Let’s get back on track Montclair School District

People have always moved to Montclair. From Park Slope and the Upper West Side, from overseas and sometimes from just a couple of miles away. They move because Montclair is an amazing place to live and raise children. We have the best teachers and solid schools. And my children have thrived in this school system. But I’m unsure they will continue to if we don’t get back on track.

Ultimately, nothing is more important than the safety, health and education of our children. And, boy, has it been a trying year for the Montclair Public Schools, its staff, the students and Montclair families. We’ve dealt with extreme heat, budget concerns, issues with athletic fields, staircase collapses and last-minute calendar changes.

This month, Laura Hertzog resigned as president of the Montclair Board of Education. Not too long ago, Joseph Kavesh also left the board. In her resignation statement, Ms. Hertzog condemned what she called a culture of toxicity at the top of the school district.

We’re at a crossroads, and I’m worried about the future. We need to think carefully and deliberately about how we can ensure that students get the best education possible. Which is why I am proposing significant changes to the Board of Education. I think it’s clear that the board needs a reboot.

For starters, few of the current board members have children in the Montclair Public School system. And the current board is heavily weighted toward people with education backgrounds -- which makes sense on the face of it, but not when you take into account the range of challenges facing the schools, many of which have little to do with what happens in the classroom.

We need a mix of educators and folks with other areas of expertise. An architect? A doctor? A marketing expert? Someone with a business development background? I’m not exactly sure of the composition, but the status quo isn’t working.
That doesn’t mean the current members don’t care about our students. And it doesn’t mean they aren’t capable in their own fields. But, Mayor Jackson, I urge you to think carefully about whom you appoint next, because this nonsense of bickering, infighting, poor planning cannot continue.

Our kids deserve better. So do our teachers, paraprofessionals and principals.
There is so much room for improvement. At the top of my wishlist: We need a school academic calendar a minimum of one year in advance. We need fewer random days off, which are tough for parents to juggle and stretch the school year too late into the summer. We need options for kids who struggle academically and for kids at the advanced end of the spectrum. We need better foreign language instruction. We need a comprehensive anti-bullying program that includes training for faculty and staff at every age level. We need additional school counselors.

But most importantly, we need to plan for the future. Our buildings are old. What happens when the next one has a staircase collapse? Are we thinking about how to handle climate change? Can we afford to put air conditioning in the buildings? Because we can’t have an early dismissal each time it hits 95 degrees. We also need someone working in partnership with our town council to ensure our schools are not overcrowded, given all of the new development. How many apartment buildings will be built in the next 10 years? How many more children need a seat in kindergarten? Bottom line, we need to be dealing with this now.




Thanks to Senior Bus driver

The Montclair Township Senior Bus, operated by EZRide, has been of tremendous benefit to the Township. Seniors, like myself, have benefited from being able to avail free transportation to and from supermarkets, medical offices, exercise, classes, etc.
Other than the much-appreciated availability of the service itself, the “gem” of the service had been its long-term driver, Marcos. Marcos was reliable and “on-time”, and he was so courteous and helpful.

The following is an example: During that first “surprise” snowstorm last winter, Marcos went “above and beyond” the call to duty. After picking me up at Edgemont Park at about 3 p.m., we continued on to Mountainside Hospital where a passenger utilizing a wheelchair was waiting. It took us well over an hour to go from Mountainside to about a block or two from the main library. Once at the passenger’s residence, we quickly determined that the passenger’s wheelchair would not operate in the snow. Marcos tied a rope to the front of the wheelchair. He pulled and I pushed! After getting the passenger safely home, Marcos then had to borrow a shovel to get the bus free as we were stuck. Finally, Marcos and I were now back on the road. I got home at 6 p.m.

The remarkable thing is that he then had to go Brookdale ShopRite to pick up a passenger who was unable to find any alternative ride. Marcos got home at 11p.m. that night.That is true dedication.

Although his noted actions were remarkable, he is always so kind — so helpful.
Marcos is no longer driving the Montclair route. It is a loss to the township’s seniors and to the overall success of the service. He is missed greatly, and we wish him the best.




MAM should reconsider outdoor expansion

I’m writing as a Montclair resident and a member of the Montclair Art Museum regarding your May 24, 2019 article, “Tree Loss Slated With Montclair Museum Outdoor Expansion.”
Responding to the news that Montclair Art Museum proposes to remove 22 mature living trees to make way for a new outdoor plaza and water wall, a group of residents of Montclair and surrounding townships have been circulating a petition urging the museum to reconsider its plan.

We also urge the Montclair Township Preservation Commission to reject the zoning variance the museum has requested.

In the face of climate change and rising temperatures we need trees more than ever to help provide a remedy for the carbon output as well as shade, beauty, and shelter for birds.




Transparency on Essex County ICE contract

ICE has been in the news a lot lately, and as a mother, immigrant, and concerned New Jersey resident, I have questions.

Why does Essex county, along with Hudson and Bergen counties, have a contract with ICE that provides the county with a multi-million dollar surplus to run an immigrant detention center? Are my beautiful neighborhood parks funded by someone’s unlawful separation from their baby? What is being done to improve the inhumane conditions at these jails? Most urgently, when is the county ICE contract up for review and subject to a public debate?

