pervisory

The wisdom to not put 78 candles on Mitch McConnell’s birthday cupcake.

Survey question eight: “If you could ask the candidates one question during the interview process, what would that question be?”

Query Christmas

“Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?”

Survey question nine: “Are there any other ideas or suggestions you would like to share about the superintendent search that have not been addressed in this survey?”

A. Dendum

Students should take the NJSLA tests in Montclair’s SLA restaurant. Every answer will be “Thai food.”

Well, that was all very enlightening. Now, as promised, summarize the serious survey answers you actually submitted online.

Connie (‘Con’) Densation

I’d like finalists who’ve been superintendents in diverse/fairly large suburban districts, who spent several years as teachers earlier in their careers, who’ll often seek input from educators and others, who are against the time-wasting NJSLAs, and who’ll be adept at dealing with problems such as racial bias, budget issues, and aging infrastructure.

That’s a LOT to hope for! Being a bit unrealistic, aren’t we?

Polly Anna

True. How about if the new superintendent just stayed in the job for as long as the recent Super Bowl halftime show.

But Shakira and Jennifer Lopez performed for less than 15 minutes!

Not ‘The Hours’

Long enough to sing “Jenny From the Block Scheduling.”


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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  1. “What would be helpful for the new superintendent to know to better understand the uniqueness of the Montclair public schools and community?”

    The plot of “Great Expectations.”

  2. Ha! Thank you, silverleaf! Funny, true, and better than my “War and Peace” answer. 🙂 If “Great Expectations” character Miss Havisham ever attends a Montclair Board of Education meeting, the suggested sofa beds at George Inness Annex would come in handy. She’s not well…

  3. Poor old Miss Havisham, Dave. She’s a real pip, isn’t she?

    Come to think of it, I’d also say, “Up the Down (Collapsed) Staircase”

  4. LOL, silverleaf — your Pip reference and that title! 🙂 Some of Montclair’s aging school infrastructure is indeed going through “Hard Times.”

  5. That’s for sure! Required reading in Buzz Aldrin Middle School include “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds.”

  6. Hopefully coming to that school’s “Literature Alive” class! And the second title you mentioned makes me wonder why the Buzz theme song isn’t R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon.”

  7. Ha — some of it’s certainly about him! If Andy Kaufman had lived longer, perhaps he could have graduated from “Taxi” to lunar module…

  8. Survey question 10: Have you ever said or thought anything that may be considered racist by anyone who lives in Montclair? If so, please cancel your application and apply to Summit, NJ.

  9. Very cleverly said, spookyt. I think Summit could have a lot of applications. 🙂

    Seriously, there is indeed a lot of sensitivity in Montclair to racism or perceived racism, and I’m fine with that. Whether or not the interim superintendent’s reported remarks last fall were racist can be debated, but I feel they were at minimum tone-deaf.

  10. Mr. Astor, something I have been meaning to have in our discussion these last few days: Silly isn’t funny. Angry isn’t serious.

    Well pay me no mind. Our coffee this morning got interrupted with a lot of confusion. It was more than 15 minutes past time before Henry got down to breakfast. I don’t get what it is with him: the getting old or just that he got out on the wrong side of the bed.

    I already had shaked down the coals in the stove next to Henry’s chair and added a full scoop to chase the morning cold out of the kitchen. It saves on the oil. And I prefer that kind of heat to what comes out of the basement.

    When Henry gets pesty like that I mostly ignore him. But then he started: Melissa, he said looking at me from the corner in his eye, I thought we were finished having secrets. Mr. Harris, I said starting to raise my voice strong, if you had gotten in your chair on time this morning there would have been no secrets because you would have seen it when I put it there.

    He didn’t say nothing. Just stared at it. So I said: Poached or boiled? Then he looked up at me with those big eyes and that even bigger smile, like he did the first time I came up on him at the Clairidge Theater. Sunnyside up, he said.

    He does that sometimes. Not much. Just sometimes. Henry, I said, if you are thinking about having your way with me then just take that thought outside and bury it deep under the leaves in back of the garden. I am here talking to Mr. Astor. And don’t you even think about touching that slice of fruitcake until you finished your eggs.

    That is the problem here. After all these years that man is unpredictable as the day the Good Lord set him in my path. He got me flustered again. I blamed it this morning on Auntie’s kitchen towel. It does that sometimes. It changes things. In a good way. That still does not make Henry predictable.

    Mr. Astor, I don’t mean to be making excuses, but I forgot most of the important things we were just talking on. Except this. You have to stop saying those things about Mr. Parker. I think. You weren’t there and you just don’t know. You hurt people saying those things. Not just Mr. Parker. The man has a family. You should think too on my feelings when we are having coffee in the morning.

  11. Just wanted to make it clear: When I said “I’m fine with that” in my 9:15 pm comment, I meant I’m fine with calling out racism or possible racism. It’s important to do that.

    (Melissa, I’ll reply to your 6:58 am comment soon. 🙂 )

  12. Thank you for your comment, Melissa!

    I greatly enjoyed the paragraphs about your home life. Funny, heartwarming, descriptive, evocative, a bit testy, etc. 🙂

    Re your last paragraph, I think I’ve been diplomatic about what Dr. Parker reportedly said at an NAACP meeting last fall. (He reportedly said, and I’m paraphrasing, that racist teachers are okay if they don’t act racist in the classroom. And, I’m paraphrasing again, he reportedly said that he knows African-Americans partly because some were employees on his family farm when he was young.) A number of people at the meeting have confirmed the comments, and Dr. Parker hasn’t denied them — though he has basically said he feels his remarks were not racist but rather misconstrued as racist. As I wrote in an earlier comment, at minimum his remarks were tone-deaf. Yes, Dr. Parker undoubtedly feels hurt by all this, but so do many parents and other members of the Montclair community unhappy with the remarks.

