It’s time to say “I am hopeful because…” through your art.
MPSD students – share your visual art, dance choreography, film production, music composition, literature, or photography on the 2023-2024 Reflections theme “I am hopeful because…” by December 8, 2023.
Montclair had two national winners in last year’s contest!
All entries will be displayed in the Reflections Celebration Showcase in May 2024.
See our Reflections page (far right on the menu bar) for further details.
Congratulations to Onward Fernandez of Northeast Elementary for his work “Stop Bullying” and to Isabelle Hayes of Buzz Aldrin Middle School for her work “The Burden We Carry”. Each received an Award of Merit for Visual Art at the national level in the 2022-2023 Reflections art contest.
Thank you, Board members and Dr. Ponds.
I’m Gretchen Devinsky, President of PTAC, an organization that represents all of Montclair Public School District’s local school PTAs.
PTAC’s function is to support the 11 local school PTAs of Montclair in their work of advocating for the success and wellbeing of their school’s students, and to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families to advocate for all children.
There are many ways that we uphold these goals – we facilitate information sharing, resource pooling, and act as a single point of contact for our community partners and community organizations to reach PTAs.
The fact that all of this relies on the participation of volunteers – both at the local PTA level, and for PTAC’s own work – and what all of this volunteer power accomplishes, is incredible.
Parents in Montclair are passionate about issues affecting schools and their children, and we at PTAC are passionate about helping to foster a community where all parents feel like there is a place for them at the table – a place where their perspectives are heard and valued. Much of our work is done by committees, which we encourage everyone here and listening tonight to consider serving on. There’s room for your ideas and passion to find expression in one of our 9 committees: Communications, Culture & Climate, Curriculum, DEI, Facilities & Finance, Reflections, Standing Rules, Special Education, and Technology.
Additionally, a new special committee: PILOTs to Schools, a grassroots initiative that focuses on getting the town to share with the district some of the revenue it receives from property developers in place of property tax.
If you are intrigued and want to know more, please email me at email@example.com.
Some of the things that PTAC will be working on this year are:
– Co-sponsoring a BOE Candidate Forum, with the League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area, Montclair NAACP, AAPI Montclair, and Aging in Montclair.
– Reflections Art Contest. Last year was only our second year of offering this contest. The artwork of 38 Montclair kids was sent on to the state level. Of those, 13 proceeded to the National level, and 2 won at the National level. What can our creative and artistic kids do this year? The theme is ‘I am hopeful because…’ and the deadline for entries is December 8. Look for more information on our website soon.
– Producing a new ‘School Budget 101’ like the one we offered in 2020, but updated to reflect the fact that we are now a Type 1 district.
Let me share with you a few of the things that our PTAs have been doing:
Edgemont celebrated Hispanic/Latine Heritage Day with an evening of food, performances, crafts, and an outdoor showing of the movie Vivo.
Nishuane was able to attract over 250 new members to its PTA by offering PTA members the chance to register for ASE classes the day before registration was opened to the public.
Glenfield PTA won a $25,000 grant from the Kool Kids foundation – which is run by Robert ‘Kool’ Bell of Kool and the Gang – to buy drums and other music equipment for Glenfield’s Drumline program.
MHS provided a Welcome Breakfast for teachers and staff, got the 12th graders up early for the Senior Sunrise breakfast in the amphitheater, and will host a 9th grade movie night next week.
All over Montclair, committed parents are working together to manifest the potential of every child in this town. We work with the incredible teachers and staff at our schools. We work with committed and dedicated members of the Board of Education and the Central Office. We work with community partners who recognize that they have a stake in the future of the kids in Montclair Public School District. Thank you, and I am looking forward to working with all of you this year.
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 hope everyone managed well through the toxic smoke last week and are now making the most of the clean air around us.
As the year draws to a close, I can’t help but be reflective. It is just amazing how quickly this year has gone by. It was an eventful year but somehow seems to have gone through even faster than other years. For that matter, the last 2 years have gone quick. The last 2 years – following Covid have by definition been unprecedented as none of us have had the playbook for how to recover from a pandemic. I would like to share a few observations of our post recovery period and some of PTAC’s accomplishments tonight.
