Montclair Local sent a list of questions to the nine candidates running in the March 8 election for two Montclair Board of Education seats. 

The candidates are Yvonne Bouknight, Melanie Deysher, Phaedra Dunn, Jerold Freier, Noah Gale, Lauren Quinn Griffin, Holly Shaw, George C. Simpson and Jennette Williams. 

Their responses are below. A summary of the responses, with a focus on their thoughts on board priorities, is also available here.

On March 8, polling sites will be open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Polling locations are searchable at the New Jersey Division of Elections website. Contact the municipal clerk’s office for polling location questions at 973-509-4900.

March 1 was the deadline to request a vote-by-mail ballot for the special election via mail. Monday, March 7 at 3 p.m. is the deadline to apply for vote-by-mail ballot in person or by an authorized messenger.

Candidates for the Montclair Board of Education differ on priorities

1. How have your experiences prepared you to represent Montclair families? What unique expertise do you bring to the board?


Bouknight: My experiences as a parent and educator in diverse districts have provided me with tools that allow me to bring a range of fresh ideas, from navigating the school system, communicating with families effectively, and working alongside teachers, building and district administrators implementing effective best practices for curriculum design and professional development. I have extensive knowledge of best practices in using the Teacher’s College balanced literacy approach for Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop. I have written curriculum alongside my colleagues and administrators in every district that I’ve served. Additionally, I have coached teachers to bring life to a basal approach using a leveled reading approach, set up several model K-5 literacy classrooms using a coaching model and provided workshops using core content standards for all learners with success. As a certified Orton Gillingham IMSLEC Certified Tutor, I have a proven track record designing lessons, training teachers and implementing best practices to assist students with dyslexia or reading difficulties to meet grade level benchmarks and successfully read and write with great command.


Deysher: I’m an occupational therapist and mom of three boys in our school system who has lived here for 14 years. Through long-term participation in board meetings and other forums, I have gained a solid understanding of the issues our district faces, and have worked on coming up with practical solutions to these issues, especially in the area of literacy. With universal screening and evidenced-based instruction in elementary school we can begin to close the opportunity gap while extending our resources, by keeping kids in gen ed rather than waiting for them to fail and moving to special ed. 


Dunn: My experiences both as a social worker and educator have positioned me to be  a voice of those who have felt voiceless and unheard. I became a consensus  builder of people and learned the art of aiding people in humanizing one another rather than seeing each other as a set of oppositional ideologies, or someone who stands in opposition to their goals, well-being and betterment. Being on the BOE enables me to utilize these skills: listening to concerns, understanding  the needs of all stakeholders and applying policy that is equitable for not only  the stakeholders, but in what it does educationally for all learners. My expertise is unique in that it is a collection of experiences through my therapeutic and  educational background which have expanded my knowledge, motivation and  passion to represent and serve others.


Freier: I combine enthusiastic support for public school education with the ability to get more value for our property tax dollars. I am a banker, educator, former school board member, former elected Township Council member, and successful business consultant. I bring to this school board the lessons learned from dozens of successes and disappointments in public service, education, finance and business. I am now completing my doctorate in education. Since retiring from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, I have been one of the highest-rated business instructors at Rutgers and Montclair State.


Gale: I have lived in Montclair since 2005. Since the age of 8, I have attended community events, such as PTA events and fundraisers, for all the following: Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence (MFEE), Montclair Art Museum, Montclair Public Library, Montclair Education Association (MEA), and at various small businesses in town. I went through the Montclair public school system. Since 2014, I have attended every single Board of Education meeting. You could not find a more devoted Montclair citizen than me. Because I have been to so many meetings, I know what works and what is detrimental to having a smooth and civilized gathering where things are accomplished, instead of a place where people argue a lot. I make it my business to learn and memorize teachers’ and administrators’ names in all the schools. I pay close attention to the Montclair Local to keep up with education-related issues. I have been studying early childhood education at Montclair State University for three years so far. This allows me to study the most current issues, such as gender issues in education and human rights education.


