dr. penny MacCormack

Clear Expectations. Those were Superintendent Dr. Penny MacCormack’s most used words at last night’s “Wisdom of the Community” event where, after a 90 day listening and learning tour of the school district, she shared her findings and plans for Montclair Schools.

Nearly 500 people packed Montclair High School’s auditorium was packed, both on stage and in the audience. Board members, school administrators, teachers, students, PTA members and parents were there to hear the new Superintendent’s plan.

Board President Robin Kulwin took to the mic to welcome all and announce Dr. MacCormack, of whom she said, “She has a work ethic that is second to none and she knows how to listen.”

Dr. MacCormack started with a welcome to Mayor Jackson and the Board and all in attendance, then asked for a minute to “celebrate together today’s announcement of the Board and MEA’s tentative agreement.”

Next she thanked the student groups from each on stage, which she has been meeting with. Each school group was called and the team of students proudly held their school signs to cheers.

Then she got down to business. Dr. MacCormack presented the strengths and challenges of the district as identified for her by the community during more than 100 “listening and learning” meetings with educators, parents, students, community members, and other interested parties held since Dr. MacCormack’s arrival in the district on November 1, 2012. Dr. MacCormack said that she analyzed the community’s input using a rubric that highlighted issues identified by two or more groups (i.e., teachers/staff, students, parents, community members) and mentioned in more than 20 (or 20%) of the meetings held. There are seven in each column, which Dr. MacCormack  jokingly explained was because she was a bit of a nerd who studied brain science, and found that the number of objects an average human can hold in working memory is 7.


She reported that these observations and priorities identified by the community will provide the foundation for a community-based strategic planning process, beginning this month, intended to raise student achievement and close achievement gaps.

She quickly went through each, focusing mostly on the challenges. She emphasized that changes would come with clear expectations, support, clear job descriptions  and accountability, but gave no specifics.

“Let this be more than a road map, let it be a tool for making meaning,” she said, and went on,  “Trust me, it cannot be MY plan. It must become OUR plan.”

After the auditorium presentation, the group moved to the MFEE/Laraja Gallery in the lobby of the MHS auditorium and Dr. MacCormack elaborated on how the community’s ongoing input will be incorporated into the MPS Strategic Plan. Participants were asked to start thinking about specific ways to build on strengths, address challenges, and measure the success of these efforts.

strategic planning montclairPeople were given post-its and pens, on which they started filling out their input. They then stuck them up on the appropriate “Challenge” board to be used in the strategic planning part.

There will be four strategic planning forums in the next several weeks. The community is invited to participate in the forums which will focus on these specific topics:

  • Monday, April 29, 7 – 9 pm, MPS Central Office, 22 Valley Road:  Communication and Parent Engagement

  • Thursday, May 9, 7 – 9 pm, MPS Central Office, 22 Valley Road:  Challenging All and Montclair High School

  • Tuesday, May 21, 7:30-9:30 pm, Mount Hebron Middle School, 173 Bellevue Avenue:  Central Office and Leadership Development

  • Thursday, May 23, 7:30-9:30 pm, MPS Central Office, 22 Valley Road:  Resources and School Offerings

The district has also built a strategic planning web page, allowing people to follow the plan’s development and provide their input electronically.

“This process epitomizes Dr. MacCormack’s hands-on, collaborative approach to supporting our students and helping all of them learn at high levels,” commented Montclair Board of Education (BOE) President Robin Kulwin.  Mrs. Kulwin continued, “Dr. MacCormack recognizes that these challenges cannot be met in a vacuum. She and the BOE welcome the involvement and contributions of teachers, students, parents, and community members to create a shared vision for our schools.”