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Reinstate Principal Putrino

The following was sent to schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds by the president of the Renaissance PTA. 

Recently you removed Dr. Joseph Putrino from Renaissance Middle School because he presented what you called “a completely inappropriate and unacceptable video… which was inconsistent with our school’s strong values and ideals regarding diversity.” Ironically, the comedian who created the video – from his heart – in praise of teachers took offense at your interpretation of his message and also at your actions.

When I watched the video, I felt a connection to someone who on the surface is very different from me but on the other hand feels exactly the same way about his children’s teachers as I do about Dr. Putrino and the Renaissance teachers. Dr. Putrino came to Renaissance two years ago and turned around an unpopular school. He knows every child by name and welcomes them to school each morning, setting the stage for an engaging day where the students feel embraced in the Renaissance community. 

He has been one of the district’s biggest proponents of the restorative justice program, even in the face of parent scrutiny. The students respect him, the teachers appreciate his leadership, and he is an active parent in Montclair.

Going into my second year as the president of the Renaissance PTA, I can honestly say that I have never heard one student or parent complain about Dr. Putrino. In fact, I’ve heard from the students themselves, “We don’t like being called into his office but we do like him.” So far, Renaissance parents have heard nothing from [his replacement,] Mr. Jennings. You have left us rudderless with only days to go before the start of the most difficult school year in a long time.

Montclair, and the entire country, are wounded by the deep cuts of racism. You are using Dr. Putrino as a scapegoat for our collective societal outrage. How can we fight the real fight when you make a knee-jerk reaction against one of the leaders in restorative justice? Rash decisions don’t foster discussion in a debate, they foster further rifts.

You yourself stated, “We need to have our students led by nurturing, caring, diversity-believing leaders and educational leaders in our district.” 

Yes, indeed. You have just described Dr. Putrino. I urge you to use Josh Pray’s video as a springboard for community introspection and discussion, and to reinstate Dr. Putrino to Renaissance.

Beth Calamia Scheckel

Montclair

Blessed community

I have lived in Montclair for most of my life. In spite of all of the difficulties and challenges we are facing now, we are blessed to live in a community like Montclair.  When my elderly neighbor was hit by a car while riding his bicycle and his bike was demolished, my neighbors and Montclair friends stepped up and raised money to purchase a new bike for him.  I want to thank all of you for your caring generosity.   I send this prayer for God’s blessings to you and your families for being a blessing to Pete: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26 NIV)

Sheila R. Cole

Montclair

Lessons from New York 

I’m answering Cathy Marrin’s call to “help us help the police” lest we devolve into the hellscape of 1970s N.Y.C.

I’m a native New Yorker, having lived there my entire life until moving to Montclair in 2004. Maybe in 1977 you were too afraid to notice, amid all the crime and gangs (BTW: The Westies, an Irish gang from Hell’s Kitchen, was the scariest, bar none. You may have been afraid of the wrong people), but New York was in an artistic revolution. 

Hip-hop and punk rock expressed the city’s beauty and pain. Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, CBGB, Studio 54, Kurtis Blow, The Ramones, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and the innumerable street artists who poured color and messaging across a gray city that couldn’t see them.  

One such artist was Michael Stewart. He was killed while in police custody. I’m sure he had different fears than you. I bet he didn’t see himself as a bully or a bad guy.

Many factors caused New York’s financial crisis, which took hold with Mayor [Abe] Beame, including tax losses when businesses and the white middle class fled. Union contracts were not to blame for the financial ruin, strife and crime the city endured for decades. My grandfather was a union organizer for the Transport Workers Union. He lived and raised his four daughters in the South Bronx. (Fort Apache was a police precinct, not an area.) 

Prior to TWU’s founding in 1934 workers dealt with unimaginable abuses, violence and dangers that only a union can protect against. [Mayor John] Lindsay had gone toe-to-toe with TWU President Mike Quill in 1965-66 and lost badly.

Let’s talk about Robert Moses, who during 40 years of unmitigated power built infrastructure while crushing neighborhoods and organizing New York into “haves” and “have-nots.” With red lines and highways, he replaced affordable housing in stable working-class neighborhoods with housing projects where displaced families went if a cultural institution or a road ripped their neighborhood apart. History and the truth are there for you. Fear is blinding. 

Mayors [Ed] Koch and [David] Dinkins both dealt with multiple deaths of unarmed Black men at the hands of police and white vigilantes in places like Bensonhurst and Howard Beach and the riots that followed. This amidst the fever dream of the “super-predator” most famously ensnaring the very innocent Central Park Five. By 1994, Giuliani had designed a veritable police state. 

The seemingly limitless presence and power of the NYPD could at times be very scary. I had a few unpleasant moments. Other times I was happy to see a cop on my subway car at 3 a.m. Sometimes I’d realize I was the scary weirdo. That’s New York. It’s complicated. But it was home, not your cautionary tale to stoke fear about change. 

Do you think the only way to keep people in line is through punitive social measures and fear? Will we otherwise run out, en masse, and buy St. Louis Cardinals caps? The discomfort you’re feeling: It’s a good thing.

Olivia Brinton 

Montclair

Defunding police debate

Congratulations again to Montclair Local and former Chief Tom Russo for publishing a letter last week that probably offends a lot of citizens of Montclair and environs.  I personally cannot understand why so many citizens continue to be offended by those of us who support our police and reject the foolish call to “defund” the police. 

Chief Russo was on the front lines of defending all the citizens of Montclair and neighboring towns for 50 years, so he speaks with an authority that most of us should at least listen to and respect. He simply points out that dismantling police departments across our nation is just plain stupid.

He also said that he does not have a degree from the University of Michigan, but he would challenge any politician in favor of defunding the police to a debate.    

I do have a degree from U. of M., courtesy of the GI Bill, and I would advise politicians to skip the debate and just use common sense. 

DANIEL MARTIN
Montclair

Who is S.M.A.R.T.?

America has a long history of using constitutionally protected, peaceful marches to address injustice and societal wrongs. This year, suburban women are at the center of a battle in which they’re being painted as racist and fearful. Montclair, many would agree, is an example of a community that defies that ugly characterization.  

On Sept. 26, we are taking to the streets to show that there is way more that unites us than divides us.  A diverse coalition of suburban moms and their supporters, almost all from Montclair, have started a grass-roots campaign, S.M.A.R.T. Voter USA, which stands for Suburban Moms Against Re-electing Trump. White, Black and brown, Democrat and Republican, affluent and struggling —  we will all link arms in support of equality and diversity. Wearing purple masks to underscore our bipartisan nature, thousands of women will march to show what suburban women are really made of.  

The afternoon event will offer numerous opportunities to local and national organizations between now and the election to ensure this march is a means to an end — which is to make Donald Trump a one-term president. Montclair’s S.M.A.R.T March for Unity will be a mask-mandatory outdoor event that has been created to provide the opportunity to social distance from start to finish. 

We believe truth is on the ballot. We believe the environment is on the ballot. We believe health insurance is on the ballot. We believe responding to COVID-19 is on the ballot. We believe decency is on the ballot. We believe the Supreme Court is on the ballot. We believe nothing short of our democracy is on the ballot.

And we believe that women from Montclair, and in suburbs all across this country, feel the same way. There is simply too much at stake to not take action.

Laura Tressel 

Organizer, S.M.A.R.T. March for Unity