Griffin: I can represent Montclair families because I am the boss of one! As a mother AND an educator, I  see our schools through two lenses. I am acutely aware of what my children are experiencing, what our teachers are experiencing, and where there is room for growth. I have a network of parent peers and a network of professional colleagues with whom I share perspectives and trade opinions and experiences.  I bring many voices to all conversations surrounding education.


Shaw: I have three children who attend Montclair public schools. I am currently a sommelier focused on writing for wine publications. Prior to the arrival of my children, I had a career in the financial sector. I graduated from a public high school similar to MHS in terms of diversity and economics; this has given me a personal perspective on the issues we are facing here, such as opportunity gaps and equity. I was raised by a single mother with little financial resources.  I am now raising my children with more opportunities but I am still extremely aware of the wide opportunity gap in our district. 


Simpson: As a member of a Montclair family myself, I’ve seen many of the challenges we face up close. And they’re daunting, from aging infrastructure and an opaque BOE to a growing achievement gap and teachers who lack support. I offer the BOE the expertise and determination that marked my 30+ year career during which I successfully solved problems with fresh, unexpected solutions. I did that by being open to new ideas, embracing fresh approaches, and being nimble enough to change direction when necessary. Success doesn’t mean having all the answers, it means embracing an answer that may not be what you were anticipating.


Williams: My experiences as a career educator in Montclair have prepared me to represent Montclair families because I have taught at Glenfield and Nishuane schools before they became magnets and the Bradford, Edgemont and Watchung magnet schools. I understand the needs and advantages of our diverse community — socially, economically, historically and educationally. I understand how it feels to work full time as a career educator, supplementing that income with employment part time at a department store for 15 years, and raise children. Graduate coursework was squeezed in when time permitted. My biography is evidence of my high expectations, achievements and leadership talents.

2. With much of the board’s focus on producing a capital improvement bond for the district’s aging infrastructure, what else do you see as the top priorities for the board in 2022?

Bouknight: A top priority of the board should be  implementing and focusing on the recommendations given in the 2015 Achievement GAP report. Since the report was first presented publicly, we  have not had consistent district leadership. Now that we have a permanent  superintendent and an assistant superintendent of equity and achievement,  it is imperative to use the data gathered, coupled with new data, to establish clear goals and benchmarks for the elementary, middle and secondary  schools. There is also a need, where appropriate, to implement the NJDOE mandate of the Amistad, LGBTQ and persons with disabilities into our high school and middle school curriculums. 

Deysher: We need to get back to focusing on educational excellence. This starts with strong instruction in math, reading and writing in the early grades. This is when kids form their self-image as someone who can learn, who can succeed, and who likes coming to school. We miss a huge academic and SEL opportunity by not focusing on this early, and then trying to play catch-up later. We also need to make sure teachers receive the resources they require, including coaching, support and time, to do the right things for our kids.

Dunn: My top priorities as a BOE member will include continually striving to exceed equitable educational standards in our decision-making as a district. We have to  address the needs of our most underserved populations through addressing  concerns in special education and the achievement gap. These areas are often where we experience the most inequities in education; as a district we must  insist we go above and beyond state mandates. Addressing these concerns  benefits all learners in that it allows for higher quality instruction and access for all students. In consistently challenging ourselves to higher standards in all matters of education, we must incorporate: constant review of services, ensuring practice, process and procedure is consistent across schools and that we include the voices of teachers, students, parents and administrators.

Freier: Develop a plan and strategies to avoid a fiscal crisis. Salaries and benefits comprise over 80% of the school budget. Teachers and other school employees receive a 5% to 6% annual increase in pay and benefits. However, now that we are an elected school board, we can only raise school property taxes by 2% a year. Create, fund and implement a program to strengthen management and supervision at the high school. If necessary, pay extra to hire leaders who bring a track record of outstanding performance at similar large schools. Develop and implement career development plans for  teachers and staff who demonstrate organizational and management skills.

