The Montclair Board of Education met on October 15 for the last time with Dr. Clarence Hoover as Interim Superintendent. Dr. Penny MacCormack is scheduled to assume the post in November. The meeting mostly went over routine resolutions and lasted for forty-five minutes, with a discussion on the school district’s professional development program.
Mirta al-Sina, a Montclair High School special education teacher and the new vice president of the Montclair Education Association (MEA), presented a report on the professional development session held on October 8. She noted that it was the first professional development session in a long time to be created and run entirely by the teachers. The workshops in the session covered topics such as Facebook privacy, PowerPoint in the classroom, cooperative learning, and diversity training. Al-Sina said that many teachers enjoyed and were excited by the program.
“Our goal for this year at Montclair High School’s school professional development committee is to create meaningful professional development that’s connected to our classroom,” she said.
What started out as a regularly offered commentary from the MEA turned into a discussion when Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan asked al-Sina if her report was meant to suggest that high school faculty members had not found previous professional development (PD) sessions to be meaningful. “Are you stating that you’re sharing this position because teachers want to be at the forefront of leading a future PD?” Dr. Allen McMillan asked. “I’m not clear.”
Al-Sina replied that she didn’t mean to suggest that previous PD sessions had not been meaningful, only that this was the first time that teachers were at the forefront of a PD session and had a real say in how it was conducted. “We’re just trying to make it more connected and more teacher-led,” she said.
Dr. Allen-McMillan’s fellow board member Tanya Coke then sought more informational feedback. “So was it a case in the past that the teaching staff didn’t have a say in what professional development workshops were offered, and that’s the difference, or are you saying that the difference now is that the teachers themselves are leading the workshops?” she asked.
Al-Sina said it was a little of both, noting that previous PD sessions had been dictated to teaching staff with little of their input, and explaining that the opportunities for input available to them in the October 8 session allowed them to be more engaged and active in the session. She also sought to clarify for the board that the sessions are aligned with the district’s goals, and she added that a greater emphasis on teacher-led PD workshops at the high school could lead the way for PD programs in the district’s other schools.
Talk shifted to concerns about the students when resident Jeremiah Davis, a scout for the New York Giants and a father of a nine-year-old boy, reported in public comment on an incident where someone at his son’s elementary school told his son that he would not be able to get through the fourth grade. Davis recalled that he had been told when attending Montclair High School 42 years later that he wasn’t college material and would never make it, and he was shocked to find the same indifference being directed at his grade-school son.
“I have a problem with that,” Davis, a onetime high school and college coach, said. “In my field, we motivate, we challenge, we coach, and we help kids. But I just can’t see that attitude that happened to me in 1970 is going on right now in 2012 in that my son is going to, I think that’s just not right.”
Dr. Allen-McMillan saw Davis’ situation as an impetus for the district to improve its efforts to motivate and help students. “She said that the board should be “very willing to embrace uncomfortable and maybe unpleasant experiences to get us to a better end for each and every student in Montclair.”
Dr. Hoover, who gave his final report to the school board as Interim superintendent, said that 6749 students had been enrolled at the start of the 2012-13 school year, fifteen more than at the start of the 2011-12 year. He also issued copies of an update regarding Mount Hebron Middle School, which included news of additional computers and an expansion of university projects with St. Joseph’s University Medical Center and Montclair State. Notably absent was any mention of former assistant principal Samantha Morra and her act of sending her children to Montclair schools despite her Little Falls address. Morra was not mentioned during the meeting, either.
MEA President Gayle Shepard took advantage of Dr. Hoover’s final meeting as the interim school superintendent and thanked him for his service, presenting him with a T-shirt as a parting gift.
She joked about her disagreements with Dr. Hoover. “I have never heard more gracious ‘No’s in my life,” she said.