superintendent
Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak, left, speaks during the Tuesday, Feb. 20 BOE meeting. At right is BOE President Laura Hertzog. ERIN ROLL/STAFF

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

Montclair has announced the names of the three finalists in the running for the position of superintendent.

Two of the candidates are from out of district: Rachel Goldberg, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Passaic Public Schools, and Ross Kasun, superintendent in the Freehold Public Schools.

The third candidate is Kendra Johnson, Montclair’s assistant superintendent for equity.

There will be a forum with the candidates held in the Montclair High School auditorium on Monday at 6:30 p.m. The finalists will be given a 30-minute Q&A session, and feedback forms will be handed out to the audience after each candidate speaks.

Board President Laura Hertzog said that the board had gone through the submitted questions and divided them into different themes.

Hertzog reminded the audience that just as the district will be interviewing candidates, candidates will be “interviewing” the district. This included watching how audience members treated the candidates and each other, she said.

Parkland
There was a moment of silence early on in the meeting for the victims and survivors of the Parkland school shooting, which killed 17 people and wounded multiple others.

“As you can imagine, we’ve received many emails and seen many requests over the last several days,” Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak said. She said that the district was actively reviewing safety plans and procedures with building principals and the Montclair Police Department.

On social media, several parents and members of the community have inquired about whether Montclair would be participating in a walkout. Several schools across the country have voiced an intention to participate in a walkout for March for our Lives and other activities, in an effort to call attention to ending gun violence in schools.

Rebecca Burch, a parent in the audience, said that she was concerned about the possibility of the elementary schools participating in a walkout. A walkout would likely have a negative psychological effect on children in that age group, she said.

Pinsak said that the district had been reviewing the subject of walkouts. She herself had concerns about the idea, indicating that it was easier to keep students and staff safe inside the building than it would be outside. However, she said that parents, and students who had turned 18, had the right to decide what was best for them in the matter.

Pinsak said that the schools would send a letter to parents with a full statement on the matter.

One possibility was that the district could offer an in-building opportunity for older students who wanted to participate in a walkout, Pinsak said.

Pre-K
A resolution in support of exploring options for public Pre-K ran into some resistance.

Board Vice President Franklin Turner said that he had some reservations about the wording of the resolution.

Additionally, Turner questioned whether the district had the resources to devote to public Pre-K expansion, when the district was facing issues such as the achievement gap and institutional racism affecting students of color.

“Let me make this clear. I am not anti-Pre-K,” Turner said. “We are not working at our full capacity when it comes to K-12,” he said. “I cringe a little bit when certain people get up and say certain things are definitive,” he said.

But board members Jessica de Koninck and Eve Robinson, who have been especially vocal in wanting the Pre-K resolution to pass, urged the board to take action. “This is a baby-bathwater problem,” de Koninck said in response to Turner’s statements.

“This is not a resolution asking the Township of Montclair to reinstitute public Pre-K, much as I would like to see that,” de Koninck said. “I’m not really getting what I’m missing here.”

The state is reported to be preparing to expand the amount of funding it makes available for Pre-K programs in New Jersey school districts.

Robinson said that the state funding program would cover Pre-K expenses for children from low-income families, and allow districts to charge tuition on a sliding scale. “I don’t know how else to say it either,” she said.

The public comment period saw several people speak in favor of the Pre-K resolution. Among them were Stephanie Fitzgerald, executive director of the Montclair Community Pre-K, and Jane Susswein, a longtime member of the MCPK board of trustees.

During the vote, de Koninck, Robinson and Anne Mernin voted yes on the resolution, Turner and Joe Kavesh voted no and Hertzog abstained. It remained to be seen whether the three yes votes meant that the resolution passed, and Business Administratior Emidio D’Andrea said that he would look into the matter.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Ross Kasun’s position in the Freehold school district.

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