Two Montclair Board of Education leaders – President Latifah Jannah and Vice President Priscilla Church – bid farewell Monday, sitting behind their name placards in the George Inness Annex cafeteria for the last time.

The two have served on the board since 2018, and will be replaced by Brian Fleischer and Yvonne W. Bouknight at the board’s Jan. 5 reorganization meeting. Current board member Monk Inyang was elected to continue in his position. 

At the Monday meeting, Jannah and Church shared reflections on their time on the board, offered their thanks to the community and shared their hopes for the district

During the meeting, the board presented resolutions in appreciation of Church and Jannah, and the two were also honored with resolutions from the Essex County Board of Commissioners.

Latifah Jannah

Jannah started off by thanking her family – for “putting up with this for the last almost five years” – and her fellow board members.

“​​I know we've gone through a lot together, and we've had our moments,” Jannah said to the board. “I think we've worked well as a board, and I think we were able to do a lot and bring a lot to the district.”

She also thanked schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds, who was selected for the position during her tenure. 

“It was very special to me, as a board member, to bring continuity to our district that hasn’t been here for over a decade,” she said. “And I think continuity makes things grow. And we have been able to put forth initiatives that I know will take root, to bring back initiatives that we know that worked, but that is because of continuity.”

Jannah thanked community members and district staff. 

“I will be back in the room,” she said.

Jannah was appointed to the board in 2018 by then-Mayor Robert Jackson. She served as vice president from 2019 to 2020 and has been board president since 2020.

Latifah Jannah, who has served as Montclair Board of Education president since 2020, said she was glad to bring continuity to the district through the hiring of schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds. Jannah is seen here at the 2021 Montclair High School graduation ceremony. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FILE PHOTO)
Latifah Jannah, who has served as Montclair Board of Education president since 2020, said she was glad to bring continuity to the district through the hiring of schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds. Jannah is seen here at the 2021 Montclair High School graduation ceremony. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FILE PHOTO)
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During her time on the board she was part of the Montclair Board of School Estimate and the communications, personnel, policy and school culture/climate/restorative justice committees. She took part in negotiations with the Montclair Principals Association and served as a liaison to the Civil Rights Commission, Essex Regional Educational Services Commission and PTA Council.

“Ms. Jannah actively sought not only to hear student voices, but to listen and engage them in meaningful dialogue to enact change,” the board’s resolution says. 

She was one of the original supporters of bringing restorative justice to the district, and she “worked to see that its premises, teachings, trainings and staffing grew to include all of the district’s schools,” the resolution says. 

Jannah also encouraged the Montclair Education Association and the administration to become part of a labor-management collaborative from Rutgers University, the resolution says. 

She was one of the best presidents the board has ever had, Church said. 

“I always believed that you were the person for our time and you were the person that we needed to have represent us so that the true essence of our community would be acknowledged and addressed, and you have definitely done that,” Church said. 

The two connected over board matters, but also through their children and grandchildren, she said. 

“Throughout the two years that we worked together, she became my friend,” Church said. “I hope that we can remain friends forever.”

Priscilla Church

“Being on the board has been one of the most meaningful and interesting things that I have done, and it really is an honor to serve any community, but particularly one that I have lived in for 31 years,” Church said. 

She said she is most grateful for the respect she received for her background. A lifelong educator, Church said her fellow board members and district leaders trusted in her ability.

She thanked Jackson, the council members who affirmed her position on the board, district administrators and Ponds. 

“I'm sad to leave, but it’s my time,” she said. “And it’s time for new people with new ideas to come onboard and continue to move the goals of the district forward.”

Church also thanked her fellow board members. “I hope you'll always remember me as someone who always worked hard and left nothing on the table when she was finished,” she said.

She also was appointed by Jackson, in 2018. She has been board vice president since 2020. 

Church was a member of the Montclair Board of School Estimate and the curriculum/special education/technology, finance and facilities, personnel and policy committees, and took part in negotiations with the Montclair Education Association, the Montclair Head Custodians Association and the Montclair Principals Association. She also served as a liaison to the Essex County School Boards Association, Essex Regional Educational Services Commission, Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence, Special Education Parent Advisory Council and Team Up Montclair.

Priscilla Church, Montclair Board of Education vice president, said serving on the board has been “one of the most meaningful and interesting things” she’s ever done. Church is seen here at a Nov. 9 press conference. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FILE PHOTO)
Priscilla Church, Montclair Board of Education vice president, said serving on the board has been “one of the most meaningful and interesting things” she’s ever done. Church is seen here at a Nov. 9 press conference. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FILE PHOTO)
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The board’s resolution celebrates Church’s work on the bond referendum measure and her participation at community gatherings, town halls and other events.

