With an $188 million referendum question planned for the November ballot and after months of complaints from families, staff and the teacher’s union about lacking communication, the Montclair school district is looking to improve its messaging and community outreach.

On Aug. 8, the district posted a job listing for an executive director of communications and community engagement — to be filled “as soon as possible.”

The director will develop and guide “a communications program whose strategies and initiatives support the district’s operational and learning goals and communicate the district’s achievements,” according to the listing.

The individual will serve “as a communications liaison between the school district and parents, students, staff, community members, supporters, and public and private organizations.”

The duties of the director are broken into three categories — leadership, public relations and community engagement. 

The director will provide oversight for the communications program by establishing annual objectives, “managing communications within the district and between the district and the community to tell the story of district accomplishments and opportunities,” and enhancing “district accountability to the public by being a trustworthy source of information, maintaining open lines of communication and building relationships that support students.” 

The individual will “maintain effective relationships with public audiences” by managing all media relations, “including the production and distribution of news releases, press conferences, proactive engagement of all media, including prompt response to press requests for comment and requests for public information.” Additionally, he or she will “support and assist” the school board, schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds and district leadership by “facilitating intentional communications among the board, the administration, the district community and the media.” 

During the 2021-22 school year, Montclair Local was instructed to send all inquiries about district matters directly to Ponds. 

Lastly, the director will “support and build on outreach programs to parents, families, and caregivers” by integrating community outreach into communications programming, and creating and implementing “outreach practices and initiatives that align with, are informed by, and support the work of PTA Council and other school and community organizations.”

Successful candidates will have “at least 7 to 10 years of experience as a public information official including experience in news media relations, public relations, and publications operations including electronic development and distribution,” the listing says. 

The individual will report to Ponds. The listing does not include a salary range.

In June, Montclair Education Association leadership called out the district for lacking communication — failing to respond to emails about the budget and its impact, providing unclear instruction for coronavirus policies and notifying teachers of a remote-optional policy during winter break, just days before it was implemented.

“To those that tried to pull me back, to those that knew how this would play out, to those that saw the foreshadowing and impending doom that I chose to ignore, I step forward and admit that I was wrong,” union President Cathy Kondreck said at the June 1 meeting. 

Parents and community members spoke out regularly about inadequate communication during the 2021-22 school year. They questioned frequent calendar revisions, including a change to the first day of school, 83 staff nonrenewals issued in May, a week after Ponds said that 26 teachers and an undisclosed number of paraprofessionals would not be renewed, and COVID-19 mitigation measures implemented by the district

In July, the district also posted a job listing for a public relations consultant, to assist Ponds “in the preparation and dissemination of information about the district and its accomplishments to the board, media and public.”