2 years back as President of PTAC, we decided to do things somewhat differently. We wanted to be more efficient with meetings, we wanted to be more impactful, we wanted to ensure that we leaned on lessons learned from the past, we wanted to sharply focus on powerful advocacy and learn from each other. In keeping with these thoughts, we adopted 6 themes that most of you have heard before–
- Diversity of faces and diversity of voices
- Connecting with all
- Encouraging volunteers
- PTAC Brand
I must say that we adhered very closely to all of the above. The last one – PTAC Brand was one which is likely to be misinterpreted. So I would like to read from what I said in the first PTAC meeting 2 years back when we adopted these themes, I quote –
“… – we want to make sure that when PTAC acts, makes a statement, makes a point to the district, or to anyone – it is one that is thoughtful, impactful, relevant, unbiased, timely, and actionable. It is very easy to be in our situation and react to everything that happens around us. I am going to be strong on vetoing issues that don’t fit this structure. We are going to make sure that we do not make any statement for the sake of public posturing alone. I want to ensure that PTAC is influential that we are given a seat at every table for no other reason than being seen as a valuable contributor. I will watch out meticulously to not dilute the PTAC brand. Our focus will be on better outcomes for our children and if something doesn’t quite fit, let’s make sure we don’t overstep our scope as when we lose focus or try to get too many things done we may end up not doing much at all.
In terms of our focus, I want to ensure that we don’t start assuming that it is our mission to run the district. We need to leave that to the district professionals, and the BOE. But it is our mission to bubble up issues and get commitments to fix the problems we highlighted. Let’s hold their feet to the fire. There is a fine line between that mission and actually running the district. Let’s not cross it…”
Given this initial outlook, I must say we carried it out to a tee. How we at PTAC decided to conduct ourselves makes a lot of sense under any scenario, but it was especially well suited for where we were 2 years back, coming out of the pandemic. We were in an acrimonious environment coupled with the instability of having seen a number of superintendents go in and out of the district in the last few years. It was a time when it seemed like the stakeholders had concluded that the way to get anything done in the district was to be shrill at the BOE meetings and take shots. It also seemed like when that failed the solution was to be even more pointed and louder. Additionally, the revolving door in the superintendent’s office was conducive to kicking the can down the road. Even under the best of intentions, given the significant and deep-rooted problems, kicking the can down the door was many a times the expedient outcome. Systemic problems festered.
In this environment, we decided to hit “reset”. We decided to try something new – “collaboration”. We decided that we will start by trusting every stakeholder’s intent – we believed and still do that every stakeholder in this is trying to do right thing. When we adopted this approach, we were surprised with the reception and I think to some extent, the stakeholders were also surprised that we trusted their intent and were willing to talk about ways to make progress. I have to say that this approach has enabled all of us together to actually get things done.
We are not naïve to think that acrimony is dead, or that everyone buys into collaboration – but it is clear that there is consensus that collaboration has been more effective and impactful over the last 2 years.
One of the proudest moments for us was on May 16th this year when the BOE, MEA and PTAC together went to the town council meeting to raise the issues of overall operating funding proportion allocated to the schools and the issue of no Payment in Lieu of Taxes money flowing through to school funding. This was a follow up to the joint letter that the BOE, the District, and PTAC sent to the town council raising these issues. This is collaboration in action – it is no longer just talk – let’s keep at it, our children deserve it.
Continuing down the path of summarizing some of the accomplishments of the last 2 years. I would like to highlight a few “concrete deliverables”. Since we emphasized “concrete deliverables” from all it is only appropriate that we hold ourselves to those standards. Here we go –
- Getting the community investment plan passed. We worked hard, we worked together, and we all went above and beyond. In the process we got the bond referendum passed and won the national PTA award. But the true award is that we now have the much needed $188M investment going into schools that will be transformational and will last several decades for the current and future Montclair community. We all should be very proud of this.
- Reflections, a national competition – we were able to put Montclair on the map. We went from “what is it; how do we participate in it” to having two national winners this year. To anyone who is looking for an answer to the question – why do we do this – one look at the kids beaming at the award celebrations where their work was displayed – you will have your answer. We created a lasting memory and who knows, we may even have reinforced their confidence in themselves and added to their resume.
