By ERIN ROLL
What does Montclair need in a school superintendent?
What are the biggest challenges facing the district?
What questions would parents ask if they were the ones interviewing the candidates for the superintendent post?
Should a superintendent in Montclair have prior experience with being a superintendent elsewhere?
Those were some of the questions that parents, staff members and community members were asked to weigh in on during a pair of forums held on Monday, Feb. 10, at Charles H. Bullock School and at Northeast School.
Hired by the district to aid in the superintendent search, Charlene Peterson of the New Jersey School Boards Association presided over the forums. For the last search during the 2017-2018 school year, the district used Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates, a private search firm.
The public was invited to attend the forums, “because you interact with the superintendent differently than the board does,” Peterson said.
The achievement gap was one of the leading concerns among the residents in attendance.
Other concerns include hiring and retaining teachers and administrators of color, managing the school’s budget challenges, a lack of trust between the BOE and the teaching staff and the community as a whole, and how best to meet the needs of special needs students.
Peterson will also aid in a planning process to address an issue-based five year plan.
A third and final forum was also held Wednesday morning (after presstime) at the Board of Education offices on Valley Road.
WHAT MONTCLAIR NEEDS
Parents who attended the forums described a district where parents place a high premium on education, diversity, engaged teachers and staff, and a strong arts and cultural scene.
Residents said they seek a leader with not only diverse leadership skills, but diverse communication skills as well.
“We need a superintendent who’s going to be able to manage some very diverse approaches to engagement,” said parent Randy Macmillan. “To put it straight, [someone] who can get down with everybody.”
Audience members said it would be preferable for candidates to possess prior experience in managing a school district similar in size to Montclair, and with some of the same issues that Montclair is facing such as matters related to race, ethnicity and equity.
In August, Interim superintendent Nathan Parker took over for Kendra Johnson who left the district after serving a little over a year. Parker is the seventh superintendent in seven years to lead Montclair School District.
Audience members said the “revolving door” in leadership has led to disruptions and problems in the district, as well as a lack of institutional memory among senior administration.
Parent Jill Raleigh questioned if the turnover of superintendents in Montclair is due to issues within the district or with the hires themselves. “That seems to be an issue with the district – hires come and go,” she said.
It’s imperative that the search result in the right candidate for the job. “So we’re not sitting here again in three years,” said Raleigh.
In 2012, Gov. Chris Christie instituted a cap on how much a superintendent could earn. That salary was tied to the student enrollment in the district. In the intervening years, the salary cap was seen as the reason many superintendents left New Jersey to go to neighboring states such as New York and Pennsylvania with no caps.
The salary cap has since been lifted, but Peterson said it was too early to tell what effect lifting the cap would have. “The cap literally just came off,” she said.
But as of Monday night, 49 candidates had started the application process for superintendent position posted in Education Week, the Star-Ledger, NJ.com, LinkedIn, Indeed, and School Spring, Peterson said. Of that number, 25 had completed it. Peterson said that there may be a jump in the number of applicants close to the Feb. 20 application deadline.
The ad has also been sent to the National Alliance for Black School Educators, Diversity.com and the Chronicle of Higher Education. NJSBA has also submitted the ad to all 600 superintendents in its database.
About 23 people in total, including parents, staff members and community members, attended the evening forum at Northeast School.