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MONTCLAIR
BOARD OF EDUCATION

22 Valley Road
Montclair, NJ 07042
973-509-4000
 

 

Home » District

Straight from the Superintendent

April 17, 2014 Volume 1, Issue 10

CONTENTS

Superintendent’s Message

Dr. MacCormack Connects with Parents/Caregivers

Meet District “IT Guy” Barry Haines

PARCC 101 Road Show

New High School Website Approved

Glenfield PTA Presidents and Teachers: What’s Working & What’s Not Working

 

Superintendent’s Message

Dear Parents, Caregivers and Staff:

The Montclair Board of School Estimate (BSE) unanimously approved the school district budget last Monday, April 7, a testament to the Board’s vision of the strongest possible learning environment for our students. I am very pleased with the decision and with what the budget now allows us to accomplish, including the reduction of kindergarten class size to an average of 21 students and a quality World Language program across all of our elementary schools.

The new budget also funds one of our top priorities: ongoing school-level professional development and support for teachers. Members of this critically important team include a Universal Design for Learning coach for teachers in inclusion settings, a supervisor of professional development, and a pre-K to K transition coordinator.

During March and April, the Board convened several times to hear, ask questions, and gather feedback from constituents about the 2014–15 school budget. No individual was more important to making the case for how best to support Montclair schools than District Chief Operating Officer Brian Fleischer, and I thank him for his clear and detailed presentation of the budget as well as his skill answering in-depth questions from the Board. Mayor Robert Jackson, chair of the BSE, even called it “the best presentation of a budget I’ve seen in a long time.”

I am sensitive to the significant investment families make in supporting Montclair Schools. This new budget (found here) requires a 4.08 percent tax levy increase, the first increase in three years. (An increase of 4.41 percent was proposed in the original budget, but thanks to a staff review additional savings were found in transportation costs and teacher retirements, allowing the budget increase to be reduced.) I’ve learned in my many talks with parents and caregivers that the continuous improvement of our school system is a priority here in Montclair, and I am committed to helping make that possible. This issue of Straight from the Superintendent highlights a few of the ways the new budget supports Montclair’s students.

I hope to see you at our next Board of Ed meeting on May 5, 2014, 7:30 p.m., in the Montclair High School auditorium or during school events this spring. And please stop by our website for the latest school news.

Penny MacCormack, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Montclair Public Schools
22 Valley Road, Montclair, NJ 07042
t: 973-509-4010 | f: 973-509-0586
pmaccormack@montclair.k12.nj.us

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Dr. MacCormack Connects with Parents/Caregivers

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Superintendent Penny MacCormack  

What’s on the minds of parents and caregivers? Dr. MacCormack is asking that question during town-meeting-style conversations around the district, including on her most recent school visit, April 2, to Hillside Elementary School. PTA Co-President Peter Wert was struck by the superintendent’s candor and readiness to talk at length about issues troubling parents, including assessment tests and the upcoming PARCC testing program.

“I’d been confused about the value of the assessment tests beyond the district using the information to find out how well a class or a grade is learning,” said Mr. Wert, the father of fifth-grade twins. “But the superintendent encouraged me to reach out to my children’s teachers. She suggested I ask them to explain what the assessments say about where my children need help and where they are doing fine,” he added.

On March 5, Dr. MacCormack met with Montclair High School parents and caregivers. Lynn Stansel has been impressed by the superintendent’s “willingness to keep an open dialogue and communicate with parents.” Ms. Stansel, whose daughter is a sophomore, attended the March meeting as well as two community meetings Dr. MacCormack called in the spring of 2013. “I appreciate the extraordinary lengths she’s gone to to solicit from parents ideas on setting priorities and implementation.”

At these meetings, the superintendent has discussed and shared copies of the proposed school budget (now passed) and fielded questions on a wide range of topics, from PARCC testing and the district’s Strategic Plan to students with special needs and class sizes.

“I like school settings where I can talk to parents and caregivers directly about their hopes and concerns,” said Dr. MacCormack. “As a former teacher and a parent myself, I know how important these years are for our children. I, too, want the best for Montclair’s students, and it’s during these conversations that I feel confident we are on the same page.”

Dr. MacCormack has attended sessions at schools throughout the district and will finish out the school year with visits to Watchung Elementary School and Renaissance Middle School after spring break.

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Meet District “IT Guy” Barry Haines

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  Barry Haines

The new school budget funds the construction of an information technology (IT) infrastructure that will support 21st century teaching and learning. The district’s director of technology, Barry Haines, is charged with overseeing these important upgrades.

Before coming to Montclair, Mr. Haines supervised educational technology efforts in two large New Jersey school districts: Parsippany-Troy Hills and Flemington-Raritan. He has taught computer science to elementary and middle school students and, prior to teaching, developed music and technology products for educational publishers. He holds an M.A. and M.Ed. from Columbia University Teacher’s College and is completing a doctorate from Northeastern University.


So what exactly does a school district’s director of technology do?

It used to be that the IT guy was the geeky staff member you called to troubleshoot your computer. The new paradigm for an IT director is someone who, working closely with all members of the district, provides insight and solutions for both education and operation. It’s about working in a creative organization and helping talented people realize their visions. Today, the geek side is about one-third of the job. The other two-thirds are about communicating, sharing, and collaborating with staff (from teachers to principals to staff development personnel) and identifying and meeting student technology needs.

The bottom line is, technology is a tool, a way to help even the playing field for students and their educators. It’s my firm belief that technology helps students find their voice by providing innumerable avenues for both learning and expression.  Beyond devices, bandwidth, protocols, and policies, what’s important is how we empower our children to learn and create work they are passionate about. Ultimately, my role is to help each child unlock his or her potential and enrich the human spirit through the use of technology, and that is the best part of my job.

