Montclair's New Superintendent Will Put District "On The Map"

Dr. Penny MacCormack will spend at least 40 percent of her time in Montclair schools rather than in an office.


Montclair's new superintendent, Dr. Penny MacCormack, is expected to put the school district "on the map," according to Leslie Larson, vice president of the board of education.

Larson, who headed the board's search committee for a new superintendent, talked with Patch on Thursday about the recent search for a new superintendent that led to the hiring of MacCormack.

She described MacCormack as someone with incredibly high standards who expects to be in Montclair schools—instead of in an office—at least 40 percent of the time.

"What struck me is that she's very calm and incredibly fearless," Larson said. "She is very measured and thoughtful and very action-oriented."

Larson noted that MacCormack, who plans to move to Montclair, is used to working in large school districts.

"She has a clear vision and she knows how to implement goals," she said.

MacCormack also has an extremely long track record in traditional education.

Not only was she a middle school principal and high school science teacher, but she also served as chief academic officer for Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut.

"She has worked in districts that are diverse and she really cares about the achievements of all students," Larson said, adding that MacCormack's "work ethic is incredible."

Earlier this month, the  appointed MacCormack as superintendent of schools starting Nov. 1 following an exhaustive nationwide search.

"I am honored to be the new superintendent of the Montclair school system," MacCormack said at the time. "I'm looking forward to working with this board and this community to make sure we build a system that meets the need of each and every child that we serve so they can achieve the highest potential available to them."

MacCormack has most recently been assistant commissioner and chief academic officer for the New Jersey Department of Education, responsible for carrying out the new Common Core State Standards.

According to The Montclair Times, MacCormack will earn $177,500 a year.

MacCormack will replace , who announced in February that he'd be retiring after nine years in the position. Later, Alvarez announced he was taking the position of superintendent of the Rye School District in New York.

Larson noted that one of MacCormack's main focuses will be Montclair High School, adding that MacCormack expressed opposition to the opening of a charter school in town.

"All the students in Montclair feed into Montclair High School so it should really be our jewel," Larson said. "When kids leave here they identify themselves as a Montclair High School graduate and not as a Hillside or Mount Hebron graduate or any other kind of graduate.

"There are no dictates from the board but I'm sure she'll be very focused on the high school," she said.

Larson said MacCormack will also have to focus on some "big hires" including a new business administrator to replace who announced earlier this summer that she was leaving for a position in the Westfield school district.

"I think in general that [MacCormack] will be an incredible resource and leader for our principals," Larson said. "Her commitment to meeting the community and really hearing from the community is huge."

The extensive search for a new superintendent, which started in March, brought in applications from more than 70 candidates. , Ray and Associates, Inc., to help find and hire a new superintendent at a cost of $16,500. Only a handful of these candidates were selected for personal interviews. 

MacCormack earned a doctoral degree in education leadership from the University of Hardford, an MA from Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, and a BS from the University of Connecticut.

"I believe we found the most spectacular person who will fit perfectly in Montclair," Larson said. "I cannot tell you how wonderful this woman is going to be for the Montclair district."

