MONTCLAIR, NJ - This past Wednesday night’s Board of Education meeting included Dennis Cheesebrow who is coach and consultant to the Montclair Public School District through the innovative Education Leadership System.

When asked why we brought in a coaching and development specialist, David Deutsch, President of the Board of Education in Montclair, replied, “He was brought in because being on a board is a big responsibility but is something there isn’t much training for. A board member has a very different role than a manager. It was recognition that training would be beneficial that prompted us to bring him in.”

Dr. Penny McCormack, Superintendent of Montclair Public Schools, sent out a letter this past Friday praising our board members for their willingness to give of their time and being committed to improving the quality of service with the help of Cheesebrow, who is a nationally recognized leadership expert.

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Some topics of Wednesday’s meeting included governance and management and the role of the board, as well as the division between what is in the district’s interest, or in the public’s interest.  One of the recommended tools to help the board stay on task was implementing a working session of board and senior staff. The purpose of said meetings will be to set up the agenda for formal meetings where resolutions are passed. Deutsch stated, “There is a public perception of a board being similar to a city council, when in fact it is a governance body, not an administrative one.”

Deutsch said, “Governance focuses on policy and sets goals, but when it gets to how things are implemented, that is the work of administration. We are there to represent the children and ensure that the policies held apply to the diverse interests of the community.”

Contrary to some other towns where the board is elected, in Montclair, the Mayor appoints the Board of Education, and they in turn hire the superintendent. When asked whether that structure, by definition, may lend itself to the community feeling lack of empowerment, Deutsch replied, “The residents appoint the mayor. There’s a clear set of parameters about whom the board represents. We represent the children. Boards of Education exist by state law. The advantage of the appointed board is you have people with a wide range of talents, which are complimentary. An appointed board lends itself to representing the interests of the town for all its diversity. In a town with changing demographics an elected board may not continue to represent the interests of the entire town.”

McCormack’s letter to the public about the Board meeting, stated that hiring this consultant would “develop potential new strategies to ensure that everyone in our community has a strong voice.” When asked what action items for improving community feedback came out of the meeting, Deutsch answered, “Three more sessions taking place over the months will address that.” When asked how parents inform the board on how to best serve their children’s needs, Deutsch stated, "Parents express their views to the Board in different ways, but most often by emailing Board members or speaking at Board meetings."

The cost of hiring Cheesebrow will run our town 12-14 thousand dollars. Deutsch justified the cost saying, “This is a board responsible for managing $115 million dollar district. All the volunteers are free. The philosophy of the district is ongoing development of teachers and staff so it would be irresponsible for us not to have training.”

More information, next steps, and takeaways, should be presented in the next board meeting.