Gale: If I get elected to the board, my top priorities are to make sure that schools remain open even if the COVID-19 pandemic persists and to eliminate standardized testing, such as NJSLA (New Jersey Student Learning Assessments) and Start Strong. I would also make sure that the mask mandate is in place indefinitely.

Griffin: Accountability is a priority for our board. We need to establish a set of goals and set timelines for achieving them. Capital improvements, curricular improvements and staffing improvements are all necessities, but also we need a timeline to make good on all of them.

Shaw: As a community, we must address the mental health fallout and learning loss from COVID-19.  The health and well-being of our students needs to be a top priority. We must also look at the disparate impact of the pandemic on lower-income students and address the growing opportunity gap in this district.  I will work to identify grants and programs that will provide mental health resources for our students. I will also push for programs that will address learning loss and allow students to thrive.  I also believe that communication among all the stakeholders in our district is key.

Simpson: The BOE faces several urgent challenges. First, we must reestablish communication with administrators, teachers, parents and residents. That means reviving the BOE Facebook page, which has been dormant since 2019, and working closely with local media. This will improve transparency, help us generate support for initiatives, give everyone in town a voice, rebuild trust and restore the board’s legitimacy. Second, we must triage infrastructure priorities to determine what’s urgent and what can wait. Third, we must let teachers tell us their needs and find ways to meet them. Fourth, we must determine the causes behind achievement gaps and find creative solutions to solve each one.

Williams: The top priorities for the BOE in 2022 are to: a) Address, with a strategic plan, goals, outcomes and bench markers for mental health issues. b) Continue to direct attention to closing the achievement gap. I will offer my Teachers’ Guide to Parent Involvement (co-authored with N.J. Dept. of Education grant). c) Develop student profiles of learning traits using the multiple intelligence attributes, health information, including falls and head trauma. Require observations and screening for dyslexia in grades K-2. d) Pursue the infrastructure bond. e) Provide an update on the ventilation systems in each building.

3. How would you address the state of the district’s infrastructure — whether through the ongoing process to pursue that bond, and/or through other efforts?

Bouknight: The infrastructure is of grave concern. It is important to keep all community  stakeholders informed with updates throughout the entire process. Transparency is key. More attention must be given to educating the  public throughout the entire process. Reporting information in layperson and budget-friendly terms during public forums outside of the board meeting, utilizing online reporting channels, TV 34, video messaging, townwide community email lists and hosting Zoom informational meetings are effective  ways to keep the community informed. I think when the public is informed of the what, how and why regarding the bond, stakeholders will buy in and approve the bond because they understand the process and need for the bond to  be passed. 

Deysher: For years we have deferred maintenance and facilities upgrades as a short-term strategy to manage the budget. This needs to stop, now. A significant bond issue has to be part of the solution, especially as eligible projects can receive 40 percent debt service aid. We can also increase the impact of our spending through initiatives like the Energy Savings Improvement Program, and fund some smaller projects through our capital reserve. But Montclair’s taxpayers and other stakeholders need to have confidence that this spending and borrowing is subject to strong oversight by BOE members who are informed and independent.

Dunn: When considering the state of the district’s infrastructure, it is important to note  that due to the level of repairs needed; pursuing the bond is the measure that  would provide the district with the greatest ability to impact repairs and  improvements across all schools. I am aware that pursuing this option will  increase taxes and will create a financial burden for many in our community. It is  our duty as a district to work to minimize the impact this will place on these  stakeholders. We can do this by opting to receive state aid as debt service aid  or an up front cash grant. We can also take advantage of the Energy Savings  Improvement Plan (ESIP), we can finance some construction projects and implementation of energy conservation which can also lessen the impact of the tax burden. As a BOE member, we have to ensure we take measures to execute  good stewardship in our use of these funds and make decisions based on the plan we put in place.

