Good evening. My name is Tessie Thomas and I am the President of the Montclair Council of PTAs (PTAC) an elected body that represents and supports the whole community.
This was a historic month in Montclair! Phaedra Dunn and Melanie Deysher made history this month by becoming the first elected board members of the Montclair Board of Education. Congratulations to both for winning the elections and congratulations to all the candidates that ran for the 2 open spots. As a community we may have strong feelings about elected vs. appointed Boards, but I urge all to put those feelings aside and stay engaged.
Switching channels, given the decision on the mask mandate we urged the Board and the district to get the parents/caregivers back in the school buildings. Apart from invaluable volunteer work from PTAs, the community had missed out on being able to attend performances and/or celebrations in-person for 2 years. Clearly this was a loss all around. I am pleased to see that “In-person” school tours are back. I want to thank you, the principals, and staff for restarting the in-person school tours. In addition to new parents/caregivers, there are those that have not seen the inside of their child’s school for 2 years. It is time to get back to some normalcy while the Covid numbers are down. I also want to thank each PTA in the respective schools for taking this on in short order. We are excited about these in-person school tours. I distinctly remember that a school tour was one of our first exposures to the Montclair Schools and it also was one of the big factors in our decision making about schooling. So thank you again to restarting this and thank you to the Principals and the staff.
I am also pleased to announce that PTAC’s community engagement committee will again be conducting the MPS 101 Transition to schools program. This year we are starting with Transition to Middle Schools on March 29 at Glenfield, followed by Transition to Elementary Schools on April 14, hopefully at Nishuane and then, Transition to High School – which is in the planning stages.
These Transition events are incredibly productive for all those who attend and alleviate some of the concerns and stress related to these transitions. The panels that are presenting are made up of PTA leadership across all the schools and the discussion is typically very candid. I am going to emphasize…very candid. It is also helpful for the parents and caregivers to hear from folks who have walked the path that they are about to walk on.
On an unrelated note, on behalf of PTAC, I was invited to present on the “one district, one community” theme at the realtor’s roundtable. It was very interesting to be part of this discussion as it provides perspective on what is seen as important by new families coming into Montclair. It is a stark reminder on how critical a factor the state and the status of the school system is to those coming into town. If there ever was a doubt that the value of real estate may be correlated to the health of the school systems, one just has to attend the realtor’s roundtable. It is also important to note that the families coming into Montclair are those that seem to place a high value on the public education system in town. The magnet themes of the elementary and middle schools, the placement of the graduating class, the extra-curricular activities and of course the infrastructure of the schools – every single thing matters and leads to these incoming families seeing Montclair as this really cool town that they would like to move into to raise their families. Montclair has a lot going on for itself and MPS is a critical element in that mix.
This is a natural segue to the topic of capital investments into the school system. The state of the infrastructure in our schools turned out to be inadequate in dealing with the demands of the pandemic and we know just from walking around that the infrastructure has significant upkeep needs. We also know that this has been years in the making…years of neglect and addressing problems with short-term solutions. At some point it becomes clear that this approach is not sustainable and it also becomes clear that it is an ill-advised strategy for the long-term and maybe even costs more. We are glad that the Board is taking this on and developing plans to bring all infrastructure into compliance with health and safety issues being the top priority. We at PTAC support this approach and are going to continue to provide constructive inputs as capital plans and fund-raising plans are finalized. The time to make these capital investments is ripe. As I have said before – all of us – the Board of Education, district administration, district employees and their unions, and the district’s families are on the same page here — a moment of harmonic convergence. We look forward to our continued dialog on the way forward.