- When coming out of Covid there was confusion on how to get back in schools and the “mask-mandate” – we conducted a highly effective and timely survey of the families that provided clarity for decisions.
- We conducted a survey around effective communications that has resulted in several changes that the district adopted. I know we have ways to go, but our survey got it started.
- We engaged with the district on scheduling, start times, and busing discussions.
- We jumped up and supported the B&G crew in the recovery efforts from hurricane Ida. We got Montclair restaurants to donate food and our great community did what great communities do – we helped each other out.
- We ran several town halls and discussion panels covering pre-schools, budgeting 101, transition to middle school, transition to high school, and entering the Elementary Schools.
The list of what we have accomplished is much longer, but I wanted to highlight a few to remind ourselves that what we do together has real and lasting impacts.
Speaking of impact – we asked each of the school PTAs to provide us with some overall dollar numbers on the PTA support for our teachers and the students. We have consolidated these numbers across our schools and here is what the overall impact looks like –
Our PTAs collectively raise, on an average, about $600,000 across the schools every year. About $120,000 of this money is directly contributed to the teachers in the form of grants, teacher appreciation, and special projects. About $350,000 of this money is directly contributed to the students and the community in the form of events, scholarships, and special projects. Remember – all of this is done by volunteers – a truly herculean task that speaks volumes about the volunteers and our community. The dollar amounts represent just one of the ways in which PTAs have an impact. The advocacy and the other efforts that don’t necessarily involve dollars are even more valuable and can’t be measured in dollar terms.
As the end of the year approaches, the transition to new PTA Boards also gets underway. The PTAC Board for 2023-25 elected in by all the PTAs is:
- Gretchen Devinsky, President
- Linda Kow, VP
- Stacy Ann Greene, VP
- Obie Miranda Woodley, Treasurer
- Shameah Kinch, Secretary
Congratulations and thank you for raising your hands and taking this on.
July 1 is when this new Board will get started. I am thrilled to be passing the baton to this capable group.
It has been a great run and I want to thank a few folks who have been instrumental in making our efforts a success over the last 2 years.
I want to thank the BOE, Dr. Ponds, and the central office team. You have always been responsive to us and have attended all our meetings and addressed concerns live during the meetings and after that. We know you have been dealt with a tough hand. So thank you. A special shout out to Nina De Rosa without whom none of this can get done.
I want to thank Cathy Kondreck and her team for attending our meetings, working collaboratively with us, and lifting us up by the “above and beyond” contributions to the Reflections program. I know this must not have been easy and we are grateful to you for your responsiveness to us and support.
I would also like to thank each and every member of the current and the past PTAC Board – Courtney, Reggie, Yvette, Gretchen, Diane, and of course, Brain who moved on to the BOE but continued with his valuable insights. This is the team that has always engaged in open, honest, respectful, and many a tough discussion. Those discussions and the work together made us a better PTAC.
Likewise, I would like to thank each of the PTA Presidents and volunteers with our endless text messages and constant communications. I know each PTA President and volunteer puts in countless thankless hours while managing all other demands on their time while keeping a sane head on their shoulders. They are the frontline where the rubber meets the road. Thank you.
Over the last 2 years, working together with all – BOE, District, MEA, and all the other stakeholders in town, has been a stark reminder – we are all in this together. Our individual success is completely tied to our collective success and the only way we can have a real and lasting impact on the lives of the young ones graduating from the Montclair School system is by working together. Future generations will remember not only what we did, but also how we did it.
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.
Although there is a lot going on, we would like to focus our comments on the budget and where we are today. Much like last year, we are also going to highlight some systemic issues that create our current quandary and are unlikely to go away in the years to come.
The last few days have been very upsetting. As the news about 55 staff cuts came through, suddenly the budget process became inexplicable, upsetting, and contentious. While it is true that the budget process forces us to live within our means, and to only approve spending what we have – the real impacts are on the lives of people and their families – at that point it becomes personal and it is no longer about a process or numbers. At that point we are talking about some beloved teachers and paras.