Freier: Most of our school buildings are in dire shape. It will cost more to keep repairing some buildings than to replace them with new, much better, environmentally sound/green buildings. When I was on the school board, I found the location and state aid for the new Bullock Elementary School. Spending  $60 million to repair obsolete buildings is the cost of building four new elementary schools. Before spending $38 million to repair ventilation systems that have not  worked for 40 years we should test the air quality in each room. To be prepared when a school development site becomes available, the bond issue should include a property acquisition reserve. 

Gale: I highly support the purchase of new HVAC/air conditioning systems, as well as building repairs, such as the stairwells and upgrading the floors.

Griffin: The district’s infrastructure is decaying, and it’s holding us and our children back. Pursuing the bond seems to be our only route, but I am more than open to new ideas. 

Shaw: Infrastructure is a priority and cannot continue to be neglected. We must get a bond referendum on the ballot for November to capitalize on lower interest rates. While it is crucial to address repairs of our older buildings, we must also modernize our schools.  We should work to enhance learning by upgrading infrastructure and technology in all school buildings.  Let’s involve teachers and principals in this process by creating a list of both necessary repairs and a wish list. The current plan as is will not address the high school until phase 4, which is unacceptable. 

Simpson: Before we spin our wheels any further on infrastructure, we need information. First, let’s assess every building and determine our needs, then triage them. What must be done immediately and what can wait? Second, let’s think bigger than just patching over past neglect. Can we convert any buildings to solar power, for instance? Can we apply for federal grants or solicit corporate partners to help? Finally, let’s promote the bond issue to ensure it passes. That means communicating with residents to encourage them to vote yes, even to invest in the bonds to give residents a stake in our shared success.

Williams: Develop the infrastructure by thinking out of the box with community partners — corporate and benefactors. Create a plan that includes goals, objectives, timelines, evaluation, accountability and conversations with community stakeholders — parents, students, municipal officers, churches, business owners, firemen, police, etc. Brainstorm solutions and feasibility. I will bring my moderating talents to the conversations and moderate circle forums.

4. During the past few years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, some staff members, parents and students have shared concerns about transparency from the district. Do you think a transparent district is important and why? What ideas do you have to improve transparency and communication? 

Bouknight: Transparency is important in order to develop relationships. When  good relationships exist, it becomes the foundation for trust. The district  administrators and board members must recognize that effective  communication is a two-way street. We can learn more when we are listening  than when we are speaking. This process allows parties involved to open up. Allowing the speaker to ask questions during open forums, via emails or telephone calls, and getting feedback or results in a timely manner helps the community recognize they are being heard. Applying a range of formal and  informal communication strategies is key. Communications may be  deliberately planned or ad hoc; face-to-face or virtual; written or  verbal; digital or non-digital. It is important to consider how effective  our existing communication strategies are by asking three questions. 1. What are the key reasons for communicating with the stakeholders  (teachers, parents, students, community)? 2. Does the reason you are  communicating help you to lead change or lead learning in the  district? 3. How does the way you are communicating build trusting and respectful relationships with the stakeholders you are trying to reach? 

Deysher: Transparency is key to building supportive relationships between our school district and the community. The community requires honesty and transparency in order to support and trust decisions the district makes. Moving forward, effective and transparent communication could be achieved by more active listening, dialogue and deliberation, collaboration, and shared responsibility for outcomes. The district needs to make a commitment to listening. Rather than merely providing an opportunity to speak, we need to make a commitment to incorporating stakeholder feedback into the decision-making process.

Dunn: Transparency is key in all relationships, it is an effective measure in  communication. A culture of transparency and communication builds trust.  Sharing the facts and factors that were weighed in making a decision is  important because it removes speculation. As a district, create a strategic communication plan with yearly communication objectives and specific goals which are consistent, discuss successes and areas of concern, upcoming  trainings, events and opportunities to establish increased communication with stakeholders and disseminating information on a variety of platforms. Our overall goal will be to improve our district culture and connection to one another  as a whole.

