By TALIA WIENER
The nine candidates running in the March election for two open seats on the Montclair Board of Education emphasized one main idea — board members must engage with and listen to all stakeholders — during a forum on Thursday night, Feb. 17.
Facilitating conversations with everyone from teachers to parents to community members without direct connections to the school district will be essential to securing funding, improving the curriculum and increasing transparency, the candidates said.
The virtual forum, co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area and the Montclair chapter of the NAACP, was moderated by Marlene Sincaglia, a member of the League of Women Voters of Berkeley Heights, New Providence and Summit. The nine candidates introduced themselves and took turns answering questions.
Running are Yvonne Bouknight, Jerold Freier, Holly Shaw, Melanie Deysher, Noah Gale, George C. Simpson, Phaedra Dunn, Jennette Williams and Lauren Q. Griffin.
Voters will choose among the candidates in a special election March 8, to fill terms that will end in January of 2024 after Montclair’s recent conversion from a Type I school district with a mayor-appointed board of seven members to a Type II district with an elected board of nine.
The importance of communication was mentioned over and over by the candidates, as they each spoke to the need to create connections.
“We’re obviously a town full of very passionate people and a lot of opinions,” Shaw said. “The biggest issue the board faces right now and something we need to focus on is making sure people feel heard.”
Shaw has been involved in the Watchung School PTA and the Watchung playground committee, and helped fundraise for various district efforts, according to a questionnaire posted on the Montclair PTA Council website.
But board members should focus on listening to what stakeholders have to say, not responding, Dunn said. Dunn is one two candidates — along with Deysher — who is backed by Vote Montclair, the group that successfully petitioned to put a question on last November’s ballot asking if Montclair should have an elected board.
“We have to first recognize one another as a stakeholder and not view another stakeholder’s piece of the pie being greater,” Dunn said. “We all share the same pie, with the same goals of wanting our students to do well and to just feel great about school.”
Dunn is a licensed therapist who has been a member of the Montclair PTA Council, the Renaissance at Rand Middle School School Action Team for Partnership and PTA, according to her questionnaire response on the PTA Council website. She is also one of the co-founders of Montclair Moms of Color, a group created to give voice to those who have felt unheard, the questionnaire said.
By listening to the community’s concerns, board members can distill the root issues and come up with creative solutions, Simpson said. Simpson is a creative director who has spent his career working in a variety of content areas, according to his questionnaire response. He is also an assistant den leader for Montclair’s Pack 12 Cub Scout troop, the response said.
“The answer is not to try to get people to tell you their solution, but to tell you what their concern is,” Simpson said. “Anytime you’ve got divergent viewpoints, what you almost always have is different ways to say the same thing.”
The board can facilitate these conversations by holding forums, scheduling meetings with parents and creating spaces where everyone can feel heard, Gale said.
Gale, a Montclair High School graduate and Montclair State University student, would be the youngest person ever to serve on the board and the first college student on the board. He has volunteered as a paraprofessional and an intern for schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds and been involved in a variety of events held by the district.
Keeping communications clear and concise is also important, Freier said. Freier is an adjunct professor at Rutgers, Montclair State University and Caldwell University, according to his questionnaire. He has served on the Montclair school board, the Township Council and the Planning Board.
In the past, the district has overcommunicated, sending so many emails that people no longer wanted to open them, he said.
“We have to narrow down and focus on what we send and who we send it to or nobody’s going to read it,” Freier said.
As Montclair Board of Education members continue to plan for a capital improvement bond referendum that would include at least $15.5 million for heating, ventilation and air conditioning upgrades across the district, many of the candidates emphasized the importance of garnering community support for addressing what they see as the most pressing issue for Montclair schools.
“The bond referendum in itself is like a candidate,” Dunn said. “We do need to get out in the community and help everyone understand the importance of the referendum and how it impacts our community as a whole.”
Getting out in the community is essential to the success of the referendum measure, Griffin said. Talking about potential pros and cons of the bond measure face-to-face will let the community know why the referendum is important, she said.
Griffin has been a long-term substitute teacher at Northeast School and has been involved with the Northeast PTA and the Northeast School Action Team for Partnership, according to her questionnaire response.