This also puts us in a situation where emotions run high and misinformation spreads easily. Battle lines get formed unnecessarily and we forget that we are all in this together. So, I would like to start by reminding everyone what we had asked the Board last year when we were faced with budget cuts –
We had made 3 specific recommendations to the Board and the District –
- Principals be involved early and deeply in the process. Early involvement of Principals with guidelines around maintaining confidentiality, given the personnel matters here, would be highly productive.
- The Montclair Education Association be involved early and have them also be party to the same confidentiality guidelines.
- The community representatives be involved under the same confidentiality.
This year we understand that the first 2 of our recommendations were followed, but the earlier involvement of community representatives didn’t happen – so we are 2 for 3.
These recommendations are driven by the desire to come up with better decisions as we believe in transparency and we also believe that no one person or group has a lock on good ideas.
I know that there are a lot of upset folks with where we stand today. There are many aspects of the budget and many complexities involved, made worse because there is a deficit, and very upsetting when it is clear that we are dealing with decisions that has significant impacts on people’s lives and their livelihood. The emotions are hard to keep in check and our love for our teachers and the programs for our kids make this very difficult.
We would like to provide some context here and highlight the systemic and persistent nature of some of the issues in the budget process. One of the top issues that make the budget structurally very difficult is – the 2% cap on tax levies for schools. The schools, under current state mandates, cannot increase their budget by more than 2% annually. As we know – the contract with Teachers has a 3% raise for teachers in it and before anyone can raise an issue with that – remember we have had one of the worst inflation in recent times that ran almost to double digits in some months. So before we blame anyone – let’s acknowledge the terrible situation we are in – high inflation, teachers who have practically taken a paycut, and revenue ceiling that is mandated. We have a math problem. So in order to bring the budget where we plan to spend only the money we have, it leaves us with no great option. Given that the 2% cap is not going to be breached, costs can be reduced by either reducing number of teachers or programs. This is the terrible reality of our current budget situation.
One other thing to point out is that every year the school district is faced with uncertainty on retirements and attrition. I don’t have the exact date, but a teacher can choose to announce their retirement after the budget approval. I can imagine that not every teacher is in a position to make clear plans way ahead of time and may themselves face uncertainty, but this causes the district to go through the disruptive process of RIFs and then rehiring. This is a systemic issue, but one we urge to be an area of focus and solve through some creativity and incentives.
So given the points we just covered, it is clear that we have limited dollars and competing demands on how those dollars are spent. It is clear that we want all the amazing programs, we want none of our teachers to lose their jobs, we want our teachers to be well paid given the outsized impact they have on our children, we want it all. The citizens of Montclair will also clearly tell us that we are overburdened by property taxes and that we want lower taxes. So we all want it all, but it is clear for now – we can’t have it all.
We understand that budgets are complicated – made even more complicated when we face deficits. Budgets are policy and strategy statements. Budgets show what one values – what our priorities are. Budgets are also the moment of truth as they force us to make decisions and disclose decisions on how to manage plans that need money that we just don’t have. Let’s also acknowledge that Budgets for a Public School are a process of negotiations that plays out in public. We all know how budgets work. Many of us have been involved in budget processes at work or maybe even at home. It plays out typically in patterns that are familiar to us between the budget requester and the budget approver.
Budgets also force us to make tradeoffs. We want it all and I know many of us will step up to make the case for our beloved teachers or our beloved programs. I urge us to always do that so that our voices are heard, but I also urge that we take it a step further and highlight what we are willing to give up to have what we want. That would make these comments even more constructive.
We highlighted last year some macro factors at play and I will run through them as important context for the current discussion –
- Lower enrollment – we have lower enrollment than in previous years. The audit report shows us that we had 6,659 students in 2019 and that number is 6,048 in 2022 – a loss of 611 students. With the passage of the bond referendum and investing in schools this may get reversed soon, but for now this is the reality.
- This leads to not only lower overall needs, but also to…
- Disruption in utilization of certificated teachers – some may be left with fewer hours of need in their buildings and may get utilized in ways that doesn’t comport with their qualifications – leads to inefficiencies
- Inflation has caused costs to go up, so we have a bigger hole in our budget
- State or federal aid is not going up any time soon and property tax increases impact everyone in the community especially the most vulnerable in the community
- Fiscal discipline is no longer a buzz word or a matter of choice, but the only way to conduct ourselves
- On the other hand – we have fantastic educators. Our teachers work hard, go out of their way, and are dedicated to the students. They have their own families and like everyone else, they expect some certainty in their jobs – this is their livelihood!
