By Jaimie Julia Winters
Superintendent Kendra Johnson will be leaving Montclair for Maryland.
The Howard County Schools Board of Education in Maryland unanimously approved Johnson’s appointment to the position of Community Superintendent last Thursday, July 11. Her start date is to be determined, according to the resolution.
Johnson has been Montclair’s superintendent for a little over a year, being appointed in April 2018. She succeeded Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak. Johnson was the first permanent superintendent in three years, following the departure of Penny MacCormack in 2015. She is the first African-American woman to hold the position of superintendent in Montclair’s history.
Johnson submitted her resignation on Friday, July 12, stating that while her professional life was in Montclair, her personal life was in Pennsylvania where her partner and family reside. Although the district spent much of the 2018-19 school school focused on employee wellness, she realized she was not putting her personal wellness first, she said. She and her partner have decided to relocate to Maryland, she added.
The BOE will be voting to accept Johnson’s resignation at tomorrow’s meeting, said BOE President Eve Robinson.
“We congratulate Dr. Johnson on her new position. During her time in our school community, Dr. Johnson’s passion, care and advocacy for the children of our district was evident. We thank her for her service to Montclair and our schools,” said Robinson.
Johnson’s appointment was contentious with three board members not attending the special meeting scheduled to approve Johnson as superintendent. At the April 11, 2018 meeting Eve Robinson, Jessica de Koninck and Anne Mernin did not attend. Laura Hertzog, Joe Kavesh, Jevon Caldwell-Gross and Franklin Turner voted in favor of appointing Johnson.
Robinson, de Koninck and Mernin remain on the board, while no board member who voted for Johnson’s approval is still serving.
Most recently, board president Hertzog resigned from the Montclair Board of Education Thursday, May 16, the same night the board elected new leadership, including Robinson as president and Latifah Jannah as vice president. Alfred Davis was sworn in as the board’s newest member, replacing former vice president Kavesh. Kavesh was not reappointed by the mayor for a second term.
The mayor appoints the BOE members, who in turn choose the superintendent.
Kavesh said Johnson had strikes against her even before she began as superintendent in April 2018. “Let us not forget that Mayor Jackson called a press conference in March 2018, on the eve of the BOE vote for superintendent, during which he unambiguously told the then board of education members that we should only hire a candidate with prior superintendent experience. His not so subtle message was this: don’t vote for Dr. Johnson, at the time the district’s assistant superintendent,” said Kavesh calling the mayor’s press conference inappropriate.
Johnson was up against two other candidates at the time — Ross Kasun, who was the superintendent for the Freehold public schools, and Rachel Goldberg, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Passaic. Both suddenly withdrew from the search process in March, leaving Johnson as the lone candidate.
Kavesh said it was not a coincidence that none of the four members who voted for Johnson remain on the board, whereas the three board members who did not attend the vote for superintendent still serve on the board and continue to be reappointed.
“In my view, this reflects an extremely disconcerting lack of independence,” he said.
Johnson started out in the district as assistant superintendent for equity, curriculum and instruction. She was the first person to hold that title, after the district created the role as part of its efforts to address the achievement gap.
“Working collaboratively, it is my hope that the Montclair community will continue to mobilize and advocate for what is best for each and every student, as well as the student population as a collective. There is still so much more to accomplish in the spirit of equity, access and social justice for students, staff and parents/guardians. Hence, you have my full commitment in ensuring there is a smooth transition before and after I physically leave the position of Superintendent, Montclair Public Schools. I love serving the Montclair students, and my dedication to them will underscore my commitment to diligently and passionately serve until my last day in the district,” Johnson stated in a letter to the community.
Some of the superintendent’s accomplishments listed in the letter from Johnson include creating a Student Equity Advocate Position and an Anti-Racist Regulation, establishing a strong Restorative Justice (RJ) foundation and Montclair’s RESPONSE (Resources, Efforts and Supports for Proper ON-time Services and Emergencies), implementing a focus on employee wellness, recruiting diverse candidates representative of the student population, creating internal systems to promote consistency in programming and supports, and enhancing communication protocols.
Before coming to Montclair, Johnson worked as a teacher, principal and school administrator in Baltimore’s public schools and in Washington state.
“I wish Dr. Johnson well in her new position,” Mayor Robert Jackson said on Sunday.
BOE members will be meeting in executive session on Monday evening, after the public meeting to discuss a transition plan and steps that will be taken toward the goal of recruiting and appointing a “permanent superintendent.”
“That plan will be shared with the community as soon as possible. The Montclair Board of Education recognizes the district’s need for consistent leadership,” said Robinson.