What Are Your Feelings on Montclair BoE Meetings?Monday night’s Montclair Board of Education meeting lasted well after midnight and was extremely contentious. For awhile now, the BoE meetings have been tense and argumentative. In fact, MEA president Gayl Shepard said in her prepared statement  (read it in its entirety here and here) on Monday that Board president Robin Kulwin expressed to her that parents she spoke to said they were uncomfortable attending the meetings because of the dissension they felt.

BoE Vice Presdient Shelly Lombard told Barista Kids “The MEA has been dominating meetings and we are trying to create an environment where more opinions can be heard.” She added, “If I was a parent in the community, I would not want to come to these meetings.”

In my personal discussions, a parent said of Monday’s meeting, “It was my first BOE meeting and I’m not sure I have the stomach to go to another one.”

Montclair public school parents, we want to know how you feel. Do you attend the BoE meetings? Are you vocal on issues that you feel strongly about? If you don’t attend, is it because of the contentiousness?

Take our poll:

[polldaddy poll=7422715]

18 replies on “Barista Kids Poll: What Are Your Feelings on Montclair BoE Meetings?”

  1. BOE Chairperson Kulwin and Vice-Chairperson Lombard have stated that parents may be reluctant to comment due to fear of retaliation against their children.

    Who is the BOE suggesting will retaliate against children because of what parents say?

    It is important that we understand the message Ms. Kulwin and Lombard want to bring to the community.

  2. The questions above may be difficult for some to respond to. Many might attend and express their views without being “very vocal.” Others may attend and express their views but have a differing understanding of the MEA than expressed in the question.

    Still others may attend and never speak, and do so not because they are not intimidated, but because they do not wish to speak in public or because they only come to observe or for a whole host of reasons.

    Still others may not attend because they do not feel the BOE listens to them or because they feel the schools are so badly administered there is not sense in attending.

    A concern may be that this poll is more dividing than healing for the community. The attempt is appreciated, but perhaps it could have been better designed.

  3. Point taken idratherbeat63. I’ve added a “None of the above” choice asking for explanation in comments.

  4. Georgette, thank you. It was only my initial reaction. I think the poll could be helpful for us to understand better the concerns. Much appreciated.

  5. I have gone to a few meetings, and I don’t find them particularly intimidating from either side. I do understand that it’s primarily a business meeting for the BOE, but since part of that meeting is public comment, all opinions should be heard. I also think that the MEA should have a place on the agenda with a reasonable time limit — say ten minutes? — to share opinions and responses publicly.

    Being on the Board is no piece of cake, and I certainly would not be willing to take on the difficult and unpopular decisions they grapple with in the volunteer position each member has accepted. But being a public school teacher (or any teacher) is a day to day challenge that deserves more respect – overt and private – than it’s been shown in Montclair.

  6. I was at the meeting Monday night.

    There is a need for EVERYONE to be more civil and more respectful to WHOEVER is speaking. Whether the speaker is a BOE member, BOE staff/admin/superintendent, MEA president, PTA representative, or anyone else willing to speak their mind at the podium, they deserve quiet while speaking.

    If one must show their extreme displeasure, or extreme enthusiasm, by being vocal, please wait until the speaker appears finished.

  7. A big improvement to these meetings would be for Ch 34 to get the sound right.

    It is impossible to watch a BOE meeting on Ch 34 because the sound is so awful. The Town Council meetings are perfectly fine, the audio comes through clearly. The BOE meetings have been unlistenable for as long as I can remember. I don’t get it.

    Fix the audio and maybe more people will begin to get engaged and armchair observers might feel encouraged to attend an actual meeting.

  8. I’ve gone to my fair share of BoE meetings over the years. I’ve spoken a number of times, but I wouldn’t say I am ‘very vocal’. In my experience, speaking at these meetings is not particularly intimidating, public speaking is generally a little nerve-wracking for me. I would say that speakers can be very passionate. That is OK with me.

    I did not go to the most recent meetings. I do not understand the reasoning behind the Board’s decision to limit the speaking time of the PTA and the MEA. I don’t think either group has ever spoken for more than 5 minutes or so. This change seems arbitrary.

  9. Don’t get me wrong, I respect anyone who serves on the BoE. It’s a lot of hard and thankless work. But because members of the board are appointed instead of elected, they don’t answer to the community they are suppose to represent.

    I’ve seen many parents shut down when they’ve tried to raise concerns. I’ve seen the board declare certain issues are off-limits (i.e., anything to do with the superintendent). I know lots of parents feel ignored when they talk about school testing, the magnet system, the allocation of resources to different schools, and foreign language instruction (or the lack thereof). I know lots of parents who feel like trying to talk to the board is a waste of breath.

    I have no real problem with the MEA, though. They aren’t supposed to represent my interests. They are suppose to represent the teachers. And I really love the teachers in this town, which means I often find myself rooting for the MEA anyway.