“We all know the benefit of having someone come in to talk,” she said. “Hearing what someone says in a message or an email is nothing.”
Community conversations should also focus on the district’s budget, Williams said.
Williams has worked for the school district in many roles — teacher, substitute teacher trainer, grant writer and more. She recently served as the education director of the League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area. The organization said she has temporarily stepped down from her committee chair role, and will do so permanently if elected. The League said it does not endorse any candidate.
Utilizing Montclair’s corporate population, visiting the town’s houses of worship and having conversations will open doors to new funding opportunities, Williams said.
Other candidates were on the same page — community partnerships, grants and exploring other funding avenues will help to relieve taxpayers of some responsibility for district costs, they said.
Bouknight recommended utilizing services within close range, mentioning partnerships with Montclair State University as an example. Bouknight is an educator with more than 40 years of experience. She has taught in East Orange, Irvington and Plainfield, and most recently worked as a reading specialist in Glen Ridge before her retirement in 2018.
Shaw pointed out opportunities for federal and state grants that can cover a wide variety of costs. Freier suggested holding combined summer school programs with Montclair Kimberley Academy.
Overall, the district needs to be more flexible, finding creative ways to address budget concerns, Simpson said.
“The priorities need to be looking at infrastructure of the schools, making sure the schools are safe,” he said. “But also to talk to the teachers about the priorities. What do they need? See if we can fund those a little bit better.”
Budget solutions will be found in the data, Deysher said. Data about grant funding, testing and more will help the board to decide if the district is achieving the best educational outcomes possible, she said.
“We need to use data, and we need to use it wisely,” she said.
Deysher has been involved in the PTAs at multiple schools in the district. She has worked with the Montclair chapter of the NAACP, the Special Education Parent Advisory Council and various dyslexia advocacy groups, according to her questionnaire response.
When it comes to decisions about education best practices, many candidates said they would look to teachers.
The district has hired professional educators and well-versed teachers who can develop a curriculum that speaks to the needs of all children, Bouknight said.
“They are the ones who decide the education and the curriculum here in this district,” she said. “Our children — their needs, their wants, their gaps — that is what drives the curriculum.”
By not consulting teachers, the board would be doing itself a disservice, Shaw said.
“They’re on the front line,” she said. “They should have a stake in the curriculum.”
Having good teachers and a good paraprofessional made all the difference in his own education, Gale said. That’s why advocating for teachers, getting them fair pay and the support they need, is one of his main goals, he said.
“One of the things I would fight for on the board is to better serve special education students by employing more paraprofessionals,” Gale said.
It’s also important that the Montclair Education Association members feel valued, Deysher said.
“Teachers need a seat at the table,” she said. “When their opinions are truly valued and that’s shown in policy decisions that the board makes and the district follows through on, then I feel like union relations improve.”
But teachers don’t just need to be heard, they need to be given space to grow, candidates said.
Montclair’s curriculum is tired, and teachers need professional development to inspire new ideas to bring to their classrooms, Griffin said.
“We need to get them excited about teaching in a way that doesn’t require worksheets and worry to meet every child’s needs,” she said.
Supporting teacher initiatives, offering teacher buddy systems and encouraging the sharing of best practices will help to support staff and allow them to feel valued, Williams said.
“They’re the ones who tailor the recipe, the attire if you will, that the children need in order to have a fair, equitable education,” she said. “They should be in on the conversation.”
On Sunday, Feb. 27, the Montclair Clergy Association, Montclair African American Clergy Association and League of Women Voters will hold a forum with the candidates at 7:30 p.m. To register, see the link to a Zoom registration at lwvmontclairarea.org.
On the following day, Monday, Feb. 28, the Special Education Parent Advisory Council will hold a forum. More information will be made available at MontclairPTA.org/sepac.
Dear Parents/Guardians and Staff,
We bridged the digital divide when we became a 1:1 district meaning a Chromebook for every child, and I had the opportunity to observe teaching and learning in action on my instructional walks through our buildings this week. Seeing firsthand teachers integrating innovative technology, students collaborating with their peers, focused on instruction and using Chromebooks to enhance the overall experience was uplifting. The pandemic brought this divide to our attention, and we mobilized our district to conquer this challenge. Thanks to ESSER funding and countless hours of work from our Technology Department, we were able to provide digital accessibility for all students. This is just a glimpse of what 21st century learning looks like, and I am happy to say we have made significant strides that will have lasting impact on our students beyond the pandemic.
