The Montclair Board of Education spent the afternoon of Monday, July 10 giving itself a report card of sorts for 2016-2017 and setting forth an early plan for 2017-2018.

Exceeded expectations: Hiring dedicated educators, and preparing students for life after high school.

Things to address in the future: New superintendent, facilities upgrades, and a new public Pre-K program.

Needs work: Lack of a new full-time superintendent.

Montclair’s board of education meeting that day was actually two meetings: the first one, in the afternoon, was a governance meeting, an opportunity for the board to look back on the year. That evening, it held its regular meeting with public comments. It was during that evening’s meeting that the board announced the hiring of two full-time administrators, and that Charles H. Bullock School had been taken off the state’s “focus list;” the list keeps track of schools that are either low-performing among their subgroups or have high achievement gaps between groups of students.

“This is an important meeting, as they all are, because at this meeting, you can take a deep breath and reflect on goals and accomplishments, and reflect on goals to be accomplished,” Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak said at the start of the meeting.

She said that in the four months she had been acting as superintendent, she’d seen firsthand the board’s leadership skills and relationship with the community, and that she was impressed by what she had seen.

“I will never fully recognize or know all of your leadership qualities, but I do see these fine qualities in each of you as individuals. Board leadership is so difficult. The salary — they’ve frozen your salary, what, 150 years ago?” she asked as the board laughed.

Seven presentation easels were set up around the tables where board members sit, and each board member was asked to write what they thought the schools did, and did not, do well on them.

The board spent a large portion of the meeting reviewing what had gone well in the district over the past year, what the schools hoped to address in the next three to five years, and what they were disappointed about.

The budget shortfall and the subsequent staff layoffs were on the list of disappointments. Also on that list were the lack of a permanent superintendent (and lack of internal candidates for said position), as well as a lack of diversity in school district hires. And on the list of things that the district did well, one person had written “educating affluent students,” which was interpreted as a reference to the achievement gap in Montclair.

The persistence of a gap in academic achievement between white and minority students was noted by board member Joe Kavesh, who said the achievement gap was a source of concern 20 years ago, in 1997. “I hope we’re not still talking about that in 2037,” he said.

In fact, on a separate easel marked “Things we will never give up,” one board member wrote “commitment to reducing achievement gap.”
Among the items hoped for are facilities upgrades, an expanded world language program and making sure all third-graders are reading at grade level.

On the “accomplishments” board, the board members listed a strong college acceptance rate by the latest graduating class, the start of a rebuild of the central office staff and being able to address the community’s concerns about the budget.