How will technology funding enhance the classroom experience? 

In most of our school buildings, when a student clicks to open a web page it can take up to 90 seconds to open. This means, for example, that teaching our middle and high school students the skills to perform simple research tasks during class is out of the question. Also off limits is the ability for any teacher to show an informative video or web 2.0 manipulatives, game-like applications that are especially useful in math and science classrooms. Rather than providing students with the rich instructional options the web offers, classrooms are filled with students chanting, "Buffering, buffering, buffering… ." The new budget will enable us to increase the bandwidth within schools and to upgrade older equipment and wireless access points to handle the increased bandwidth. There is also funding in the budget to help us achieve technology equity and parity across all schools.

Next year, students should start to experience the same high-speed internet surfing that most experience outside of school. The beauty of greater bandwidth is that it frees teachers to provide real-time access to the world’s best libraries and museums and helps them provide a classroom experience that fosters interest not just in the current chapter of, say, the AP US history text, but also in lifelong learning.

Do you have a guiding principle around technology and education?  

I believe that technology has the power to reveal every student’s potential. Every student should have access to whatever technology (be it tablet, laptop, or desktop) lets them create projects and presentations that excite them. Whether that creativity involves writing and revising a short story or researching history to make a multimedia presentation, it is our responsibility to teach students how to use these tools.  I also believe in the importance of making sure that every student has an equal chance of finding his or her voice, especially given that not all students have access to technology at home.

Likewise, I look forward to supporting our wonderfully creative staff and teachers, helping them to unlock their potential as educators through the powerful tools technology offers.

What is your personal favorite tech gadget? 

The much-rumored iWatch. I am a baby-boomer, and the idea that I might view a personal device that will tell me my blood-pressure, heart rate, hours of sleep, hours of exercise, and so on, is really exciting. As a society we mine data for all kinds of purposes—except, it seems to me, for preserving our own health. Wearable devices designed to improve one’s mindfulness and fitness fascinate me. 

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PARCC 101 Road Show

When the conversation turns to schools, the acronym PARCC comes up often. PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, and it’s an assessment adopted by the State of New Jersey (as well as 15 other states and the District of Columbia) that measures whether students are on track for success in college and the workforce. These high-quality tests also provide teachers with the tools to identify students who are falling behind and need extra help. In spring 2015, PARCC assessment tests will replace the NJ Ask and HSPA standardized tests in Montclair.

 This May, District Supervisor of Professional Development Natalee Bartlett will begin delivering PARCC 101 information sessions to parents, caregivers and teachers at schools throughout the district. These sessions will explain PARCC testing in greater depth, showing what the tests look like and explaining how they differ from standardized tests the State has implemented in the past. PARCC 101 session dates, times and locations will be listed on the district calendar. For more information, visit the PARCC website.

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New High School Website Approved

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In 2004, the Montclair School District website was brand new. A decade later, the site is looking its age, which in technology years means—old. Montclair High School’s School Action Team (SAT) worked alongside District Chief Operating Officer Brian Fleischer to spearhead an initiative to create a newer and more dynamic web experience, beginning with the high school’s site. At last week’s BOE meeting, Montclair parent and software developer Jonathan Marshall presented an update of the SAT website committee’s work, describing how a request for proposals elicited appealing plans from several web design firms. The Board approved a contract to hire the firm selected by the committee. The goal is an interactive site that reflects the character of MHS and that works for faculty, students and parents/caregivers. The site will highlight student work, display class-related content put up by teachers, and be more easily navigated by all. Academic communities (like SVPA), athletic teams, and other extra-curricular programs, such as the school newspaper, will be able to post content for their members and the community at large. The high school’s new web site, which could be up by as early as the start of 2014-15 school year, may serve as a prototype for other schools in the district. There are opportunities for parent volunteers, especially in content production, writing, project management, and branding. If you’re interested in joining the effort, please contact Jonathan Marshall at jam@wellrounded.com.  

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Glenfield PTA Presidents and Teachers: What’s Working & What’s Not Working

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At each meeting of the Board of Education, the Board invites representatives from one school to present a report on what is and isn’t working at their school. At the April 7 Board meeting, Glenfield Middle School presented.

PTA Co-Presidents Sue Weintraub, Stephanie Connors and Amy Gideon spoke of Glenfield’s emphasis on the visual and performing arts, the variety of course offerings, the school’s many community events and the high level of parent involvement. They described a wide array of fundraising activities that offset costs across school programs and fund “mini-grants” to teachers. Social studies teacher Dan Gill recalled the history of desegregating Montclair schools and Glenfield’s role in building a middle school that best served all of Montclair’s middle school students, especially those who felt disenfranchised by the educational process. Mr. Gill spoke highly of Glenfield’s house system whereby students move through three years of middle school with the same group of five teachers for their core subjects. The system provides security and stability, he said and others reiterated, during emotionally tricky adolescent years, and improves the odds of an uncomplicated transition into high school. Science teacher Delia Malloy addressed the success of the reading and writing program, Read 180. She also spoke to the dedication and creativity of teachers and to the meaningful work of the science faculty, including members’ involvement in restructuring the middle school science curriculum across the district.

The physical limits of the Glenfield school building concern teachers, who raised as issues insufficient rehearsal space, inadequate data bandwidth for computers, and questions about security. Also raised were the need for Skyward training for staff, uneven math instruction across the district, communications issues, and concerns about assessments.

Chief Academic Officer Gail Clarke, who was present at the meeting, responded to several concerns, saying communications issues are being addressed and discussions about assessment testing are ongoing. She also indicated math teachers will receive uniform professional development going forward. Physical plant and infrastructure issues, including data bandwidth, will be covered by funding in the new budget, and professional development for all staff members will continue to be a district priority.

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Article Date: Apr 17, 2014
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