WC August 24, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Thanks Shelley. Did you ask Mrs. Larson about her connection and financial support of the North Star Academy Charter School Network?
Shelley Emling (Editor) August 24, 2012 at 04:13 PM
I did not but can do so now.
WC August 24, 2012 at 04:17 PM
If Dr. McCormack does not support the Charter School in Montclair, she will be the first Broad Academy Super to NOT support any Charter School. I'd like to hear it form her, rather than second hand from the BOE
Shelley Emling (Editor) August 24, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Definitely hope to have an interview with the superintendent as soon as possible.. most likely after Labor Day weekend.
Peter Simon August 24, 2012 at 05:03 PM
"No need to rehash that issue in this thread" But you can continue with your blather, right? Blather that is no different from what you've said elsewhere.
tryintosurvive August 24, 2012 at 05:50 PM
Peter - I guess you do not want to let Dr. MacCormack get into her position and use her experience and knowledge to help Montclair's schools. Good for you, you must know more than her about how to run a large school system.
Peter Simon August 24, 2012 at 05:53 PM
What are you going on about? I'm referring to your repeat, virtually verbatim, of the line that you've said before: "And for Alvarez' pay we got 99th in NJ HS rankings and dropping"
Peter Simon August 24, 2012 at 06:00 PM
And *of course* I want Dr. MacCormack to do a good job, and to help improve our schools. If she brings about genuine improvement---i.e., if she doesn't simply bear down on teachers and kids to do nothing more than improve scores on standardized tests---then I'll be a big fan. If she's too fond of "data driven" reform, however, then I'll be sure to make my voice heard as a critic. For now, I'm hopeful and excited to hear more from her.
CMFAS55 August 24, 2012 at 06:44 PM
What if she supported the charter school you mentioned in Newark but doesn't support the charter school for a town like Montclair? Reasonable people can say that Newark is a place where charters make sense and Montclair is a place where they do not make sense. Many here (BTW many who consider themselves open minded and liberal thinkers) generalize that since someone was invoved in the Broad academy they automatically think that all public schooling is garbage and want to charter or privatize every school district. I am not all that knowledgeable about Eli Broad, the Broad academy or how to run a school district - but I do know that not everyone who offers a proposed solution to an issue that I don't like is evil or has bad intentions. We should be willing to listen to bright people when they offer solutions to problems and be willing to listen to new ideas. Old ideas are the mostly the reason we are in the position we are in. Many on here think the only solutions involve throwing massive amounts of tax money at a problem instead of looking for better ways to do things.
Montclair's Own August 24, 2012 at 06:50 PM
WC, Good questions to ask.
Montclair's Own August 24, 2012 at 06:55 PM
CMFAS55, The problem is that the Charter School is not a "new idea". It is another term for a "private school", funded by taxpayer money. It's like changing the phrase "global warming" to "climate change". Different terms, same thing. I don't see anyone here suggesting throwing more taxpayer money down a black hole. But, I gather, some would like to see the money that is being spent, spent wisely. Teacher training, smaller class-sizes (which require hiring), increased technology, focus and implementation of curriculum fostering growth in analytical thinking skills and closing the achievement gap rather than standardized testing (which is simply pure capitalistic endeavor without any focus on real education)...rather than spending ridiculous amounts of money on Central Offices' many assistants, executives, do-nothings...all making well over $100k to do very little.
CMFAS55 August 24, 2012 at 07:09 PM
I actually agree with a lot in MOs post including trimming a large bureaucratic central office staff (pay fewer people better salaries and demand better results), a better teacher-student ratio and increased technology. There are two things though that are misguided: 1- standardized testing - the truth in life is that yes you need to know some basic stuff to compete in this world and you will be given standardized tests or tasks at all levels of life from the California Tests I took in grammar school as a kid (probably called something else now), to the SAT and grad school entrance exams and then in adulthood where professions have continuing education and designation testing. And in life when you are required to do basic stuff that eveyone needs to do to survive, it is also a form of standardized testing of an individual. Those who can't balance their checkbooks or don't understand how credit cards and taxes work wind up in bad situations. I can see a complaint about too much focus on testing, but the tests are important and do give kids a taste of what awaits them at all levels of their education and then into their adult lives. continued.....
CMFAS55 August 24, 2012 at 07:16 PM
2- achievement gap - I really don't understand this as an "issue". We are past the point in history where theories suggested that certain races/nationalities were smarter or dumber than others. Kids and kids - they can all be great or terrible no matter who they are. All the kids in Montclair have access to (what I think and many other think is) a great school system. All of them are given the same resources when they are at the school. Yet poorer kids (many minorities) are falling behind for some reason. Instead of going to the source of the issue to - the parents and home situation - we instead think that the school can take the place of that. The kids then go home every day to a lousy parental situation or a crime ridden neighborhood and wind up not doing well. Instead of focusing on the kids, how about focusing on the parents and investing money into these neighborhoods to help the parents do a better job with their kids? You may make an argument that spending time with these kids will make the next generation better equipped to be parents, but when I see a 21 year old Montclair High drop out accused of a drug-related murder in town, I think how did this happen here and why did this kid - who went through the same school system my kids are in now - turn out this way?
ira shor August 24, 2012 at 08:26 PM
The "school problem" is really a "problem of poverty." Not a skin color problem--dark-skinned families are no worse and no better than light-skinned ones. US has highest rate of child pov in adv world--25% overall; 11% of white kids live in poverty; 33% of black/hispanic kids. Dark-skinned kids three times as likely to grow up poor than are white kids, so the terrible effects of poverty on kids affects more black/hispanic kids than white ones. Want to close the achievement gap? Raise all family incomes above the current median, $50K/yr--tell that to Obama, Romney, Christie and Cuomo. This is not rocket science. It's common sense confirmed by data on all risk factors--teen preg, school dropouts, alcoholism, sexual abuse, etc. Pov has worsened in last 30yrs as super-rich grabbed more and more of our great national wealth for themselves. Raise school outcomes? Raise HS grad rate and coll grad rate? Spend our enormous national wealth for smaller classes, mentors and tutors, weekend workshops, parks and playgrounds and pools with athletic counselors there full-time, lots of libraries open 18hrs/day in all corners, story-readings in public parks for little kids to fall in love with reading and writing, science fairs, carnivals and expeditions to train kids how to fix their warm, polluted earth. We already know the problem, we already know the answers, we are not allowed to practice what works. Black families always demanded the best education for their children.