These factors create a high stakes situation ripe for everyone to get riled up.
Turning our attention to the tax levies that support our school district. We sent a letter to the town council urging them to revisit both the percentage of overall town budget spent on education as well as the decisions on PILOT generated funds to increase funding for schools. There are likely to be creative paths such as allocation of shared services, or provision of certain services by the town for the schools that could alleviate the spend by schools while meeting the standards of the 2% cap on operating budget. The letter was from Dr. Ponds, BOE President Allison Silverstein, and me. We understand that the MEA is also on board with this request. Together, we plan make these points at the Town Council meeting tomorrow May 16th at 6 PM. We hope to see many of you there as we are at the “no stone unturned” moment. It is also an opportunity for the Town Council, Board of Education, District Administration, MEA, and PTAC to work together for our children and their future.
As pointed out last year, it’s worth repeating – budget outcomes are never close to our worst fears or our most optimistic hopes. Typically, the outcomes land in the middle – we don’t get everything we want, nor do we lose everything that we feared.
We are hoping that despite the fiscal limitations summarized in the budget, and the intense on-going discussions between stakeholders, we are able to see through next year viably and without material impacts. It is our expectation that the education programs and offerings don’t get cut and the RIF impacts get reversed materially.
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.
Congratulations on the $75,000 award for playground upgrades – great to hear that it alleviates some of the taxpayer burden by offsetting the costs associated with the capital spend.
Our first update today is about Reflections – we are working on the celebration slated for 6 PM on May 4 at the Women’s Club. Our fingers are crossed for our state level winners to potentially win at the national level. I would like to acknowledge all the support and contributions from the district and the MEA for Reflections. I keep getting calls from Central Office saying another box showed up. Thanks to the MEA we now have the display hardware we need and fund contributions for the celebration.
On another district wide initiative, as you are aware, Elementary School PTAs are collectively hosting the STEM Fair on April 30th. This Fair is being targeted for all elementary students. The event is slated for April 30 from 3 to 5 PM. Middle and high school students will be volunteering and earning community service awards.
NJPTA LeadCon is coming up this weekend. I am on a panel focused on advocacy where I will be covering the PTAC work on the bond referendum.
As always, we have some updates on the the amazing programs that the PTAs are conducting for the community.
CHBullock had a very successful in-person Green Ball fundraiser. They have STEM Fair, CHB Eco Fair, Teacher Appreciation Week, and the Scholastic Book Fair coming up.
Edgemont had a successful Talent Show where over 70 students performed. Afterschool enrichment and play practice are ongoing. STEAMPOP, their biggest fundraiser is coming up on April 29.
At Nishuane the PTA funded culturally responsive library books, STEAM recess programming as well as art and music for preK classes. They hosted a successful schoolwide playdate and continued after school enrichment programs. Mayfair is slated for May 13.
Northeast hosted Soccerthon an All-school, inclusive soccer tournament. They also conducted Liberty Science Center workshops, and talent show. Northeast’s BlueHawks Band performing at the May In Montclair Opening Ceremony at Watchung Plaza. Geography Bee, Dance, and Spring Concerts are coming up.
Buzz Aldrin has wrapped up their ASE programs for the year.
Glenfield – Congrats to Glenfield for being nominated for 7 Montclair State University Foxy Awards. This award recognizes excellence in Middle School Musicals. The Spring 2022 production of ’13 the Musical’ is what earned the nominations. The Black History Month event, Greenwood at Glenfield, was a huge success. Glenfield held a staff health and wellness day. Spring concert, Talent Show, and 8th grade graduation are coming up.
Montclair High School is supporting junior prom, and prepping for the Freshman/Sophomore Dance in May. Teacher appreciation week, a Fun Friday, and the annual Freshman/Sophomore Dance are coming up.