As we continue to support this most important initiative, we realize that circumstances change over time. We will continue to support any family in need of internet/Broadband services as well as access to a device at home through participation with the Emergency Connectivity Fund.
We are hosting a FREE Vaccination Clinic, Sat., March 5, 10 AM – 3 PM at the Charles H. Bullock School. First doses, second doses and boosters available. No appointment necessary.
February 23 Board of Education Meeting
- Gifted and Talented Update
A Comprehensive Gifted and Talented Education Plan which is equitable and inclusive for our students and in compliance with the Strengthening Gifted and Talented Education Act will be presented.
- Pupil Services Update
The Pupil Services Department will be presenting the status of its work for the first half of the school year and providing a look ahead at what is planned for the second half of the year and moving into next school year.
- Buzz Aldrin Middle School Student Performance
Buzz Aldrin students will be sending in their video of a performing arts work. These talented students will showcase, dance, band and voice.
Watchung Playground and Field
The official opening of the Watchung Playground and Field Hockey and Boys Lacrosse Field was held this past Wednesday. Seeing the community coming together, especially children and athletes was heartwarming. Having these outdoor spaces to play freely and competitively are key to the growth and social emotional wellbeing of our students. We were lucky to have Montclair TV34 capture the event. If you have a moment, please enjoy the video of the ceremony.
Happy Presidents’ Day and enjoy the long weekend with family and friends!
Dr. Jonathan Ponds
The Montclair PTA Council has collected responses to questions about Montclair Board of Education candidate’s plans and positions. Each of the nine individuals running for two open seats on the board in a special election this March has replied, and their answers are now posted at the PTA Council’s site, at montclairpta.org/candidatesboe.
Among the topics explored: Candidates were asked to describe their candidacy and reasons for running, to rate certain skills and levels of experience, to discuss their community affiliations and to set priorities for the board.
In addition, the League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area has invited the candidates to participate in a forum on Thursday, Feb. 17, from 7 to 9 p.m. The forum will be broadcast live on Channel 34, YouTube, and Radio Free Montclair.
Questions to the candidates may be submitted when registration is confirmed. A registration link is on the homepage of lwvmontclairarea.org.
Running are Yvonne Bouknight, Jerold Frier, Holly Shaw, Melanie Deysher, Noah Gale, George C. Simpson, Phaedra Dunn, Jennette Williams and Lauren Q. Griffin.
Williams has recently served as the education chair for the League. The organization said she has temporarily stepped down from her committee chair role, and will do so permanently if elected. The League said it does not endorse any candidate.
There are two seats up for election in March, created when voters opted to convert Montclair from a Type I school district (with a mayor-appointed board of seven members) to a Type II district (with an elected board of nine).
Dear Parents/Guardians and Staff,
At its February 2 meeting, the Board approved a resolution for a $90,000 contract with Parette Somjen Architects (PSA). This is a pivotal step for the district in that it enables us to move building projects forward for inclusion in a bond referendum. PSA will complete and submit project applications to the NJDOE for review and approval of district-wide facility improvements by May 2022. Once the state approves the applications, we will develop the bond issue for placement on a ballot. This is indeed exciting news.
Start Strong Data
The ECI Department will give a virtual presentation to parents on results from our students’ Start Strong assessments on Thurs., Feb. 10, 7 PM. A link to this will be posted on the district website on Tues., Feb. 8.
A special thank you to our school counselors! February 7 – 11 is National School Counseling Week, and we are so proud of the work they do helping our students navigate through challenging times and championing their efforts.
We continue to celebrate Black History Month. Be sure to visit our website for new articles and pictures. The district is also pleased to announce that the resolution recognizing Lunar New Year as a district holiday was passed at the Feb. 2 Board meeting. We are happy to be celebrating the Year of the TIger until February 15!
Have a great weekend!
