Monday night’s Board of Education meeting covered a lot of topics, had presenters from Nishuane School PTA and Nishuane School teachers, and had primarily positive comments from the public and did it all in a little over four hours.
Superintendent’s Report: CCSS, Strategic Plan, Resources, Police at Glenfield
Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Penny MacCormack took the time to discuss many things during her portion of the meeting.
She gave some background on Common Core State Standards and the new state assessments called PARRC, which schools will take in spring of 2015. Much of her discussion was a repeat of the CCSS background she gave the the district CCSS parent workshop. She stressed that our students will face a more rigorous test. “The bar has been raised,” she said and explained that the district’s Strategic Plan was created to prepare students. She went on explain that over 100 Montclair teachers worked over the summer to develop collaboratively develop curriculum and assessments. She stressed that they knew that implementing new curriculum would not be easy and the intention was to allow for constant input and feedback to address concerns, tweak things that may not work, and make clear that it would be an ongoing process.
She explained that through the feedback and after several assessments were leaked online, the common unit assessments will move to school wide, rather than district wide.
She spoke of the lack of resources and explained that, while they have addressed these issues, that she believes that at this moment of transition to CCSS, we’re headed toward more electronic resources for information, such as iPads.
She announced that after the concerns from the public, the board met with Dr. Putrino, principal of Glenfield Middle School, and Detective Williams, the police Sergeant at the head of the Community Police Unit, and came to the decision to have to have the police withdraw from the school. She said that the police are working on a plan for a better situation and will present it for consideration.
Ray Sarinelli of the Nisivoccia firm presented an audit report for the 2012-2013 school year.
The district’s budget fund balance, or surplus, at June 30,2013 was $12.865,360. Sarinelli said the surplus dropped more than $1.1 million, going from $13.9 million for the year ending June 2012 to $12.8 million a year later.
Update with some clarification on numbers by David Deutsch: Board member David Deutsch explained that even though the fund balance was $12.8 on June 30, 2013, at July 1, 2013, the board allocated $4.8 million into the school budget reserve. $2.8 million was allocated for capital reserve, $750,000 for maintenance reserve, (Deutsch said we were working with 10 building out of 11 that were old and in constant need of repair, so it’s important to allocate funds), $2.2 operating reserve, and $2.25 million is surplus that will be applied to the budget in 2014-2105, which is required by law. So by the end of July 1, 2013 the fund balance or surplus was actually $7.5 million, to which Sarinelli said ”You’ve position yourself with some nice reserve going forward.”
Sarinelli commended the board for reducing the amount of tax revenue saying, “I think that’s a significant accomplishment and it needs to be pointed out. ” He added, “There is no other district that I deal with that can say that the tax levy is less than it was four years ago, let alone on average, about $10 million bellow what the cap would have otherwise provided for.”
Nishuane School Teachers’ Report
Ms. May, a kindergarten teacher at Nishuane, spoke on behalf of Nishuane teachers to give a report on what’s working and what’s not working for teachers. She began saying that the 2013-2014 school year can best be described as “The year of change.” May went on to say that some of the changes have been beneficial, while others have left teachers feeling “exhausted, unprepared and constantly trying to keep our heads above water.”
On a positive note, they spoke highly of principal Jill McLaughlin and said the new common planning time been beneficial, had great support from the PTA, and a helpful staff council have created a “great sense of moral in the building, and we enjoy working with one another.”
She said that changes such as the state mandated SGO’s and new teacher evaluation system, along with learning the new CCSS, has them feeling overwhelmed. She said it would be helpful that they had less staff meetings, allowing them to have more time to work. Teachers also requested that they receive units earlier, so they have time to prepare. She said they are happy to have the principal do more evaluations, put it requires more paperwork, taking more of their time. Teachers requested that Report Cards be changed to reflect the new standards and possibly be made as pdfs. They requested that an effort be made to bring back Aides in all classrooms to support teachers.
May ended saying “You’ve been giving us more chance to voice out opinion and we respect that a lot. We respect the individuals at the board and together we hope to form a more collaborative relationship among ourselves allowing us the clarity to make up our minds and the comfort to speak publicly about out opinion.”
The public comments last night were overwhelming in support of Dr. MacCormack, the board and the Strategic Plan.
Pat Leonard, a 14 year resident who put two children through the Montclair school system, said her work experience of over 30 years in higher education publishing and corporate ed. and workforce development, has shown her that students “don’t have the skills needed.” “I wish the strategic plan and focus on Common Core started years ago,” she stressed. She thanked the board for such a “thorough search for our superintendent.”
Debbie Villarreal-Hadley, mother of 4 students and longtime volunteer, said she came out to “Show my support for the district and strategic plan and Common Core standards.” She said it has been put out there that because many parents haven’t shown up at past board meetings to show support for the Board and Superintendent, that that support doesn’t exist. “That is not the case,” she said.
Charles Rosen, a father of two at Hillside and Glenfield Schools, said “I stand tonight to show my support for the strategic plan, but more importantly, I stand to make a request that our teachers, our administrators, our board and our parent volunteers work together to actually implement that plan to the best of their abilities.”
Betsy Harris, mother of two MHS students, said she “Felt confident in our educational experts and we need to give them a chance to try and let this work.”
On the other side, Ira Shor, father of one, came to the podium and chided the board for the accumulation of “enormous surplus and refusing to spend it on our children.” He asked, “Are we Camden? What is going on with you people?” He said every year, the board was boasting how much money they saved on the budget to satisfy an “anti-tax” crowd. Shor said,”You can organize a crew to come here to say how wonderful you are, but the worst thing that has happened yet to Montclair public schools is the Common Core, which has never been vetted by any research, never been tested, and has been shoved down our throats, and forced upon us to make guinea pigs of our children.”
Regina Tuma, founder of Montclair Cares About Schools, spoke of other parents, teachers and districts who were fighting back against the Common Core State Standards and testing reforms. She said “Montclair parents need to know that we can reach Common Core Standards and close achievement gaps by providing learning experiences that are rich and where teachers and students are responsible for learning and knowledge.”
The next public meeting of the Board of Education will be held on Monday, December 16 at 7:30 pm at the MHS auditorium on 100 Chestnut Street.