These are just a few highlights of the activities across the schools, the actual list is much longer. Hopefully this provides us all a sense of all that is going on in our community and how active and engaged the community is. Also, as always – a big thank you to all the volunteers who put is so much time making this happen – a lot of them behind the scenes. Thank you.
We start with wonderful news tonight about – Reflections! As you may recall PTAC conducted this program for the very first time in Montclair last year. This year’s theme was – “Show Your Voice” and there were six categories – visual arts, photography, music composition, literature, film production and dance choreography – in their respective age groups. I am thrilled to report that 13 of our 38 entries to the state have won state level awards for Reflections. Last year we had 2 entries that won at the state level. So we have gone from 2 to 13. Also, overall this year we had 170 entries as compared to last year when we had 56. Our fingers are crossed for these state level winners to potentially win at the national level. We are now jointly working with the MEA on the Reflections Celebrations scheduled for Thursday, May 4.
Switching topics, as you know, the Transition to Middle School was on Thursday, February 23 at Glenfield. We had more than 250 attendees and there was a panel of 18 students, staff and parents representing all the middle schools. A similar community conversation, Transition to Elementary Schools was held over Zoom on Thursday, March 9. All the Principals, PTA Presidents, Dr. Ponds and Dr. Harrison Crawford were on the panel. Both events were informative, and went well. We are getting positive feedback on the events. Thank you to everyone who was on the panel – parents and staff.
As you know PTAC at its core has been about working together to leverage what we have and create concrete deliverables that are more valued for all. PTAC and MFEE are cosponsoring a speaker event for SEPAC during Autism Acceptance month – details to follow. It’s always great when folks come up with new event ideas that lives this value of working together. A perfect example is the new STEM Fair being planned right now – In the fall three PTAs won grants from the National PTA. Instead of hosting three different STEM Fairs in the individual schools, the monies are now being pooled together and the Elementary School PTAs are hosting this district wide STEM Fair. This Fair is being targeted for all elementary students with middle and high school students volunteering and earning community service awards. This event is slated for April 30. Please be on the lookout for information on the event.
Switching over to the topic of what is going on with Renaissance. In the last few days, we at PTAC have received a lot of communications related to where we are. It is an understatement to say that the emotions are running high. Everyone seems to have strong opinions and feelings about the potential outcome. There is also a strong desire to hold folks accountable for the situation. We hope these emotions are driven by an acute concern for students, their well-being, and the impact this can have on them. We are not here to take sides, but we are here to urge everyone involved to keep the children front and center. Focusing on blame is likely to be unproductive at best and damaging at worst. We have said this in the past and we would like to remind everyone again – when adults mess up, children suffer. We are sure there are multiple considerations in this complex situation, we just ask all to think if any of those considerations are more important than the impact on the students and their future. We urge everyone involved to please take a step back, soften hard stances, be pragmatic, and reach a resolution that is best for the children of Renaissance. It is important to think about outcomes, but also to think about how we get there – community memories are long and a win may be rendered meaningless in short order if it not a win for the children at Renaissance.
Let’s start with some good news tonight. The National PTA has selected the Montclair PTA Council as the winner of the 2023 Local PTA Outstanding Advocacy Award. There are 22,000 PTAs in the US and the Outstanding Local PTA Advocacy of the Year Award is awarded annually to one local, district, council or regional pta. This award is based on the work we did for the Community Investment Bond Referendum. Needless to say this is a direct outcome of the outstanding teamwork and the long hours put in by all the volunteers. Thank you. While much-needed capital investments being made in our schools is rewarding by itself, we are honored and feel privileged to win this advocacy award.
In keeping with the theme of acknowledgement and awards, here is an update on Reflections – last year we had 55 entries from 10 schools. I am happy to report that this year we had a total of 170 entries and all 11 schools participated. The total number of entries that made it from the schools to the Council were 56. And we forwarded 38 entries to the State. Thank you to Gretchen Devinsky, Yvette Frazier, Colleen Dougherty, Allison Task, Stacy Ann Greene, and Diane Tehranian for helping make this happen. A big thank you also to all the teachers, staff and parents who helped make Reflections happen this year. Our fingers are crossed for the submissions and their potential selection at the national level. Now we are working on the Reflections Celebration scheduled for Thursday, May 4.
