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.
I would like to start with the Budget tonight. When we last spoke about the budget at this Board meeting, we highlighted the deficiencies in the budget process and the communications around it. We would like to keep the focus on the process and the communications and reiterate that we need to revamp both. We realize that some of flaws in the budget process are not new and have been there for years. A deficit situation ends up making these process issues worse and consequential.
From prior meetings we understand that the district remains committed to the program offerings in all the schools and is currently working through the programs, the positions, and the people with the Principals. Given the widespread engagement of our community, there are a lot of news items and Facebook comments related to these discussions that are flying through the community. Some of it is clearly discernable as valid or not, but some of it just ends up generating a lot of angst and worries with no clarity around it. These news items and comments typically come across as teachers that have been cut leading to programs being cut and then the exchange that follows is harrowing. So first we would urge for more transparency around these ongoing discussions. We would also urge for clarity around the standards being followed and the principles being applied as the district tries to balance efficiencies with the commitment to keep the programs.
The budget process and the discussions over the last few weeks have resulted in a lot of questions and speak to the strong need for communications. We realize that the communications here can be sensitive and even confidential. That said, some broad guidelines on how this is being done and communication around the outcome that the district is looking for would help prevent a lot of heartache and misunderstandings. It will increase buy-in and clarify the intent behind the decision making. Communications – lots of it clarifying everything around this process is critical and urgent.
I would now like to pivot from the budget to a beloved teacher in our schools – Mr. Dan Gill. Mr. Gill needs no introduction and his long years of service are well known. In the recent weeks one of his life experiences he shared is circulating as “The empty chair” story. The links are on the district website and if you haven’t read it, please do as it embodies everything Mr. Gill is – an amazing educator and an even more amazing human being. My son had the privilege of being in House Gill, a small learning community at Glenfield. By the way Mr. Gill was instrumental in bringing the concept of small learning communities to the middle schools of Montclair. Mr. Gill and House Gill not only taught the whats and the whys to my son and all the students – more importantly he taught them how to think and how to respond to life’s events. He has been truly transformative for the Montclair Public Schools and for the lives of so many. And as only Mr. Gill can do, he announced his retirement last month. He plans to retire at the end of the next school year after 53 years of teaching. To me this advance announcement is incredibly conscientious. He cares about his students and the school system so deeply that he went on to make an announcement so far in advance that it allows for all to work out the transition and minimize any impact on the students. I realize that this is not an easy decision for all and not everyone is positioned to make decisions as consequential as retirement that much in advance. That said, I think this action caps a stellar career in education for Mr. Gill. Thank you, Mr. Gill!