Freier: The lack of transparency was intentional. If town and school government were transparent the mayor, Board of School Estimate, school board members and schools superintendent would have been forced to resign for violating their oaths of office by refusing to enforce the teacher union contract. Nonfunctioning ventilation systems were a false issue since this prevents COVID from spreading. To have greater future transparency we need school board members  with management and leadership expertise. Regarding communication, the objectives are 1) get the right information to the right people at the right time, and 2) organize information by topic and date and make it all readily available.  

Gale: I think that a transparent district is very important because the community needs to know exactly what all sides of the issues that we are grappling with are. A good board should not have to hide anything. Perhaps, there could be better communication. I would say that the board should have open house nights for parents, students and teachers and the minutes from the meeting should be emailed to each parent once it is published.

Griffin: ​​I think transparency and accountability are what count in our district. We were dealing with a lot of unknowns during COVID, and communication was muddled and inconsistent. Going forward and with the energy of a new board, my hope is that the board can be a trusted and valued force in the community. The board needs to be trusted to act in a timely fashion and with consideration for school staff AND families.  I also believe they need someone whose sole responsibility is to communicate with parents, principals, faculty and other administrators. 

Shaw: Our district must prioritize communication and transparency.  Mistrust within our community is a big problem right now that has to be addressed.   We need to provide clear, concise and effective messaging from the district by leveraging social media platforms, clarifying pertinent information, holding town halls and making sure parents, caregivers and teachers are well-informed.  There also needs to be a clear communication line from parents and teachers to the district so that their voices are heard.  I would like to work on a communication strategy for the district. I promise to be responsive and listen to parents. 

Simpson: Nothing is more critical to rebuilding trust and the legitimacy of the BOE than open, honest, transparent, accessible communication. As a professional creative and writer, improving the board’s standing will be my personal mission. I’d first revive the BOE’s Facebook page and encourage parents, teachers and administrators to join a dialogue there. That would also provide a forum for regular updates on the issues we face. Second, I’d establish a close working relationship with local press such as the Montclair Local with a weekly Q&A session. Finally, we could create a weekly program for Radio Montclair to present issues and take calls from residents.

Williams: A transparent district is important because it establishes trust. What is the question/concern from the community? Is there a deficit in the amount of trust? Is it not clear? Does it exist? I define trust to be the truth a person shows in word and deed. Has this truth not happened with the board? The superintendent? My platform slogan is Integrity – Honesty – Service. I bring my time, talents and tenacity. I have time to attend late/last minute meetings, talents (dyslexia certificates, leadership experience) and grit. Let’s reassign the District Leadership Team.

5. As a board member, how would you work to better the district’s relationship with teachers, staff members and unions, some of whom have expressed exhaustion and frustration during the pandemic?

Bouknight: It is pinnacle that the teachers, staff members and the MEA have a good working relationship with the board and district administrators. Teachers must feel that they are valued. Their time and mental stability should be of the utmost importance to  the district. When teachers feel stressed, the children may feel the stress in the  classroom — this can impact instruction. In addition, using restorative justice  practices from the top down and recognizing that there is a problem and  having a willingness to talk about the issue is key. Perhaps surveying or  holding school-based face-to-face or Zoom forums with the staff, teachers and  MEA in order to know the issues and concerns should be a first step to breaking down the barriers that are causing exhaustion and frustration. Strong school  leaders are open to feedback and recognize that understanding the what and why is the first step to resolving an issue. 

Deysher: Our focus needs to return to the teachers, especially our new generation of educators, who sometimes don’t have their voices adequately heard. Their opinions need to be included in the decision-making process across multiple areas, and not just during crises. Teachers need to be supported: given quality PD they have a say in choosing; quality materials and resources; opportunities for mentoring and peer support/collaboration; and time. This same approach should be a model to be used with all our staff. It is also important to focus on areas of success and celebrate examples of real educational excellence. 

