BY KELLY NICHOLAIDES
for Montclair Local
Nathan Parker is the fourth interim superintendent in 14 years in a school district aiming for stability in leadership and with a need to address racial disparities in student achievement gaps.
Parker said he spent his first day on the job meeting with the district’s principals.
Parker was hired on Aug. 15 at an annual salary of $191,984, with a rate of $921 a day. He will work four days a week.
“I’m looking to learn as much as possible about what is working well within the district, and to also identify areas where I may be able to support an improvement,” Parker said.
Parker replaces Kendra Johnson who left in early August to take a job in Maryland.
As the district searches for a full-time superintendent, Parker says he will focus on achieving two or three goals once he gets settled in and looks forward to a new and productive school year.
“I want to hit the ground learning, not running,” Parker said.
The longtime educator worked in Orange, Upper Saddle River and Orange School districts. He received his doctorate at Teachers College, Columbia University. He received an MAT from the University of Chicago and a BA from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.
“Montclair Public Schools is a revered district as it has a long history of valuing and addressing the need for a diverse student population. I am grateful to have worked in rural, urban and suburban school districts,” Parker said, noting that he’s most passionate about his work in Orange, where the graduation rate increased by 22 percent and state test scores improved during his five-year tenure.
Referencing the series “America to Me” about Oak Park, Ill. district students and staff interactions: “In spite of literally decades of work to eliminate the achievement gap and strengthen sensitivity to its diverse populations, the documentary depicts it is still a work in progress,” Parker said.
Montclair has worked hard and diligently to meet student needs and is a model of best practices with students, parents, staff and the community overall, he noted. Any changes instituted during Parker’s leadership will be part of a team effort, he said.
“I try to follow a systematic approach to the change process that encourages participation and a sense of involvement,” Parker said.
Montclair NAACP vice president James Harris, who chairs the district’s Education Committee, said changes are overdue in addressing achievement gaps, a goal of former superintendent Johnson. He added that Montclair has also yet to fully integrate African-American history into its social studies curriculum, as mandated in 2002.
“How is equity going to be addressed? When are we going to see results? We don’t like to go to court but when we see inequality in educational institutions, we need to act,” Harris told the board.
Harris noted that the achievement gap affects African American males, especially special needs students. He noted that the state Amistad Commission was created so that African Americans have a real history with representation in curriculum.
The Montclair School District’s Achievement Gap Panel made 35 recommendations to address racial inequality in 2015. The panel found discrepancies between black and white students in placement into AP and small learning community classes, test scores and disciplinary actions.
The 35-member panel said that the district needs to create a new position of Assistant Superintendent of Student Achievement and Equity, form an achievement team at each school, develop family advocacy mentoring, and more. Former superintendent Johnson started in the district as the first Assistant Superintendent of Student Achievement and Equity. The position was never refilled.
The panel found that 40 percent of black students are not proficient in language arts by the end of the third grade, while 90 percent of white students are proficient. Disparities were also reported in discipline. Black students comprised 80 percent of suspensions at the high school. District wide, they are 38 percent of the total population.
In 2018, the board discussed a resolution that would launch a new study on factors that continue to contribute to the achievement gap. The administration would need to provide a plan including scope of work, actions required, interim deliverables, outcome measurements, funding, and a timetable. A student equity advocate was hired last year.
Since the departure of superintendent Frank Alvarez in 2012, who had made $250,000 and left to head a district in New York, Montclair has had five superintendents, either on an interim basis or a full-time basis. Interim Clarence Hoover briefly replaced Alvarez from July to November 2012. Full-time superintendent Penny MacCormack replaced Hoover in 2012. Interim Ronald Bolandi replaced MacCormack who left in 2015 to also take position out of state. Barbara Pinsak replaced Bolandi in 2017 as another interim. Johnson was hired as a full-time superintendent in May 2018.
Board president Eve Robinson said Parker may not necessarily be with the district for the entire school year, since the search for a permanent superintendent has started, and the district hopes to have someone selected before the end of the school year.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story omitted Clarence Hoover, who served as interim from July to November 2012.