Continuing with the theme of Awards – Josh Weston has brought back the teacher awards in memory of his wife Judy Weston. We are thrilled that the outstanding teachers will be recognized once again. As many of you know these are cash awards given to teachers as nominated and supported by parents and caregivers. MFEE is administering the awards and the Award Ceremony is being planned for Thursday, June 1.
Moving on to School Tours – Thank you to everyone who helped with the School Tours. Our estimate is more than 600 families attended the tours and more than 100 tour guides showed incoming families around the schools. As you know, in parallel every year we organize an MPS 101 Transition series for incoming families. This year the Transition to Middle School is scheduled for 7 pm (tomorrow), February 23 at Glenfield. The panel discussion by students, staff and parents from each middle school will be followed by Q&A. The MPS 101 – Transition to Elementary Schools is being planned for Thursday, March 9. That would be over Zoom and so far we have PTA Presidents and Dr. Ponds on the panel.
Next, I would like to highlight a few of the outstanding work PTAs are doing at the various schools.
CHBullock is getting ready for their Green Ball. In addition they also have the Talent Show, Family Fun Dance, a poet artist in residence, ZuZu African Dancers and a family ice skating event coming up.
Edgemont celebrated MLK Day, by leading an intergenerational storytelling experience with Montclair Gateway where students heard stories from seniors about the civil rights movement. They had a family night where parents got to experience Restorative Justice. Their ongoing work includes a number of Black History Month activities, talent show, launching enrichment registration and more.
Hillside had a successful Winter session enrollment in their ASE program. Their Spring events include – Science Day, Talent show, International Night, 5th grade picnic and 5th grade yearbook.
Nishuane successfully hosted a Caregivers Night Out to celebrate current volunteers and recruit new ones – with about 50 attendees. The Family Dance was a success and the PTA gave Valentine’s treats to the staff. Now they are preparing for Mayfair.
Upcoming events at Northeast include – In-school Digital Citizenship seminar, Read Across America, Soccerthon, Talent Show, Geography Bee, School Dance, School Picnic, and Field Day.
Watchung successfully conducted their Winter Concerts which were well attended. Their Black History Month celebration includes an assembly by the Pushcart Players. Other upcoming events include ASE, Read-A-Thon, and Casino Night PTA Fundraiser.
Buzz Aldrin held an all-school assembly/presentation of “Joe’s Violin” with a Q&A with the filmmakers and discussions in homerooms. They also held their Casino Night fundraiser. Upcoming events include ice skating party, Trivia Night and CPR classes.
Glenfield students volunteered their time to assist Hillside School coordinate the Blessing Bags collection initiative on MLK Day. The new ASE Explorers program is launched. The PTA had Valentine’s Day Cookie Party event for the staff. Upcoming events include – Ice Skating Fundraiser and Talent Show.
Renaissance PTA sponsored an author visit with NYC author Willie Mae Brown who read from her YA book based on her experiences growing up in Selma, AL, during the Civil Rights movement. Upcoming events include – Book Fair, Read Across America Day and Restorative Justice Family Night.
MHS held a Restorative Justice circle for parents to experience the practice, hosted a Chipotle fundraiser, and supported a school pep rally. For Black History Month, MHS spotlighted prominent or little-known African-Americans who have influenced MHS. The annual African-American Achievement Dinner is tomorrow February 23rd and the entire community is invited.
I am filled with gratitude with this list of all the work that the PTA volunteers are conducting. Many a thankless hours go into making all this possible. So, it is only appropriate to celebrate this work and offer a big thank you to all.
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.
Tonight we decided to do things slightly differently. Given that there are a few new faces on the Board and with the new leadership, we thought it would be a good idea to talk a little about who PTAC is, what we do, and how we get it done. The specifics here are important as they are the basis of our support to the district and they are the basis that drive engagement and tasks.