  13. Frank, if Melissa was sharing the Henry story as a sort of metaphor, I guess I did miss her meaning. My bad — as someone who’s also a literature blogger, I should be “on” a metaphor (if the Henry story WAS metaphorical) like detectives Sherlock Holmes, Kinsey Millhone, or Easy Rawlins “on” a suspected criminal. Oops, that was an analogy. 🙂

  14. Ms Harris,

    I attended Ms Hollaways’s presentation, The Missing Story: African American History in Montclair. I learned some new things and it reminded me of how many things I had forgotten. I most enjoyed how she related the local stories, interesting on their own, to what was occurring in the larger world around us. She shared some historical photographs of Montclair and showed some that still exists, but mostly what replaced them. Sadly, Mary Hayes Allen’s home on Valley Road is long gone and replaced with a house of a later, “non-contributing” design and character. Progress.

    Progress hasn’t always prevailed over history in Montclair. Mr Hooe’s newsstand was demolished by 1910, but the later, Hooe Hall is still there, just down the Avenue. St. Mark’s Episcopal Methodist Church, Montclair’s first African-American Church @ 194 Bloomfield was lost sometime last century. However, its rectory is still there @ 192. It does look strangely out of place next to its neighbors. The Crawford Crews American Legion Post is also still there. It commemorates the 3 African American soldiers that served and sacrificed in WWI. But, no architectural gem.

    These buildings are still there, much how they looked back when, because of some misguided preservationists. You may know of them from Mr Pelham’s recent remark on preservationists here in town that have their priorities out of order.

    Well, the Montclair Historic Preservation Commission somehow managed to place historic protections on these two key buildings in its 2005 expansion of the Town Center Historic District. An expansion key stakeholders in the African American community were against.

    Anyway, just wanted to let you know I enjoyed Ms Holloways presentation and as you suggested, she did not disappoint. Maybe Mr Pelham will read your story of Henry this morning.

    Sometimes all it takes is for people to simply say they were wrong and they will do better.

  15. Thanks, Frank. And your use of the word “allegories” was more fitting than my use of the word “metaphor.”

    (Your 9:11 am comment was very interesting and informative.)

  16. But, I read Ms Harris’ account of keeping those two hand towels as metaphor. Her daily reminder to her family’s heritage – much like our historic preservation is to our community’s heritage. At least I would like to think so.

  17. Re: Achievement Gap numbers, et al

    The BoE mtg: Agendas, agendas everywhere

    Some real significant concerns raised, some positive news totally ignored because it didn’t fit with the agendas, and some obvious questions. Too bad it also seems to have been such a lousy presentation.

    Quickly, the Achievement Gap is about the gap in performance. Performance is another worthy discussion.

    The achievement gap in ELA has actually gone down over the 4 years and, further good news, it at a consistent level from elementary thru high school. It did not get worse as students advanced. Not what I expected, but that is what the numbers say.

    The MATH gap seems to stabilized, but the 2017-18 just dropped off a cliff.
    The gap continued it historical expansion as students advanced in grade

    What jumps off the MATH chart is the across-the-board increasingly poor math performance of students in general.

    I know little about the Restorative Justice program. What I do know is there is one implemented – maybe badly, but it is new. I also know school suspensions are down dramatically, but still disproportionate along racial lines. These two factors should have improved the AG performance. It’s fairly obvious that something more fundamental is wrong here. I’m not minimizing the racism issue, but it doesn’t fully explain what I’m seeing from these numbers. There is another significant contributing factor.

  18. “The MATH gap seems to stabilized” is poorly worded. I should have said it showed some progress in spots, in certain periods. Nothing to hang one’s hat on, but some inroads.

  19. Thank you for the comment, Frank. I wasn’t at this Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting, and it took place after the Wednesday-afternoon submission time for my February 20 column. But I’ll read up on the meeting and maybe comment some in my next column.

    Whatever Montclair does or doesn’t do about the achievement gap, a lot of that gap is beyond our school system’s control. Racism and economic inequality in the U.S. (both longtime but worsening under Trump) are the main culprits. Students in struggling families are often just not going to do as well.

    That said, what Montclair has done or can do (pre-K, tutoring, teacher anti-racism training, a restorative-justice program, etc.) are welcome and can at least help somewhat. As you noted, there has been a mix of improvements and “not-improvements.”

  20. Phew! Thanks Dave. For a moment there I was believing the Interim Superintendent that we in Montclair were doing something wrong…and we need to change our ways. Another reason to fire him?

    Can I also take comfort surmising the standardized testing for Math is particularly flawed to explain why white students’ Math proficiency has dropped by half in 3 years? I was trying to reconcile white MHS students going from 72% to 36% math proficiency while the 100% of the math instructors maintained a ‘meets job expectations’ rating. I wouldn’t say it, but some malcontents might think it is a little of the “the operation was a complete success, unfortunately the patient died”.

  21. Frank, I’m puzzled about that math-proficiency statistic you cited. It’s hard to believe that local math teachers suddenly became less competent. I certainly don’t trust the quality or evaluation accuracy of the PARCC-turned-NJSLA tests. And was there a curriculum change? I have no idea. Again, I’m puzzled.

  22. Yes, the NJSLA updated their test questions, e.g.

    45) President Trump says 2+2=5. True or False?

    You can see why Montclair students fared poorly

  23. Interesting, Frank. It certainly benefits NJSLA producer Pearson to have more students do badly; Pearson can then sell more “remedial” materials. And some people who push standardized tests are happy to see public schools do badly in order to push for more charter schools. (I’m talking in general, not about Montclair specifically.)

    Re your hilarious/depressing Trump reference, many of his supporters would say “true” if he said it. 🙁 It’s sort of a cult thing…

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