Dr. Jonathan Ponds
Dear Parents/Guardians and Staff,
Yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Since 2005, January 27 commemorates the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and honors the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and millions of other victims of Nazism. Our district recognizes this solemn day and doing so is a promise to never forget what happened 77 years ago. Through a generous grant from the Mark Schonwetter Holocaust Education Foundation, MPS co-sponsored, along with Kean University, a living voices production, “Through the Eyes of a Friend,” based on testimonies of those who knew Anne Frank and other victims. Additionally, a wise parent shared a brief, impactful video with us which we in turn shared with our middle schools and high school.
February is just a few days away and leading off the first week, the district recognizes Black Lives Matter Week of Action in School. In 2021 the Board of Education (BOE) passed a resolution to commemorate this national initiative that focuses on racial justice and equity in the classroom. Additionally, throughout the month, the district will be celebrating Black History Month with special assemblies and a variety of activities. We look forward to highlighting these events during the month in website articles and Tweets. Teachers Undoing Racism (TURN) will be hosting a critical analysis study group for faculty and staff on Destined to Witness by Hans J. Massaquoi, his memoir about coming of age as a black child in Nazi Germany.
At the February 2 BOE meeting, there will be a Board training presentation from Legal One on aspects of Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying. This coincides with district training for all administrators this month and next. Ensuring a safe and nurturing environment free from bullying of any kind is paramount for the district.
Gifted and Talented Update
A committee of MPS’ stakeholders, including teachers, parents, community partners, Board members, and school and district administrators, have been working collaboratively with Gifted and Talented advisor Dr. Lenore Cortina of Rutgers University to develop a Comprehensive Gifted and Talented Education Plan which is equitable and inclusive for our students and in compliance with the Strengthening Gifted and Talented Education Act. The committee has focused on the development of an equitable identification process and continuum of services to support our students. Details will be shared at the February 23 BOE meeting.
PTAs from Three Schools Win Awards
Hillside, Edgemont and Renaissance PTAs were three of only 36 local PTAs that were selected to receive $1,000 awards each from the Bayer Fund. The Bayer grant provides opportunities for families to participate in hands-on and virtual science activities and be inspired to pursue careers in STEM through National PTA’s STEM + Families Science Festival initiative.
New Opportunity for Grant Money from MFEE
The Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence (MFEE) is our town’s local education fund that supports all Montclair students, teachers, staff, and caregivers. Students receive social/emotional support and innovative teaching tools through MFEE grants, teachers boost their learning through out-of-the-box Professional Development grants, and families get resources and support through MFEE programs. From now until February 28, donors who give $20 and above will be entered in a lottery to award a $1,000 grant to their favorite school. Be sure to “credit” your school’s team page when donating. This will enter your school in a second lottery to win an additional $1,000 grant. Read more.
COVID Testing Update
Beginning in March, Medi Mobile of Livingston will provide rapid antigen testing three days a week at the Annex Atrium on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 4 to 6 PM. This service has no out-of-pocket cost, but please remember to bring your insurance card and ID. Additionally, if your children test positive, please be sure to inform their principal and or school nurse who will apprise you of next steps.
Have a great weekend and enjoy the snow!
Dr. Jonathan Ponds
Dear Parents/Guardians and Staff,
I write to you with a heavy heart as I think about our Jewish brothers and sisters who are dealing with the recent terrorist incident at a synagogue in Texas where people were taken hostage, including the rabbi. No one should be anxious about going to a place of worship. This is not okay, we are in troubled times, and we all need to come together to make the world a better place. Let’s continue our work in schools with cultural awareness, restorative justice, and platforms for students to express themselves and learn to treat each other with care, respect and civility.
The district looks forward to celebrating Chinese New Year. AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) Montclair will be hosting a Lunar New Year celebration on the grounds of the Montclair Art Museum from 12 to 3 PM on Saturday, February 12. This is a great time for our community to come together to share in the customs and history of our Asian families. Additionally, at this week’s Board Meeting we heard from our AAPI students and families about adding the recognition of Chinese New Year to the school calendar. I am happy to support this recognition, and I propose that our school calendar reflects this as an official district holiday (day off) for students and staff whenever it falls on a weekday. To memorialize this, we will ask the Board to pass a resolution designating Lunar New Year as a holiday.
Pupil Services Publishes Newsletter
Learn about updates in the Department of Pupil Services in the first issue of its seasonal newsletter. Here you’ll find information on teacher collaboration, compensatory education, spring initiatives and more. The newsletter will be posted on the Pupil Services webpage and mailed directly to families of children with special needs by next week.