Dunn: We have to validate the frustrations and exhaustion that come with being an  educator and were further magnified by the pandemic. We have to see ourselves as stakeholders responsible for one another with a common goal of meeting and  exceeding the needs of all students. I think it is important that we normalize hearing concerns and frustrations vocalized in an appropriate manner by stakeholders, and assessing what can be done to address the frustrations and  concerns. In instances when the concerns are unable to be addressed it is  important to explain the factors considered when making the final decision.  

Freier: Poor leadership and weak management destroy employee morale and initiative. The district should invest to prepare teachers and staff to fill leadership roles. When no internal candidate qualifies for a vacant position, we need to search out highly qualified, especially talented leaders and managers with large school experience. A second strategy is to encourage and compensate teachers who serve on N.J. and U.S. Department of Education advisory groups. All schools and children will benefit when these teachers make education laws, rules, regulations, and testing more practical and realistic. 

Gale: I believe in smaller class sizes and teachers, administrators and staff members getting fair pay. I also believe that special education students should have one-on-one paraprofessionals so that way the students can get more help easily.

Griffin: Restoring this relationship will be a full-time job. Morale is LOW.  Burnout is HIGH. While someone on the board handles communication, I also believe someone needs to be designated as the ear for the MEA and the teachers. Hearing and representing our teachers will propel our board and its actions in a new direction that is cohesive and productive. 

Shaw: Our teachers are the cornerstone of this district. They are creative, passionate and experts in their field.  I’ve spoken to numerous teachers who feel that they are not being heard and want a seat at the table when critical decisions are being made.  Engaging stakeholders in decision-making, asking them for input at the ground level, is an important first step in building bridges. 

Simpson: The BOE has lost its way. Elected BOE members must represent the needs of teachers, staff, unions, students and parents across the district. That can only happen if the BOE commits itself to earning constituents’ trust through communication and dialogue. In assessing issues before the board, for instance, it must first solicit input from stakeholders. Then, when the BOE takes a position, it must be unambiguous and speak with one voice. No dissension or finger-pointing. Finally, the BOE must transparently explain why it holds a position. Because even if people disagree, letting them see inside the process can at least demonstrate the board’s good faith.

Williams: Conversation Circles (used in my Stone Center Open Circle Professional Development grant) (and current, but incomplete training/practice  – Restorative Justice Education) which include teacher leaders and administration staff, with intention to be receptive listeners, will begin the process. Creation of common ground and respect for each other emerges through diligent work and training. Difficult discussions may take place but honest intention and motivation will bring the board respect, strength and movement on the path forward. The relationship between the district and the MEA was fractured during the pandemic and the first step in repairing this relationship is to engage the MEA and give timely information for issues that impact the staff.

6. Recent Start Strong testing data showed 75% of students need “less or some support,” and 25% of students need “strong support” in ELA, math and/or science. How can the board work to address the learning loss sustained during the pandemic and the larger achievement gap in the district?

Bouknight: The data has been  presented and there must be a clear road map to deliver services and instruction  in the classroom. A professional development plan tailored to helping teachers,  paraprofessionals, inclusion and support teachers understand the deficiencies, familiarize them with best practices to achieve student success should be  implemented. The plan should be inclusive of utilizing our teachers as leaders  to share their specializations with their peers. Allowing teacher leaders to  share their knowledge base during common planning time, faculty meetings  and professional development days is a model that has proven results. It will  build community around the common goal of student success. Research  suggests a teacher leader model changes the culture, empowers both peers and teacher leaders, and increases engagement, which can be linked to higher  productivity and improve the school community culture. 

Deysher: All our students have suffered some degree of learning loss during the pandemic, with Black and brown and K-2 students hardest hit. Before and after school tutoring programs can help fill in some of the gaps. While all subjects are valuable, we need to identify content that is prerequisite to future learning, especially math, reading and science, and provide targeted help in these areas. We should build in daily extra help and direct instruction intervention time into schedules for the kids who need it. 

