August 31, 2011

Putting Kids First

That’s precisely what child and adolescent psychiatrist and long-time Montclair resident Dr. Rosalie Greenberg is doing in her new show, “Kids First.” In the show Greenburg created and hosts on HomeTowne TV, she is bringing timely topics and key concerns facing parents to the fore.

“I want to explore issues that parents should think about,” said Greenberg, who has been named as one of the Top Doctors in New York Magazine, New Jersey Monthly Magazine, New Jersey LifeMagazine and Inside New Jersey, a Star Ledger magazine. “The most important thing you have in life is your kids. It’s a big responsibility. That’s why I wanted to do this program.”

Greenberg hopes to engage inundated parents caught in a rapidly changing world in the central idea of the show: “How do we parent our kids?” She stressed, “That’s what we need to focus on.”

After working with children for 30 years, authoring two books and numerous articles and co-producing a video on bi-polar disorder in kids, Greenberg draws upon her vast knowledge and experience to help guide parents through this most difficult of jobs.

“Parenting is the hardest job without a manual.” She added, “So I just thought I’d teach my philosophy to the world.”

March 16, 2011

Montclair’s School Board Adopts Budget

The chanting began as soon as the board members entered the room at 141 Park Street. “No outsourcing! No outsourcing!” the large crowd of Montclair Educational Association(MEA) members shouted while waving signs to protest the board’s decision to outsource the district’s aides.

The MEA, which had been largely absent from previous Board of Education (BoE) meetings, turned out in full force for the final budget meeting. Only one member, however, stood up to speak during the public comment portion of the evening, and after the rest of the commenters (three) took the mic, a majority of MEA members walked out of the meeting, shouting, “You should be ashamed.”

The exact nature of their frustration was unclear, but it appeared the members were upset by the short public comment session. Board President Shelly Lombard emphasized the board allows for all comments, but only four people had signed up to speak. They were all called.

The MEA members did not exit before listening to Board Vice President Leslie Larson’s prepared statement, which she read in response to union member Joyce Weeg’s question: “Why are you now cutting aides which will affect educational instruction?”

March 12, 2011

Are Your Kids in the Arms Race for Top Schools?

We’ve heard about the “Race to Nowhere” for a select group of kids, and now we find there’s another race: The “arms race,” which apparently follows immediately after.

In fact, the escalation of this “arms race” to get into a premier college is the subject of an article written by a Montclair author and mother of college-bound twins in The Wall Street Journal.

The writer, Jennifer Moses, admits getting caught up in the insanity and forking over “unspeakable” sums to position her son and daughter to claim spots at the most prestigious schools. Or, at least, go broke trying.

Moses and her husband hired two separate tutors – one for each child – after they went through half a dozen others not worth their pricey fee. But it worked. Moses noted her daughter’s test scores went up as did those of nearly every student in her class, almost all of whom had also availed themselves of the tutor’s services. This was after shelling out nearly $30,000 a year to send the daughter to private school.

February 25, 2011

Montclair Resident Receives Blue Ribbon Award for her Charter School

Miss Verna Gray of  The Gray Charter School in Newark is all business. That, it would seem, is the reason behind the award recently bestowed on her school. Gray, a Montclair resident, won her charter the status of a National Blue Ribbon School, an honor only 304 schools across the county share.

As if acting as a testament, the award was announced on the same day she published her book, How to Run a Successful Public School in America.

Gray would know. For 10 years she has run her school for students in kindergarten through 8th grade, turning out kids that all go on to complete high school, some doing so at prestigious private prep schools such as Seton Hall Prep, Pingry School, and Marist School.

“They all graduate,” Gray said, pointing out she tracks her students after they leave her school. This in a city known for extraordinary drop out rates, ones hovering around 50%.

February 17, 2011

Montclair BOE Budget: Take 2

At last night’s special Board of Education (BOE) budget meeting, Montclair Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez proposed an additional $2.9M in budget savings but the possibilities included closing Renaissance and Edgemont Schools.