COVID Testing and Health Guidance Update
Rapid antigen testing from Medi Mobile of Livingston is available at the Annex Atrium, 141 Park St. with parking in the rear on No. Fullerton on Tuesdays and Fridays, 4 to 6 PM throughout the end of January and all of February. This service has no out-of-pocket cost, but please remember to bring your insurance card and ID.
While the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) recently updated their K-12 guidance, we wanted you to understand that out of an abundance of caution and collaboration with our school physician, we will maintain the 10-day quarantine period until we are out of the high risk zone.
Masking is mandated by the Governor’s office for K-12 schools as stipulated in Executive Order 281. Indoor masking will continue in our schools for all individuals including students, teachers, staff, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. Please be sure your children wear masks when boarding school buses.
Phase I Facility Upgrades
We are pleased to announce that Phase I facility upgrades are complete and consist of installing mechanical ventilation (HVAC) in 66 classrooms that did not previously have it. These classrooms were identified by PSA (our architects) and are operational. We thank Buildings and Grounds for its unwavering commitment to seeing this project through to the end.
ESSER III Funding
The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) provides school districts with aid to address the impact COVID-19 has had on school budgets. Along with the initial ESSER Fund, in March 2021 the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund was formed. This additional level of funding is commonly known as ESSER III and enables districts to reopen and sustain the safe operations of schools. We are pleased that with this funding we have completed Phase I of our HVAC ventilation work. We have encumbered these funds as follows:
|Desk Shields/Sneeze Guards and Cleaning Products||$66,800.23|
|HVAC Phase I Architect||$155,500.00|
|HVAC Phase I Construction||$1,697,000.00|
The total ESSER III funds were $5,074,892 and were allotted as follows:
Paras – $180,000
Teachers – $650,000
Benefits for the aforementioned staff – $386,270
*Note: Money allocated in the ESSER III in the staffing areas (Paras, teachers, benefits), can also be allocated towards compensatory education.
Instructional Supplies – $50,000
HVAC – $2,254,506
Extended Day Transportation – $200,000
COVID Testing/Vaccinations – $1,200,000
Desk Shields/Sneeze Guards/Cleaning Products – $154,116
In closing, I assure you we haven’t lost focus on our educational goals and at upcoming Board meetings, various departments will be presenting and providing highlights of their continued progress.
Have a great weekend!
Dr. Jonathan Ponds
By TALIA WIENER
This story has been updated to include comments from additional individuals planning to run for the March Montclair Board of Education election.
Nine Montclair residents have submitted petitions to run this March for two new seats on the Montclair Board of Education, according to a list provided by the local League of Women Voters.
The list was provided by the League after district Business Administrator Nicholas Cipriano said he couldn’t give Montclair Local the names until candidates’ eligibility had been verified. But the list was provided to the League by district central office secretary Sonya Rold Tuesday, Jan. 18, the day petitions were due.
The New Jersey School Boards Association — citing a 1989 case law, the Open Public Records act and Government Records Council rulings — says nominating petitions appear to be public records. But it notes the GRC hasn’t ruled they must be provided immediately on request. Montclair Local submitted a public records request for the petitions Jan. 14, but New Jersey law gives the district seven business days to respond.
Voters will choose from the candidates in a special election March 8, to fill terms that will end in January of 2024 after Montclair’s recent conversion from a Type I school district with a mayor-appointed board of seven members to a Type II district with an elected board of nine.
The individuals submitting petitions are: Yvonne Bouknight, Melanie Deysher, Phaedra Dunn, Jerold Freier, Noah Gale, Lauren Q. Griffin, Holly Shaw, George C. Simpson and Jennette L. Williams.
None of the individuals who’d asked to be considered to replace board member Dr. Alfred Davis Jr. after his Dec. 12 death are running for the newly created seats. On Jan. 12, the Montclair Board of Education chose parent Monk Inyang to fill that seat through the remainder of Davis’ term. That seat and two others will also be up in November, for terms starting in January of 2023, under a new cycle that puts three board seats up for election every fall.
So far, Montclair Local has only been able to reach some of the individuals who have submitted petitions.
