By ERIN ROLL
Some of the teachers and paraprofessionals who thought they were out of work owing to cuts in this year’s budget will be back in school in September.
At its Monday, Aug. 21, meeting, the board of education announced that it would be recalling nine teachers and 30 full-time paraprofessionals, as well as some hiring some additional teaching and special education staff.
In February, then-interim schools superintendent Ronald Bolandi announced the district would not be renewing the contracts of several staff members, including 50 paraprofessionals. Other positions that were eliminated included three student assistance counselor spots and an assistant principal position.
At Monday’s meeting, the board did not clarify how many staff members were eliminated following the recalls.
Barbara Pinsak, the current interim superintendent, said at Monday’s meeting, “We’ve employed approximately 20 new staff members, and we were able to recall nine teachers and one secretary.
“And that was not because we were adding positions, but primarily due to retirement or resignation.”
The district has also added two full-time special education teachers and one half-time teacher.
“Doing that while staying within that estimated amount of paras, we did add approximately five para positions, based on new student needs,” Pinsak said. Rehired paraprofessionals were brought back based on seniority. Pinsak praised the district’s human resources department for their work on the recalls.
The district had been facing the necessity of eliminating numerous positions because of a budget shortfall, but the staff cuts met with heavy criticism from parents and staff. During the spring, large numbers of parents attended BOE meetings to criticize the staff cuts.
Besides the staff recalls and teacher hires, Pinsak also announced that the district has filled several administrative positions, including a supervisor for the world languages program and a supervisor for special services.
The meeting was the first for Emidio D’Andrea, the district’s new business administrator and board secretary, whom Pinsak introduced to the audience.
Steve DiGeronimo, the former interim business administrator, was present as an audience member.
“I listened to the board and the public; you want some permanent people and not as many interims,” Pinsak said.
The search continues for a new permanent superintendent; Pinsak reported that there is a pool of 30 applicants, which she expects to increase over the next few months. The district’s goal is to have a new superintendent chosen by January.
Diversity and Equity
The board announced that Gayl Shepard, former chair of the Montclair Education Association, will be working alongside the district’s assistant superintendent for equity; Shepard’s title will be teacher on special assignment.
Pinsak said the district would be continuing the Undoing Racism program, an ongoing professional development program for teachers and instructional staff.
She said the district has been in the process of establishing the position of student advocate.
“We know that it doesn’t end with everyone having two days training in Undoing Racism, even though that’s more than many districts I know of.
“We ask ourselves, what’s next, what do we do now?”
One of those next steps would be the formation of an equity team for the schools, which will oversee curriculum development, professional development, hiring practices and outreach to families. “We’re not going to dilly-dally about those next steps. We really have this important initiative, this important work to do,” Pinsak said.
The district has received Title I funding to help set up two community outreach liaisons; Pinsak said that the PTAs at the different schools had repeatedly voiced a wish for a liaison to help reach out to parents and families.
School Climate and Culture
The board will be holding a community meeting on school climate and culture just after the beginning of the school year; the meeting is scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 17, from 1 to 3 p.m. at Charles H. Bullock School.
Later in the meeting, the board also took a few minutes to speak on the events in Charlottesville. The city erupted in violence on Saturday as the result of a white nationalist rally.
“As our schools open, we expect that they will be places of peace, and love, and understanding,” board member Jessica de Koninck said.
“What happened last weekend was unacceptable,” said board member Joe Kavesh, adding that Saturday’s events showed the need for stronger laws against discrimination and hate crimes at the federal, local and state levels.
Library Director Peter Coyl spoke as a guest at the start of Monday’s meeting; he gave the board an update on the library’s “Nourishing Body and Mind” program, which has provided more than 2,000 lunches to children and teens in need this summer.
The schools’ free and reduced-price lunch program is only available while school is in session. “So when children are out on the extended break for summer, a lot of them don’t have access to food,” Coyl said.
He said the library hoped to continue the program at other points during the year.
The program is being offered in partnership with Toni’s Kitchen, which provides the meals, and Partners for Health Foundation, which gave the library a grant for the program.
Coyl said the program serves 40 to 60 lunches a day.
In addition to the lunches, “Nourishing Body and Mind” helps students participate in the summer reading program. Coyl noted that children who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch tend to be disproportionately affected by the “summer slide” phenomemon.
“When students come in during the summer, it’s just a natural fit for us to be able to provide food and some education and entertainment: books, a magic show, whatever we have on tap for the day.”
Laura Hertzog, board president, said the BOE wants to highlight, at each meeting, a local free-of-charge initiative that benefits Montclair children and families. She added that the district wants to coordinate with local groups to make sure that these resources are publicized well in advance.