At its last meeting, the Board called for Alvarez to present a Plan B in an effort to prepare for the possibility the state might cut all aid to the district. Alvarez projected $850,000 in saving by closing Renaissance School and transferring 105 of the students to Glenfield (for a total of 808 students in that school) and moving the remaining 141 students to Mt. Hebron (for a total of 749 students in that school). The savings would result from eliminating an administrative position, the nursing staff, the custodial staff and up to 13 teachers from the school. The Rand building would then be used by the high school.

Alvarez estimated closing Edgemont could save $550,000 by eliminating the salaries of the principle, nurse, custodian and five teachers from the school. Edgemont students would be split between Nishuane and Hillside Schools with 144 going to Nishuane for a new student body of 609 and 144 going to Hillside for a total student population of 741.

Alvarez noted, however, the number of students in each school would be at record highs according to this plan, and by closing schools the district would no longer have space to bring out-of-district special education students back into the district, thereby losing revenue as well as possibly incurring additional costs for out-of-district placements.

February 9, 2011

Alvarez Presents Preliminary School Budget

At last night’s Board of Education meeting, Montclair Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez started the discussion on the budget by recalling the BOE’s last meeting. ”We talked about a near 0% tax increase. Some things have changed since then.”

One of the changes was a compressed timetable handed down from the State Department of Education. Alvarez and the BOE did not plan on discussing hard numbers for the school budget until they had heard about aid from the state, which is due to be announced by Governor Chris Christie on February 24. Due to the new timeline Alvarez said they were pressed to do so last night.

The other change came from the township. ”Montclair’s net valuation has dropped significantly,” Alvarez stated, noting taxes will increase more than he initially thought if the district fails to receive state aid. “If we get state aid, we will wind up with a decrease in taxes. If we don’t get state aid, taxes will probably go up around 2%.”

“The difference is due to what we learned about tax ratables in town,” Board President Shelly Lombard added, acknowledging a decreased of $138M.

Alvarez stressed, however, that the projected budget still comes in $5.7M under the school tax levy cap.

January 26, 2011

Alvarez Announces All Montclair Schools to Remain Open

At the Board of Education meeting last night Dr. Frank Alvarez, Superintendent of Montclair schools, announced that he did not plan on closing any of the district’s schools.

“My recommendation would be to keep all 11 schools open,” he said to a room of much relieved parents.

He did however warn, “There will be some pain around the aides, transportation and the DLC [Developmental Learning Center].”

Alvarez identified five areas under consideration as measures to cut costs. The first was the possible outsourcing of school aides. “We might be able to save $2M,” he stated. The second was the possibility of moving the DLC to another building. Alvarez is also looking at cutting busing for students who live within a mile and a half of school. The Superintendent is reexamining the district’s relationship with the Adult School of Montclair and other organizations that have use of school facilities as well for a possible savings of $100,000. Finally, Alvarez said he was considering pay to participate at the high school level.

January 20, 2011

Superintendent Alvarez Talks Cutting Costs on Special Education

The room at Mt. Hebron Middle School was filled last night as Dr. Frank Alvarez, Superintendent of Montclair schools, addressed the Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC) at their monthly meeting to discuss several of the council’s concerns and introduce the new Director of Pupil Services, Linda Mithaug.

The council invited Alvarez to speak on pressing issues as he has done annually for the past several years. Last night’s discussion focused on the possible outsourcing of Special Education Aides, the proposal to bring out-of-district students back as well as attract students from other districts to generate revenue, and the transition of IEP services when a child changes schools.

Alvarez stated of the $28M spent on special education from the school budget $8M goes to aides. He suggested the district could save $2M by changing the procedure by which aides are hired. The proposal under consideration, which has been used by other districts, is to privatize the aides through coordination with a county agency that will allow the district to hire them back – this time without a union contract. It works like this: the district will eliminate the aides they currently employ; the aides will then be rehired by a county agency; and the district can select the aides they wish to hire back. The projected saving is essentially all in benefits the district would no longer be obligated to pay the aides.