Gale, a Montclair High School graduate and Montclair State University student, was the first to announce a candidacy for the Montclair Board of Education — declaring his intentions even before voters opted to give Montclair an elected board. If elected, Gale would be the youngest person ever to serve on the board and the first college student on the board.
Gale, who graduated from MHS in 2018, supports upgrades to the district’s HVAC system. But board members will only be able to move forward if they are respectful and mindful of each other, and “come together as one big family,” Gale said.
While the board proposed a bond for extensive HVAC and other structural work to the district’s Board of School Estimate last year, talks stalled out before the switch to the Type II system disbanded the BoSE. Now, any such project would have to be approved by voters in a referendum; current board members have said that won’t happen before November of this year.
As a board member, Gale said he would look to ensure that the district hires kind teachers. He also said he would also push for introducing a system that allows students to anonymously rate teachers at the end of each school year.
“It is important for students to have nice teachers who are warm-hearted and nurturing, whether it is kindergarten, fifth grade, or even their senior year of high school,” Gale said.
Gale also said he’d introduce a policy of having the district cover all field trips costs, to ensure all students could experience trips regardless of financial ability. He said he’d have students learn who their teachers for a coming year would be on the last day of the prior year, instead of over the summer.
Two other candidates — Melanie Deysher and Phaedra Dunn — are backed by Vote Montclair, the group that successfully petitioned to put a referendum on the November ballot asking if Montclair should have an elected board.
Deysher has been a strong advocate for literacy, particularly advocating for those with dyslexia, former Montclair Board of Education member and Vote Montclair member Sergio Gonzalez told Montclair Local. Deysher, though reached by Montclair Local, said she was not yet available for an interview.
Dunn is a licensed therapist who, after working for years in charter schools, has become an opponent of charter schools, Gonzalez said. She is also one of the co-founders of Montclair Moms of Color, a group created in 2019 that says on its Facebook page it aims to create “an inclusive, common and comfortable support system for moms of color.”
Dunn has not yet responded to messages sent to her personal email since Jan. 13.
With the Vote Montclair backing, the two candidates’ petitions were signed by several community leaders, including Montclair NAACP education committee chair Diane Anglin (who spoke in favor of an elected board at a Montclair Local forum), Montclair Police Department Lt. Tyrone Williams Jr., and Township Civil Rights Commission chair Christa Rapoport, Gonzalez said.
Bouknight, a former district parent, is also an educator with more than 40 years of experience. She has taught in East Orange, Irvington, Plainfield and most recently worked as a reading specialist in Glen Ridge before her retirement in 2018.
“As a board member, you have to place yourself in the middle and you have to see both sides,” Bouknight said. “It’s important that you keep an open mind.”
Bouknight said she is running for a seat because she wants to ensure all Montclair students have equitable access to education.
“Looking at the whole child is really important to me, [as is] seeing what can be done in order to make them successful in the classroom,” Bouknight said. “Some children may just need help with reading. Some children may need help with math, and some children may need social and emotional support in order to achieve.”
The Montclair Board of Education has “showed stamina” in its work during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bouknight said. But she said there’s room for improvement in the board’s communication. She said she would push to better inform the whole Montclair community, not just parents, about school news.
Shaw said she would prioritize the learning loss and mental health toll associated with the coronavirus pandemic, and come up with solutions to help students succeed. Shaw has been a Montclair resident for seven years and currently has three children attending Montclair schools at elementary, middle and high school levels.
She holds a diploma in wine and spirits from the Wine Spirits Education Trust and currently writes for various publications as an expert in the field.
Shaw told Montclair Local she wants to see more accountability and transparency, and wants to “rebuild the relationships between Montclair’s teachers, parents, administration and the board.”
“We are all in this together,” Shaw said. “Open and honest communication is the key to our success.”
As a board member, Shaw said she would also work to improve the district’s special education program and tackle action items outlined in an audit of the district’s program; that audit found racial disparities in how often children are classified as needing services, problems with communication and uneven experiences across the district’s schools.
She said she “knows first-hand the challenges in identifying and getting resources for children with learning disabilities.”
