by Andrew Garda

High school sports is all about balance. For the student-athlete, it’s managing studies with practice and games. For coaches who are also teachers, it’s balancing their primary duties during the school day with their extracurricular duties.

Last week, an email sent out by Athletic Director Patrick Scarpello reminded teacher-coaches that the focus has to be on the former, not the latter.

In the email, the AD directed in-district teachers to “speak with your building principal to make sure you understand what time you are contractually obligated to be at school until. To be clear, there are no early dismissals for coaches for practices or games.”

Scarpello asked any in-district teacher-coaches to reach out to him if there appeared to be a conflict.

For Superintendent Kendra Johnson, it’s just common sense that teachers need to remain in school for the length of the day, even if that day ends after the high school lets out. Johnson said there had been times when that wasn’t the case.

“Last year, towards the end of the year when I was doing my listening and learning tours, a few parents brought it to my attention that in fact there was some frequent movement in some particular programs,” she said. “And once I investigated it, I realized it was true. It’s not a new policy, it’s just general practice. You can’t leave your teaching duties while you’re still working as a teacher and then go do your coaching duties when you’re also being paid an additional stipend for that.”

While not a massive issue, Johnson said it is something that the district — and many others — will be facing more and more over time.

“It used to be that, I would say the majority of our coaches were at the high school, so there was no conflict,” Johnson said. “When the kids got out, they got out. But now that we have such a wide talent pool, we have coaches at all levels and the high school gets out the earliest [of the Montclair schools]. So, it could become problematic if a teacher still has another hour on his or her teaching schedule, and kids [on the team] are unsupervised. So what we’re doing is we’re going to come up with a plan.”

That plan involves a few different approaches. Each sport and its coaching staff will be looked at for options based on schedule, timing and size of staff.

The demands and size of the staff for the boys soccer team is much different than that of the girls lacrosse team or the football team. for example.

“Some sports, it’s really not an issue. Other sports, it’s a huge issue... I’m noticing that some of our programs had a singleton coach,” Johnson said. “So, what we need to do in that instance is make sure there’s a plan in place, if in fact that singleton coach can’t make it there when kids are dismissed from the high school.”

The same concern holds for times when a tournament or game is scheduled while school is still in session.

“We’ll send something out to the coaches just to make sure if there’s post-season activity — if it’s an invitational, if you’re a singleton coach, we’re definitely going to make sure the program isn’t compromised,” she said. “If there’s a conflict, let us know so we can make sure that students are covered. If it’s a game and you’re the only coach, of course we have to make accommodations. But if it’s a game and you have multiple coaches, then the coaches who are available can go forward and make sure [the team is] appropriately supervised.”

Johnson stressed that while she wants to support the student-athletes, teachers’ classroom responsibilities always have to come first.

“You can’t be in two places at one time. I’m just really about making it clear, and if there’s a conflict, let us know,” Johnson said. “And I do know there will be some instances where we’ll just have to get coverage for singleton coaches for post-season action or invitational competitions... but generally speaking, our focus is going to be making sure that our kids have the teachers for the duration of their instructional program.”

Johnson said she realizes athletics are a vital part of many high schoolers’ lives.

“Everyone, all my colleagues, are going to be extremely thoughtful in coming up with plans because with many students, their athletic participation rounds out their total school experience,” Johnson said. “So, we want to make sure we keep them fully engaged with our programing and are definitely going to make it a priority.”

In order to balance those needs with the needs of the pupils in the classroom, Johnson said it’s all about scheduling.

“We just have to go through looking at the coach, where they are during the day, what time we get out of the high school. How long do we have to make sure they’re covered? What happens when there is an away game? Does the AD go [if the coach can’t]? Do I need to get coverage for the teacher because they’re the only one who can make it?”

Johnson and Scarpello are already working with the coaches for fall sports to make sure the students on both sides of the equation get the attention they need.

“With the fall sports, I am 110 percent confident that we aren’t going to have any issues,” she said. “Because we are going to come together and make sure it’s a win-win for kids.”