MONTCLAIR, NJ - A group of about 100 parents and educators gathered during the regular meeting of the Board of Education Monday, when the board passed a resolution allowing Superintendent Dr. Penny MacCormack to create an opt-out policy for parents who do not want their children taking the PARCC.
Other topics included second readings of certain district policies, regulations and resolutions, notably the resolution on the board’s request to evaluate establishing an immersion language program among other resolutions. Public comment focused on PARCC and the language immersion program on Code of Ethics and the first reading of Parental Refusal of Standardized Testing.
Workshop meeting open to public
The public board meeting began at 5:30 p.m. with statements and a reading of the meeting notice by Board President David Deutsch as part of the abbreviated workshop session. The board discussed governance training and a resolution for the executive session.
The workshop session included board members and central service members including Superintendent MacCormack, Brian Fleischer, Chief Operating Officer; Barry Haines, Director of Technology for Montclair Public Schools; Linda Mithaug, Director of Pupil Services and Michelle Russell, Chief Talent Officer.
Board President David Deutsch said implementing work sessions, committees, and business meetings would assist in dealing with governance and management issues.
All members except Jessica de Koninck were present for the first roundtable workshop session attended by 12 community members.
The Board also debated the workshop format.
Leslie Larson said this format allows “everyone’s ideas [to] come together.”
Robin Kulwin stressed workshops are about “opening up to the public.”
Barry Haines said workshopping helps “clarify foundational beliefs, set the agenda and move forward cohesively.”
Superintendent MacCormack added the workshop agenda is about prioritizing where they want the staff to focus. “That’s why workshop meetings are beneficial...to clarify variances.”
Deutsch brought the focus back to the workshop model stating beginning in April, potentially March, the Board would like to go to the workshop model.
Board member Anne Mernin said, “It’s very late in the game” to implement such a format.
Deutsch said board members would share questions and information raised at committee meetings on Feb. 12 and 13 during the next workshop meeting on March 2. “More questions will be raised.”
He added the formal budget presentation is scheduled for the public board meeting on Feb. 23, and the board will “decide priorities.”
MacCormack concluded the questions raised at committee meetings should include rationale, aiding in prioritizing.
Soon after, Deutsch motioned to move into executive session, with Lombard seconding.
Board moves into closed executive session
About an hour later, the board returned to an open session in the George Inness Annex Atrium at 141 Park Street.
Duetsch read the meeting notice, all attendees partake in the pledge of allegiance, Dr. Fleischer calls roll, the minutes from the previous public board meetings held on Dec. 15, 2014 and Jan. 15 pass 6-0 as de Koninck is absent.
The Board then votes 6-0 to allow public comment following the superintendent’s and board of ed’s reports and again before adjourning the meeting.
Haines reads the MPS PARCC infrastructure trials summary status report aloud:
The goals of an infrastructure trial are to test the devices and bandwidth using the PARCC TestNav student platform, provide teachers and students with an opportunity to experience the testing environment, and encourage students to explore all available test features including skipping forward and back within the test, reviewing and changing answers as well as practicing questions with audio/visual components.
We have three grades for the first infrastructure trials including all grade 3, 7, 10 and all ELA classes. Infrastructure trials are all scored anonymously.
How did the district perform? Students were generally comfortable with accessing the PARCC and teachers were generally comfortable administering the PARCC. The majority of devices and bandwidth worked in each of the schools. Of the 1,500 students involved in the PARCC infrastructure trials, about 1,300 were successful, about 88 percent. We do have learning opportunities for improvement and they include Renaissance and Glenfield. In conducting these trials and working to remediate issues identified through the infrastructure trials, the district is acting thoroughly and in good faith to best assure a successful implementation of the actual tests coming up in March and May.
So how did the Pearson server and software perform? Some of the problems that kept students from successfully completing the infrastructure trials appear to have been problems with the Pearson server and software, rather than with the district’s infrastructure. We have reported these problems to Pearson and are aware that other school districts have experiences similar problems when conducting their own trials. For this reason, it is also incumbent upon Pearson to remedy the issues identified by school districts conducting infrastructure trials.
Cummings then poses questions to Haines. “How many students will take the test at one time?”
Haines responds, “Approximately 1,500 students.”