PTAC is made up of elected Board members, elected by the elected officers of all the school PTAs. Our mission is to support our PTAS and advocate for all the children. PTAC is the place where all the PTAs and across all schools – issues of common interest. What we have found is that there is strength in numbers and being grounded in the community. It allows us to be a powerful collective and united messenger. We provide the forum for wider issues to bubble up and lean on our direct relationship with the district and Superintendent. We have a formal monthly meeting and there are multiple communications in between. Most of the PTAC members are also involved in multiple district initiatives and Board committees. We are able to bubble up issues and resolve them through action before they linger and become larger issues. Our ears are to the ground and we deliberate and sort through issues prioritizing important ones and not wasting time on only “Noise”.
Beyond the advocacy role, we are also the forum for learning. We all learn together. We support all PTA and parent leaders, more importantly we support those that are newer in their roles. We learn from each other’s mistakes and help save each other time, effort, and money. We help solve interpersonal issues, guide PTAs on challenging issues, are a sounding board for new ideas whether it be related to to teacher stipends or grants, teacher appreciation days, school tours happening now, assemblies, field trips, After School Enrichment programs, fundraisers or galas. We are a resource to PTAs.
Besides the PTA Presidents coming together at PTAC, we are organized as Committees. The Committees are formed by motivated volunteers who are either subject matter experts or feel passionately about a specific area of advocacy. As an example, this year the Education and Special Education Committee is laser focused on the test scores shared by the district and the required follow up actions. The PTAC Committee structure has a major overlap with the Committee structure of the Board. As an example, the PTAC communications committee worked closely with the BOE communications committee AND put together the MPS 101 guide that can be found on the PTAC website. The Community Engagement Committee works on the MPS 101 Transition to Middle and Elementary Schools, this year HAPPENING on February 23 and March 9.
We also conduct special programs like the Reflections Art Program (Entries are currently being judged to send off to the state) the transition series, budget forums, speaker series, etc. I rattle these off, but each of these is an in-depth effort where the volunteers put in long hours to make it happen, with widespread community engagement, and very positive feedback.
We have been most effective by focusing on issues, and not being reactive, and working hard on it for results. As some of you have heard me say – our focus is on “concrete deliverables”. 3 quick examples – formation of the MHS PTA after decades of no PTA at the High School, running a community wide survey on mask mandates to drive a data driven decision on a controversial issue, and community engagement and advocacy for the passage of the $188M Community Investment Bond.
We have a few key takeaways from our efforts and outcomes –
We are volunteers – so there is an automatic self-selection – these are folks who feel strongly about contributing to the community, work long thankless hours, and get things done – as that is the objective.
We focus on results and have little reliance on acrimony, unless warranted, to get things done. We found that trusting the intent of the other side on trying to do right by our children goes a long way on getting things done. We are watchful but our going in assumption in any of these situations is positive.
This is important. We live in an acrimonious time. We live in a time when someone out there thinks it is okay to take a Molotov Cocktail and attack a place of worship. We live in a time when some in law enforcement thought it was okay to use excessive force causing loss of a precious life. We live in a time when some people think its okay to attack and kill people celebrating a festival or shoot people in schools. These are outrageous acts and the thinking or the lack of it that goes behind these acts leave all of us speechless. Together we need to do our part in not letting these things becoming normalized, starting with how we communicate and get things done in our day-to-day. We need to learn to disagree without being disagreeable. We practice this on a daily basis at PTAC.
Just this week, Nishuane was appreciating an Edgemont event that was held at Bradford! Our PTAs err on the side of collaboration. We do have a bias and that is for action and “concrete deliverables”. We err on the side of not seeking glory but keeping our nose to the ground and getting things done.
We look forward to working with the Board in its current makeup. We encourage you to lean on us in situations where you may be limited given your office. We remain focused on the success of our children. Last year, we supported the district’s major stride on fixing the infrastructure. Our theme and focus now is on the learning that goes on inside that infrastructure. We look forward to a great 2023!
Happy New Year! 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.
We are going to hold off on comments and updates till the next meeting. In the meantime though, I would like to extend a warm welcome to our 3 newly elected BOE members – Yvonne Booknight, Brian Fleischer, and Monk Inyang. Thank you for taking this on. Also, Congratulations to our newly elected Board President Ms. Alison Silverstein and Board Vice President Ms. Crystal Hopkins!
We ended 2022 with a bang and look forward to a promising 2023!