Our community and town are grappling with several critical events happening in our district; the resignation notice but not yet leaving of Superintendent, Penny MacCormack, the budget shortfall crisis and budget meetings (the next one is scheduled for tomorrow evening Thursday, 3/5/2015), and the PARCC testing which is happening this week along with a growing test refusal movement in Montclair and around the state.
The letter we share with you below, was sent to Mayor Jackson and all members of the Montclair BOE on February 22, 2015. Montclair Voices has received it from the author, a parent and resident of Montclair, NJ. We post with permission.
Our voices matter. Here is one:
Dear Mayor Jackson and Members of the Board of Education,
I am writing to share some thoughts about the common core, PARCC testing, this critical juncture Montclair is in with the departure of Penny MacCormack, and the need for a replacement, especially as the momentum against the common core and high stakes testing is increasing in this town and all over the country.
My name is Eileen Russell. My husband Mario and I have lived in Montclair since 2005 and have had and are raising our 3 children here. I grew up in Orange, NJ in the 70’s and 80’s and understood then the strength and wonder of Montclair’s diverse community and even of its progressive approach to education and commitment to equal education for all. I hardly expected or anticipated a return to Essex County after graduate school and living in the city, but I was delighted when our path lead us here and I have highly valued the social philosophy behind Montclair’s educational system as well as it’s rigor, creativity, and kindness. I thought it was a blessing we could take for granted until we couldn’t take it for granted anymore with the appointment of Penny MacCormack.
We are very relieved by the news of her departure, provided it makes room for a replacement that will be a bit more critical of the major, powerful, and profitable push behind the common core and its accompanying PARCC Test. Even Governor Christie, who has unfailingly supported and pushed these rapid changes to NJ’s curriculum has recently expressed “grave concerns” about the common core as it appears that finally officials are paying attention to the “grave concerns” parents and teachers have had for a long time now.
My understanding is that teachers have been pretty systematically silenced in the public sphere about their concerns about the common core, the PARCC, and the implementation of both. If teachers cannot speak out, they cannot educate well-meaning parents who otherwise take for granted that their kids are in good schools, getting a good education.
I am frankly flummoxed by the fact that the Broad Academy, where Penny McCormack was trained to be a Superintendent, is considered so prestigious. It seems to me that its bragging point that it accepts “leaders” from all industry whether or not they have any experience in the education of children is highly suspect as a marker of prestige, unless one is a cynic who really believes that the school system is a mess and educators have really no idea how to improve themselves. In my field one would not consider attending an “academy” that is not accredited and has no real overseeing body to which it is accountable.
While MacCormack herself comes from an education background, it is known that people at the Academy are prepared to expect opposition when they come into a community, presumably because people are lazy-minded, resist change, etc. MacCormack said such things herself when she explained the reason for teachers’ opposition to the changes involved in the common core by saying “It’s hard work.” I heard her say that at a Bradford meeting in which teachers and parents were invited to come have “a conversation” with her. I could not have imagined a more condescending response and I felt for the teachers who had clearly worked very hard and with great care and creativity in educating my children. It was a seductive and facile way of dismissing authentic, thoughtful, and intelligent misgivings about this whole endeavor.
I am not a cynic. But I did come to believe that if the common core and the PARCC could be so rapidly pushed through a thoughtful, integrated town like Montclair with its history in progressive education, then it could or should easily sail through anywhere else. Other places in the country are pushing back. Other states are pulling out of their commitment to implementing the common core and using so much of their class time and financial resources to preparing for the PARCC. If those bold decisions are not happening at the top (i.e., governors and State departments of education) then the push has to come from the bottom; from parents, from teachers, from town BOEs, and even from students who are savvy (and already capable of “critical thinking”). Why shouldn’t Montclair live up to its history of thinking and acting outside the box?
In the very least I ask you to look for a replacement for Dr. MacCormack who has no association with the Broad Academy and whose professional history includes a record of open-mindedness, creativity, support for teachers, honest interest in hearing from parents and students, and real cooperation with the community of which s/he is a part. I also think it would be in keeping with Montclair’s spirit that in this zeitgeist of high stakes standardized testing you consider hiring someone who is intelligently skeptical of this as the next best thing that is going to solve the problems of education and suddenly wipe out the effects of racial and income disparity among students. Especially at this time, as opposition to what has been going on in the district and to the philosophy and approach of Dr. MacCormack, it seems wise to consider someone who is more balanced, more genuinely respectful of teachers and parents, and whose own philosophies are more in keeping with Montclair’s progressive history.
Respectfully and Sincerely,
If you have letters or ideas or art you wish to share with us for consideration on this blog relating to any Montclair school and education issues, including PARCC testing, PARCC refusals, the budget crisis, and more, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line, “SUBMIT TO BLOG.”
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