Superintendent MacCormack adds, “This was a trial, a learning experience.”
She also mentioned Pearson’s need to resolve software-related issues. “For our first set of trials, it is ok. To a large extent, we know what the problems were.”
Haines added the problems in one or two schools resulted in a second assessment. “We are learning.”
Cummings retorted, “We still have to worry about Pearson’s corrections.”
Haines responds, “Some of the variables are out of our control.”
He then mentions the “corrective actions” in place, also called the “3Rs.” They are reboot, replace, and resume. After ten minutes of implementing the three R’s, the student will retake the test.
Haines continues to respond to board inquiries…
Superintendent MacCormack adds, “There’s district infrastructure in place here and I feel very confident. There weren’t a lot of negatives.”
Mernin adds the infrastructure trials seem time consuming.
Superintendent responds to Mernin: “We realize that it means time away from instruction.”
Dr. Fleischer clarifies, “It’s not full length tests.”
More question and answers amongst the board…
Cummings asks what happens and when will students retest.
Haines said makeups are the fourth week in March.
Comments intended for Haines and Superintendent MacCormack continue…
Haines clarifies board concerns regarding technological failures, explaining students who have devices swapped out will resume the test exactly where they left off on the previous device.
Superintendent MacCormack adds MPS is “way ahead of other districts in these trials. I am definitely proud of that. In general, things went well. There were glitches that we were able to address but we still have serious work to do. We will definitely continue to update you on those.”
Cummings interjects, saying he had to “continue to beat [Haines] up a bit.” He mentions an ongoing national issue with Pearson’s response times, in some cases thirty minutes or more.
Dr. Fleishcher retorts, “We are doing everything we can and if on there is a failure on test day that’s on Pearson.”
MacCormack continues, “We anticipate non perfection.” She does trust the teachers and staff to help students through any difficulties that may arise.
Cummings returns to an earlier question, inquiring about make up day.
Mernin asks about receiving updates.
MacCormack said updates would be provided at a later date, emphasizing before the next board meeting on Feb. 23.
Board of Ed Reports
Duetsch introduced all policies and regulations on the agenda and Larson read the resolutions to request an evaluation of the establishment of an immersion language program in all schools and to define potential tier two and tier three counseling services for MHS students.
The board motioned to vote after thirty minutes of public comment.
Gail Sheppard on behalf of the Montclair Education Association withheld formal comment on PARCC until the Feb. 23 meeting.
A community member who did not specify whether a parent, teacher, or concerned resident stressed there are alternative quantitative ways to assess students for PARCC. She suggested portfolios as a way to demonstrate proficiency, understanding and empathizing with the Board. She added knowing PARCC is part of the law, yet “why can’t we advocate for better laws? Passing [the PARCC opt out policy] is a step in the right direction.”
Jeff Ruth, a parent fully supporting the immersion program urged the Board to adhere to the 2015 launch. "It is not a program that needs further study, it is absolutely fit for launch. Those questions have been answered. This particular program is exemplary.”
Alessandra DeBlasio vented her concerns on the statement of assurance, part of district regulation R9180. "What's the point of keeping out volunteers. Barring felons is not on track and not what this community is about." She also voiced her support for the bilingual immersion program, citing the program falls in line with creating college ready students.
Another community member asked for answers to several questions, notably what will happen to students in IEP. She demanded answers. Deutsch replied she could submit her requests in writing.
The previously mentioned community member refused to sit until others in attendance began shouting at her to take a seat.
Mernin added, "We don't all agree in this room but we have to talk respectfully. We can be animated in our disagreement but we cannot be disrespectful."
Parent Martha Evans implored the Board to communicate the budget "very transparently.”
Dr. Colleen Martinez, concerned parent implored the Board to pass the PARCC opt out policy. She added, “don’t make efforts to end the public side of this conversation.”
After thirty minutes of public comment, Duetsch announced the Board would proceed to business aspects of the meeting.
The second reading of the district policy 9180 regarding school volunteers and R9180 school volunteers as well as the statement of assurance both passed 5-0-1 with no discussion.