Dunn: As a community we have to first understand that learning loss has to be approached utilizing sustainable, long-term solutions. We need to create a task  force made up of teachers, administrators and parents where concerns and issues are presented. Learning loss was an issue before the pandemic, the  pandemic further exacerbated learning loss across race, gender and  socioeconomic status and widened the achievement gap. Learning plans which  are inclusive of social emotional learning and culturally responsive practices can  be created to include students choosing how they would like to demonstrate  mastery of standards, flexible pace, co-planning learning which utilizes both  home and school to set goals and pace for the student. Students can be placed  in small learning communities across grades and concerns can be addressed  after school where appropriate for the student and/or in a Saturday academy  and summer enrichment. Teachers need to be equipped with strategies to  effectively combat learning loss through meaningful professional development.  The needs of our students are constantly evolving due to many factors and we  have to be prepared to better serve them.

Freier: The long summer vacation produces a deterioration in student knowledge and skills. A good  opportunity to make up for remote learning deficiencies is to require the 25% of students who need “strong support” to participate in a free six- to eight-week academic and recreational summer program. Fortunately, during the summer, Montclair-Kimberley and Montclair State have unused air-conditioned classrooms. Try these new ways to reduce race, income and gender achievement gap. Pay elementary school teachers to attend training to improve math instructional skills, add middle school sports teams, reinstitute required summer reading for all grades, and designate an MHS guidance counselor for first-generation students.

Gale: I believe that the board should get rid of this test because there are already too many standardized tests in our school system and students also lose their regular learning periods, as well as teachers not being able to teach during the tests. The board could set up extra tutoring during aftercare and enrichment hours.

Griffin: All teachers need training in the most current and progressive academic interventions. More testing will not help. It’s a time drain. Literacy and math specialists need to be in every building in the district providing support to teachers and to students. We cannot address this as a learning LOSS because we cannot get the year +  back that was spent online. The work done in the current after school reading program should be offered to ALL students during the school day. A summer skills enrichment opportunity, and a districtwide summer reading program will offer ALL students the ability to avoid further slumping over the summer. 

Shaw: Like many parents, I saw my kids fall behind as a result of remote learning. This district has yet to meaningfully address the learning loss from COVID-19.  We need to offer teachers instructional support and create a consistent educational approach across the district.  We need more one-on-one reading and math specialists to help in the classroom.  We also need to allocate funds for more counselors and mental health resources.  The district must focus on closing the opportunity gap.  We also need to address the algorithm for school placement to make our schools more equitable. 

Simpson: In December 2020, McKinsey issued a study on pandemic-related learning loss, estimating the annual cost to catch up between $1,600 and $2,500 per student. Rather than view the pandemic as a discrete cause, we should instead address the existing, systemic causes of Montclair’s achievement gap with specific, targeted responses for at-risk students. That could mean providing after hours study halls in schools near a child’s home or in the libraries. It could also mean offering a girls-only math and science option in middle school if we find girls falling behind there. By intensively addressing existing, systemic causes, we can help to eliminate much of the pandemic-related gap as well.

Williams: I will bring my time, talent, and tenacity to the table. I plan to initiate a road map that brings momentum to the project’s wheel.  All stakeholders in the community have a role — to work together. We will use RTL specialists, pupil learning profiles, math teachers, special education teachers, consultants and parents as participants in the learning process. Teachers will attend educational shopping events to select the district’s materials for instruction twice a daily, before/ after, and during school. Lessons will be tailored to the learning profile. Individual planned instructions with assessments, goals, objectives, including OG reading instruction as well as math, drive instruction.

Talia (she/her) is the education reporter for Montclair Local and is always looking for ways to view stories through a solutions journalism lens. She has spent time in newsrooms of all sizes and scopes....