Shaw has advocated for the opening of Watchung School playground and is a member of the school’s PTA. She is also active in the fundraising for the Montclair Skate Park at Rand Park and volunteers with Montclair Emergency Services for the Homeless.
Simpson, a J.P. Morgan wealth management senior copywriter and a freelance creative director, said he’s been “incredibly disappointed” with the board since his own children started school — citing stairway collapses in Montclair High School and saying “the finger-pointing that ensued was a nauseating embarrassment.”
He said he aimed to be the “kind of active, accountable board member parents, kids and teachers need right now.” He said his solution-finding experiences as a creative director would be helpful bringing together the interests of parents, teachers and students.
He said the board’s biggest challenges are “self-inflicted,” chalking much of that up to the previous appointment system as one that held members accountable to the mayor, rather than the community. He said he’d like to see board members meet privately and informally with teachers and administrators twice a year to assess needs and solve problems together.
Freier is a Montclair State University hospitality and tourism adjunct professor. Montclair Local sent Freier a message by email Tuesday and is awaiting a response. See this story at MontclairLocal.news for further updates.
Dear Parents/Guardians and Staff,
Happy New Year! We have only just begun 2022, and we’ve already had a snow day! I hope you enjoyed the time off to relax and play.
This Monday the district is closed in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While schools are not in session, many of our families are participating in a “Day On” of service such as collecting and delivering food items to local organizations. Please send photos to Jennifer Fusco for a feature on our website next week. Students are engaged in activities learning about and celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. King including a reenactment of peaceful civil rights marches, school-wide read-in, classroom activities and several virtual assemblies.
COVID Testing and Health Guidance Update
Today, from 4 to 6 PM, rapid antigen testing from Medi Mobile of Livingston is available at the Annex Atrium, 141 Park St. with parking in the rear on No. Fullerton. This service has no out-of-pocket cost, but please remember to bring your insurance card and ID.
We are pleased to announce that this testing will continue next week and run through February on Tuesdays and Fridays, 4 to 6 PM at the Annex Atrium. We hope that by offering testing at our school location without a lapse during the winter season will give you a level of comfort and convenience while we work to mitigate the virus transmission.
We have conferred with our medical professionals, and out of an abundance of caution we will continue to require a 10-day quarantine period. Students, teachers, and staff who come into close contact with someone with COVID-19, are asymptomatic and are in one of the following groups do not need to quarantine:
- People who are ages 18 and older and have received all recommended vaccine doses, including boostersand additional primary shots for some immunocompromised people.
- People who are ages 5–17 years and completed the primary series of COVID-19 vaccines.
- People who had confirmed COVID-19 within the last 90 days (tested positive).
As recommended by the CDC and mandated by Governor Phil Murphy in Executive Order 281, indoor masking will continue in our schools for all individuals including students, teachers, staff, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.
Montclair Scholarship Fund (MSF)
MSF is seeking donations to help students in need have an opportunity to continue their education after high school. Help our students unlock their greatest potential by removing barriers for access and finding a pathway to college. No matter how much you give, every dollar counts.
If you have an opportunity on Monday, tune into TV34’s YouTube Channel at 7:30 AM for the premier of a virtual presentation of Montclair’s 33rd Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Fund Breakfast. We are grateful for the contributions from the Scholarship Fund which have helped our seniors attend college and further their aspirations. I was honored to be invited to add my reflection in this video.
Have a great weekend!
Dr. Jonathan Ponds
“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you, have to keep moving forward.”— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
By TALIA WIENER
Parent Mfreke (Monk) Inyang is the newest member of the Montclair Board of Education, chosen by board members Wednesday to fill the seat of the late Dr. Alfred Davis Jr.
Inyang and three other candidates — Brian Fleischer, Aminah Toler and Richard Reynics — were interviewed during a public meeting of the board held remotely Wednesday, Jan. 12. Board members took turns asking the candidates questions about their views of public education, the board and pressing issues facing the Montclair school district.
After about two hours of closed-door deliberation, the board announced Inyang as Davis’ successor.
The seat formerly held by Davis and now by Inyang will next be up for election this fall, under the schedule set after Montclair voters opted to convert the township’s Type I district with a mayor-appointed board of seven members to a Type II district with an elected board of nine members. Inyang will serve the remainder of the current term, until January of 2023, but could also run for reelection this fall.