I realize that not all these questions have immediate or easy answers, and even terminating the ICE contract would simply be treating the symptom at the county and state level rather than changing federal policy, namely the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

In the meantime though, I would like more transparency from our Essex County freeholders and education for voters on what exactly is going on in these facilities.
“Putting Essex County First” is the motto of our beautiful county. I would love to know that means protecting the rights of individuals and families and not profiting from controversial, misguided national policies.




LGBTQ pride month in Montclair, not?

It appears as though there’s been no municipal proclamation nor any official recognition of any sort for June’s LGBTQ Pride Month nor of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in Montclair.

This sets Montclair apart from Bloomfield, West Orange, South Orange and Maplewood among others, that have all recognized the occasion and in most instances have been flying the rainbow flag above their municipal headquarters.

I’m wondering whether this omission was an oversight or intentional. This is quite surprising to me, given the fact that Montclair has a large and long-established LGBTQ population.




Many thanks to track coach Thomas Lee

Several years ago, there was no track program for third through eighth graders in Montclair. Until one man, Thomas Lee of Montclair, noticed the void. He laced up his New Balances and started, from scratch, a track and field program for all the children of Montclair. In a few years it has grown from a half dozen or so casual runners to 120 kids (with 50 on the waiting list) who train and run on a weekly basis.

On June 1, 2019 this season culminated in a county-wide meet at Cedar Grove High School, where many of the athletes from Montclair medaled.

At least twice per week Lee is working the track in the late afternoon, watching over the kids just as Lee’s one-time track coach, the 40-year Garden City, Long Island legend, Warren King, used to shepherd his runners, one of whom was the stand-out half-miler Lee.
Lee not only started the Montclair Recreation Spring program, he also originated a Recreation Cross-Country program which he has led every fall.

Lee volunteers countless hours to organize and schedule practices and meets, post information and results, all with his usual quiet aplomb.

Dr. George Sheehan said, “It’s very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.”

This philosophy has guided Lee over the past four years as he has led the kids of Montclair in another tremendous season of fun, fitness, flash and fortitude on the tracks and fields around Montclair. Well done, Tommy, you help to make Montclair the great town that it is.




Protest against Williams Transco

Today I attended a protest against the Roseland compressor expansion on Eagle Rock Avenue. The compressor station is in a flood zone right next to the high voltage electricity wires. You couldn’t have picked a worse location if you tried.

The Roseland compressor expansion is one of 12 new fossil fuel projects in New Jersey, this despite Governor Phil Murphy’s commitment to transition to 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2050.

The compressor station expansion will affect the pressure on 16 communities in Essex County. With the increased pressure of the natural gas running through the antiquated 60-year-old system of gas lines, the danger of an explosion dramatically increases.

Williams Transco is a multibillion-dollar fossil fuel corporation with a long history of environmental, health and safety violations, including an unannounced release of gas and chemicals in 2013 that resulted in the emergency closing of Roseland’s elementary schools.
By everything Williams Transco has demonstrated they are the worst that our society can produce, if some poor person in New Jersey gets hurt or killed because of their money-making venture that’s just business.

So please, I urge you to join us on Monday, July 1 from 4 to 6 p.m. on Eagle Rock Avenue in front of the compressor station in Roseland. The police put out cones for us and we can stand with our signs on the shoulder of the road. There is free parking available just up the road at the environmental center. Come out and stand by the side of the road; bring a sign or use one of ours. Let’s hold our government and big business accountable.

Let the voice of the people be heard and stop this dangerous venture before you or your neighbor gets seriously hurt or killed.




Dearth of bees and other insect pollinators

Not for nothing, but this May, with its lovely, mostly warm and amply rainy weather, I have never seen so much white clover growing, I guess, on lawns and other open grassy spaces, untreated with weed killers. As a kid, visiting open, grassy spaces covered with white clover, one couldn't help but notice that these patches of clover literally swarmed with honey bees working incredibly hard to keep their hives supplied with the abundant pollen and nectar which the clover yielded.

So far this spring, it's a different story; even in the largest, most widespread clover patches that I've seen, I've yet to observe even a single honey bee at work.

I've read that the bees of all species and varieties, who are all pollinators are being eradicated by deadly new insecticides called neonicotinoids, or "neonics" for short.
It is my understanding that they are being sprayed indiscriminately by "Big Ag" concerns who own industrial farms, as well as smaller farmers and even home gardeners & horticulturists and is available off of store shelves from local hardware stores to Home Depot. It is even sprayed in local, state and national parks to decrease mosquitoes and other pests and is deadly to all insects; killing or disabling them in a variety of ways.

Step one is to do what raised red flags for me, to take a walk around town on a lovely day and count the number of honey bees that you see, toiling in the lush stands of white clover, their staple food supply. After that, talk to other people who care, and come up with things to do to help save the pollinators we depend on to make possible the apples and corn you see on our NJ farm stands.
Just go around and see for yourself and think about it a little bit.