The second reading of the district policy 9181 volunteer athletic coaches and co-curricular activity advisors/assistants, P2431.4 prevention and treatment of sports related concussions and head injuries as well as regulation R2431.4 prevention and treatment of sports related concussions and head injuries all passed 6-0 with no discussion.
Larson inquires whether federal funding is at risk if MPS students opt out of PARCC.
MacCormack responds, “The child will get an alternative setting.”
The second reading of the district policy on parental refusal of standardized testing passes 6-0. Applause and cheers follow.
The Board made this formal request because the State currently requires all students to take the test. After the vote, MacCormack said:
"The Board voted to allow me the ability to provide our schools with a plan for those parents who do not want their child taking the PARCC test. The plan is, as we speak, being distributed to school principals and will be on our web site by the end of the week. I am grateful for the Board’s leadership on this and feel this is the right decision for our community.”
“Having said that I would like to reiterate a few important points regarding the PARCC assessment. First as I have said before I do not agree with the State’s decision that in its first year PARCC should be administered on computers. That said I am proud of our district leaders and staff as they work together to prepare for administering the test as required. We are mandated, by law, to implement the PARCC test - our state and federal dollars require it. With that in mind I can promise every member of this community that we will do our very best to do just that, because that is our job.”
"In addition, I do not agree with the state decision that in its first year the test should count in teacher evaluations. At the same time I do hope that the PARCC will, in the end, serve us better than the NJASK. Though it has been less than a year, we forget that there have been many fair complaints with NJASK. The NJASK relied too heavily on multiple choice and did not require the skills we value such as quality writing, critical thinking and problem solving to the degree we would think appropriate. I am hopeful PARCC will address those very appropriate concerns.”
Cummings asked if there is a deadline.
MacCormack said the sooner the better but there is no set date.
Duetsch moves to the resolution to request an evaluation of the establishment of an immersion program in MPS.
Discussion ensues, and the resolution passes 6-0.
The Board then moves to the resolution to define potential tier two and three counseling services for MHS students.
Discussion ensues, with the resolution passing 4-1-1.
Duetsch moves to bundle resolutions one through five discussed at the closed executive session. These include HIB, approval of out of district placements, and three educational programs, all passing 6-0 without discussion.
The resolution regarding approval of school field trips passes 6-0.
The Board then moves on to approving the personnel report and paid leave of absence, both discussed in the closed executive session, passing 5-0-1 and 5-0 respectively.
Cummings moves to discuss the resolution regarding approval of conference and travel before it passes 6-0.
Monthly budget reports, bills, and claims must be revisited as it does not pass.
Resolutions three through six are bundled and pass 4-0-1. Duetsch said seven through twelve “had already been dealt with.”
Just prior to more public comment, the resolution to participate in sustainable Jersey for schools passes unanimously.
Resident June Wegner brings up the disproportionally issue in self-contained classrooms, urging the board to move forward even while waiting for data from the achievement gap.
More public comment ensued…
Chris McCoy said she is happy the Board passed the opt out policy and her children will not be taking the PARCC. She urged the Board “to look for alternatives,” continuing to “engage public dialogue”, using the Finland model as an example.
Parent Rachel Eigen said common core and PARCC are “destroying children’s education.”
A parent with kids at Edgemont thanked the Board for passing the refusal policy. She wants to see a change in test prep, “the gearing up for Pearson and NJASK.” She added the Board needs to put something in writing to inform parents that fourth and eighth grade students will take the science NJASK this year.
Diane Russell, a parent whose child is supposed to be part of the first immersion class at Northeast next year implored the Board to reconsider.
E.J. Howard, a community member and parent spoke to the gains in math, proficiency in getting into college and improving the achievement gap.
He added, “An edge for students enriches this town.”
Public comments continued to cover the immersion program…
“I implore you to reconsider,” another parent of a child in the immersion program said.
Stephanie Fitzgerald, the executive director of the pre-K immersion program said she was present to “speak on behalf of the pilot.”
“It’s a chance to work together to close the achievement gap.”
Fitzgerald said a 3-4-5 year old classroom opened this year because of demand. “We have a waiting list.”
Final public comment came from Suzie Keller. She thanked the Board for passing an earlier paid leave of absence resolution.
Duetsch announced the next MBOE public meeting will be held on Monday, Feb. 23 at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium of MHS.