The Montclair board has a lot on its plate in the coming months, in addition to navigating the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The board will adopt its 2022-2023 budget, create a strategic plan to guide the next few years and put a capital improvement bond in front of Montclair voters to upgrade the district’s aging buildings. And after a March 8 election, the board will gain two new members, to fill the slots created in the conversion to the Type II system.
The job of the board is “incredibly difficult,” Inyang said Wednesday during his interview. The board needs to take into account all the information available and make collaborative, transparent decisions that allow people to feel comfortable, he said.
“You send your kids to school and essentially, you’re hoping for the best,” Inyang said at the interview meeting. “You’re hoping that the people who are charged with raising your children in this educational space are doing everything in their power to do that as effectively as possible.”
Inyang is a father of two children at Charles H. Bullock School — a second grader and a third grader — where he has served as both vice president and president of the PTA. He has also led the Bullock community in its annual day of education and service, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Inyang and his family moved to Montclair four years ago, he said Wednesday.
“We’re all a collection of the experiences that we go through,” Inyang told the board. “The reason that I’m very passionate about the board, since moving to Montclair and kind of jumping into the community, is I feel that I can bring that social justice and activism view to the board.”
Inyang grew up in Newark, the son of working-class Nigerian immigrants. As a high schooler, he and his classmates demanded updated school facilities, organizing protests and publishing satirical journalism to keep their message alive, he said Wednesday. Shortly after he graduated, a new school was built, he said.
In 2009, he co-founded Brick City Alumni Group, pairing high school seniors in Newark with local college graduates.
The state of Montclair’s aging facilities is among the biggest issues facing the Montclair school district, but they will only be addressed through strategic budgeting and stakeholder involvement, Inyang said Wednesday. Talking with the community, school staff and students will help to ensure everyone feels confident in the board’s decisions, he said.
“We’re not going to be able to do everything all at once,” Inyang said. “We’re going to have to prioritize, and people need to feel confident in the decision to prioritize one thing over another.”
As director of marketing strategy and finance for Michelob ULTRA at Anheuser-Busch, Inyang said Wednesday, he works with budgets similar in size to that of the Montclair school district. In his position, he is tasked with balancing the needs and desires of national, regional and state-level stakeholders.
“Strategy is your overarching vision, it’s your overarching plan,” Inyang said. “It guides you in those difficult decisions, and it keeps you from being as reactive when things don’t go the way that you planned.”
The board’s job is to collect and disseminate information — board members themselves are not the experts — Inyang said Wednesday. Parents are the experts on what their kids need and teachers are the experts on what’s happening in classrooms, he said.
“We have an incredible amount of talent and resources and people who can solve extremely intricate and difficult problems here in the town,” Inyang said.
The board should invite the community into their problem-solving processes, sharing roadblocks and possible solutions in a proactive manner, he said.
“When it comes to restorative justice, when it comes to environmental issues, when it comes to the safety of the buildings, when it comes to how the students are feeling with their mental health on a day-to-day basis, [the board] should never have the feeling that we know the answer,” Inyang said. “We’re all in this together.”
All four candidates had stressed the importance of investment in the district’s buildings, and working with community members to develop plans moving forward. Fleischer, a former business administrator for the Montclair school district, said the board must lead with empathy to help alleviate the stress and anxiety in the district. Transparent, measurable goals will enable stakeholders to feel informed and hold the board accountable, he said.
The community and the board must come together to resolve differences and to better the district, Reynicks said. Despite being new to Montclair schools — his eldest child is in kindergarten at Edgemont School — Reynicks said has already heard a lot of frustration and anger about decisions made in the district.
“There’s more tension in this community right now than feels completely healthy,” Reynicks said Wednesday.
Toler, a member of Montclair Mutual Aid involved in several community efforts, suggested additional restorative justice work, with greater community outreach to ensure the needs of all families are met.
“If you’re going to work as a board member here in Montclair, you have to be a community person,” Toler said during the interview. “You have to be a person that’s willing to roll your sleeves up, get involved, and not just attend one event.”
Petitions to run for the March election are due to the district by Tuesday, Jan. 18 (the district originally announced a date of Monday, Jan. 17, but that is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when district offices will be closed).