  10. I was at the meeting Monday night and many meetings over the years. What has not been said anywhere is that when asked to keep her remarks at the beginning of the public comment on agenda items, Ms Shepard chose to ignore that and prepare a statement that was longer than 3 minutes. It’s easy to time a presentation and it was intentionally confrontational to choose to ignore the request to keep her statement to 3 minutes. It was clear by the distribution of copies of her remarks that she knew she was not going to finish in 3 minutes. The MEA was still on the agenda in that they had the opportunity to speak first during both of the public comment periods. I dont see it as intimidating to speak but I do see it as difficult to say anything critical of the MEA members or administrators when you have children in their care. Additionally the heckling and rudeness primarily by MEA members when others are speaking does make for an atmosphere where parents may feel it’s not worth the harassment to speak. I truly wish everyone could take a deep breath and remember that we all care about our kids – that includes the Bd members, the superintendent, the administrators, the teachers and the parents. We should respect each other’s right to speak (preferably with facts rather than misinformation) and disagree. None of the poll options worked for me.

  11. I attend and have commented on occasion. Whenever I have commented, many other parents have approached me afterward to congratulate me for being brave and express that they wish they could comment, but do not feel comfortable doing so. The atmosphere has become increasing charged in the last 1.5 to 2 years. The MEA leadership has become increasingly hostile, confrontational and disruptive at BOE meetings. I have, on occasion disagreed with the Board and my child’s teachers, but I would never treat either of them with the rudeness and disrespect the teachers showed Monday evening, nor would I ever allow my child to behave that way at school. The MEA’s performance Monday evening was a carefully planned show calculated to have the most shocking impact possible and designed to derail any progress towards the running of the Montclair schools. One Board member must have been very pleased with the Mt Hebron teachers’ performance as he supposedly bought them all lunch on Tuesday as part of a school fundraiser. I have spoken to several teachers about this situation and many of them feel that the MEA does not represent THEIR interests, especially when they behave this way.

  12. Yes, the BOE is an open business meeting, but the multiple stakeholders in education make open debate critical for decision making. This is why education is not a “business” like other businesses. I understand why restricting public comment might feel like a totalitarian move — in a Montclair, where democratic debate has such a strong tradition, this was a serious smackdown.

    Respectful debate is important. If a BOE member doesn’t have any experience teaching or running a school, how is this person going to know anything other than what the superintendent’s office tells him/her? That’s why dialogue with students, teachers, and parents is so important.

    Monday was my first BOE meeting so I don’t have anything to compare it to. My impression was that several members of the board expected a business meeting and were bothered by all these people who were delaying the business by trying to speak. They didn’t seem to understand why everyone was so upset by the change in protocol and they certainly didn’t appear to be listening to the parents who did, in fact, make comments (in fairness, it was after midnight, but still…).

    As for intimidation, I didn’t feel the least bit intimidated. I was shocked at the lack of civility on both sides, but only once was that directed toward a speaker and that was when the speaker chastised the union reps.

    Surely the BOE and the teacher’s union can talk this over outside of a meeting and figure out a way for the union to be heard while allowing time for parents to speak? It’s an embarrassment to everyone when the BOE becomes an offshoot of the Jerry Springer show.

    On the other hand, maybe not. I’ll bet this is all REALLY part of a nefarious plan to get more parents to attend BOE meetings.

  13. I watch on tv since I can’t generally get a sitter (how come tv wasn’t a choice? I don’t think most people know you can watch on tv).

    As for intimidation, how many people are intimidated to post on Baristanet? I’ll bet you’d get a lot of “yes” votes if you voted on that. That’s why it’s almost always the same group of people posting on here.

  14. Bottom line: Our schools don’t work. They are outdated. Walk into any private or public school (as I have recently, as my kids have attended both kinds and I am a former and current teacher) and it’s like you’re back in 1978. And 1978 wasn’t great to begin with, as far as schooling was concerned, if I remember correctly.

    You can poll people about BOE meetings. You can “hate” the MEA or “love” the teachers in this town. You can pay 30k in tuition when you’re already paying 30k in property taxes. You can try the Co-op, where one parent recently told me her kid would not have a math lesson for days on end.

    In most cases, we–and, most importantly, our kids–have outgrown the agrarian, adult-centered mode of education 95% of schools use.

    Ask the kids what they need. Weigh it against their developmental needs and perspectives, and implement their desires. Stop screaming at them for frickin’ not being able to SIT STILL for long periods, stop measuring a good school in terms of how straight the lines are down the hallway. Regularly, consistently, effectively survey and interview them about their experiences in school, what they want to study, how they want to learn. Keep core standards INFORMED by kids’ need for power and control (which is somewhat akin to your own needs for such), and the divisive, nonproductive meetings will go the way of the diorama and the demerit.

  15. ihateplaydates, your make your point eloquently and it makes good sense. Where, however, does this leave us? The real advancements in education happen today at the level of college and university education, that does adapt much more quickly to the developments and needs of the world outside education. Primary and secondary education are always slower to develop. Their reform and innovation generally comes from the pull of higher education and what it expects from its new entrants. For a dialogue between students and educators to take place in local education, there needs to be a dialogue between the leaders in education and the community. It will take much courage (and patience) for Montclair to move from a business-government conservative approach to education policy to a progressive intelligent approach.

  16. It is galling to hear the people who three hours into a meeting call for brevity because it is a business meeting. We go without business for hours, because if you sign up to speak as part of the Superintendent’s Report, you can have all the time you like, but if you sign up to speak as part of the public, you get three minutes. It wasn’t the public or the MEA that dragged the meeting out, it was the board. If I were a cynical sort, I would argue that it was planned that way.

  17. It seems like 3 minutes is a very brief timeslot leading to frustration on the part of the speakers. I’m wondering how productive that amount of time really is.

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