Her work on the policy committee – her “focus and attention to detail” – strengthened oversight and benefited students and staff, the resolution says. 

She was also “a faithful and committed special education advocate” who was devoted to ensuring follow-through after a May 2021 audit of the district’s special education program showed there was much work to be done, the resolution says. 

It was an honor to work with Church on the board, Jannah said. 

“Priscilla keeps me on the right track because one of us has to really look at what's really going on and break things down and make sure that we both can come to a consensus on what needs to happen,” she said.

The two worked well together leading the board, Jannah said.

“She is very exacting, and she is very precise,” she said of Church. “She's very strong in what she believes in, and she's usually right.”

Community appreciation

Church and Jannah are “two powerful women who have led us through all these times, good times and bad, with grace and dignity,” Ponds said. 

“They see me in my rawest moments. They've heard me quiver, but they didn't think less of me. They've gotten to know me personally, and there are many times I couldn't move forward without talking with them.”

They have served as mentors and leaders to him, he said. 

“I'm going to miss you,” the superintendent said to them. “And I'm going to call you.”

Montclair NAACP President Roger Terry thanked Church and Jannah for their commitment to the community. Terry has known Jannah almost his entire life, he said, and the two raised their children together in town. 

Speaking not in his role with the NAACP but as a resident who attended Montclair schools and whose parents and children also attended the schools, Terry emphasized the impact of the work the two board leaders have done in the district.  

“I want to thank you for your commitment to our greatest resource, which is our children,” he said. “The children in this community are better off for what you've done for them over the years.”

Latifah Jannah attended her last public meeting as Montclair Board of Education president Dec. 12, thanking district staff and community members for their collaboration and friendship during her term. Jannah is seen here at a March 2 board meeting. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FILE PHOTO)
Latifah Jannah attended her last public meeting as Montclair Board of Education president Dec. 12, thanking district staff and community members for their collaboration and friendship during her term. Jannah is seen here at a March 2 board meeting. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FILE PHOTO)
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Church and Jannah both exemplify the leadership necessary in the district, PTA Council President Tessie Thomas said. 

“You put in long, unseen hours, go through pages and pages of documents and ask incisive questions,” Thomas said. “This is a group that is often called to stick your neck out and make decisions that are not necessarily popular.”

Jannah has remained a calm leader throughout her tenure, remaining unfazed as difficult issues are thrown at the board, Thomas said. Jannah also made herself known in the community, attending events across town to support students and the district, she said. 

Church’s perspective, and singular focus to do what is right, will be missed, Thomas said.

“You're the strongest representation of the cause, the reason we all put in the time and the effort,” she said of Church. “You care deeply about the children and preparing them well for the 21st century. That unrelenting focus inspires us all.” 

Jason Santarcangelo, a leader of the Montclair Special Education Parent Advisory Council, thanked Jannah for ensuring SEPAC had a voice at school board meetings. And he thanked Church for her work on the special education audit and holding the district to the audit’s goals. 

“Ms. Church, I don't know where SEPAC would be without you,” Santarcangelo said. “Your tireless advocacy for students with special education and special needs is tremendous. We are not letting you walk away from us. We're gonna give you a couple of weeks, and your phone will ring and we will draw you back in.” 

Priscilla Church, the outgoing Montclair Board of Education vice president, said Dec. 12 she’s sad to go but knows it’s time for new people to come on board. Church is seen here at a March 2 board meeting. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FILE PHOTO)
Priscilla Church, the outgoing Montclair Board of Education vice president, said Dec. 12 she’s sad to go but knows it’s time for new people to come on board. Church is seen here at a March 2 board meeting. (KATE ALBRIGHT/FILE PHOTO)
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Cathy Kondreck, Montclair Education Association president, thanked the outgoing leaders for their years of service to the district.

“Although we may not always get along and you may not be thrilled with parts of my speech tonight, we do appreciate the time, energy and years you have volunteered for your positions,” Kondreck said. “It is definitely a thankless job, and we all offer you a very sincere thank-you.”

She went on to discuss grievances filed by her members this school year.

Masiel Rodriquez-Vars, executive director of the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence, thanked Church and Jannah for their time on the board.

“I​​ know how much work this takes,” she said. “You have been doing it day in and day out for so long.”