Montclair Public August 24, 2012 at 11:08 PM
"This is what we get, more -B S- at over 200,000 dollars a year. Montclair is a perfect example of a diverse school system run by liberals who only know how to -B S- the taxpayers of Montclair...." John: you should think before you speak. the new super is making $177,000. she would not have been "the liberals'" first choice, given that she comes out of Chris Cerf's state office and he is a Christie appointee. keep repeating your ridiculous right wing talking points -- a fast train to lifelong ignorance.
dherron August 25, 2012 at 01:00 PM
The "school problem" is really a "problem of poverty." Bingo, this hits the problem dead on. If we truly want to improve the educational achievement of poor performing students, we must address the poverty issue. This is an issue, which we should all be concerned, since we are ALL paying for this educational failure. Why are we confortable when a large segment of our student population is poor, failing in school, and destined to become an albatross on society? We know what works. More testing- doesn’t work, and fails to improve the achievement for students. Ever tried doing anything meaningful that required concentration, when you have hunger pains? We see SAT scores rise as income raises, the result of better opportunities and improved experiences. That correlation is direct and it is staggering. Education continues to be the great equalizer, but it must be a viable sustained education. Poverty will destroy the minor gains, as it seeks to enslave those caught in its morass, and those numbers are growing. We cannot address poor educational achievement, or the achievement gap without looking at the role poverty plays in all of it. Visit any of the food pantries in our town, the lines are growing, and the recipients are more families, with children. The quest to improve education begins at the poverty starting gate.
Montclair Public August 25, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Read it and weep...for the USA http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/25/opinion/blow-starving-the-future.html?hp
Montclair's Own August 25, 2012 at 04:58 PM
D Herron, Agree with everything you've said.
Clark son August 26, 2012 at 12:14 PM
Clark son August 26, 2012 at 12:15 PM
Dude August 26, 2012 at 03:21 PM
w/Larson as head of committee, i'm understanding a little more how we got a Cerf underling and a Broad Academy product...our past superintendent, whatever you may think of him, at least expressed ambivalence toward the NCLB waiver process due to the dubious "reform" strings attached...now our new schools chief is from the very crowd that cooked up the waiver app and sent their "turnaround" proposal to the Broad Foundation for "approval" and funding before revealing it to the people or the legislature...this appointment could be prove ot be the worst thing imaginable for montclair schools...
tryintosurvive August 26, 2012 at 03:48 PM
This appointment could be prove to be the Best thing imaginable for montclair schools. Seems very qualified. Lets give her a chance.
Clark son August 26, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Well, with the state of the schools, she really needs to be the BEST thing imaginable. Because something in between, is not going to do it. So, I hope you are right.
tryintosurvive August 26, 2012 at 11:10 PM
While I hope she is a superstar, I don't see a dire situation in the Montclair schools. The grammar schools are very good, with a few of them that people clammar to get into. Two of the middle schools are exceptional with some changes underway to improve the third one. The high school's biggest problem seems to be the achievement gap between socio-economic groups. Could things be better, certainly, but I do not see major issues that need to be rectified.
Dude August 27, 2012 at 03:20 PM
i haven't written anybody off yet, for sure....but just being real - there are some bad signs, and people need to know about that shady background and go into it eyes open, not w/some blank slate - the past matters....plus, "qualified" is a relative term....there are those of us who see her time in the NJDOE, her Broad connections, and the Larson stamp of approval as DISqualifications to head a district like montclair...and one's view of qualified is also tied to what one wants to see as the results...if all you want is "implementation of the Common Core," a "tightening up" of the schools (a.k.a. decrease in autonomy), and a test score-based criterion of closing the so-called "achievement" gap, then she may be just fine -- but there are those of us who know all that is BS, and her "success" could be terrible for us....
tryintosurvive August 27, 2012 at 05:28 PM
It seems very unlikely that the BOE would ask for more money any time soon given the surpluses of the last 2 years.
tryintosurvive August 28, 2012 at 02:32 PM
Perhaps, but at this point there are so many eyes on the school budget that it would be very surprising if the BOE were to come back any time soon and say "give us more money". Besides, the BOE really does seem to be on top of costs now. They are doing an excellent job of controlling expenses. People may lament the leaving of the school business administrator, but the whole "we are out of money and need to look at drastic cutback measures" baloney happened on her watch.
A. Gideon August 29, 2012 at 11:19 PM
"The high school's biggest problem seems to be the achievement gap between socio-economic groups. " A lot has been written here with which I agree, and a lot with which I disagree. But this comment leaves me puzzled. Does the achievement gap first appear in HS? I would imagine not, and that it can be found in the test results at earlier grades as well. Someone above disparaged testing. I agree that testing is not educating. Yet testing does identify problem areas both at the macro and micro level. It tells us where we can expect the greatest results from additional investment. In this case, I'd expect it to identify the gap earlier than HS. Someone else claimed that education at earlier grades is more important than later. I'm not sure that this is a fair comparison given the different goals involved, but it does make sense to me that this gap - which I agree is fundamentally economic - is better addressed earlier than later. It's not really an HS issue, is it? ...Andrew
A. Gideon August 29, 2012 at 11:22 PM
No. The town council cannot touch school funds. Since the school district's debt is on the town's books, this has had the consequence that the district cannot spend any of the "surplus" on debt reduction. The use of a capital reserve is the next best option available: reducing future debt rather than current debt. You must be recalling something else. ...Andrew
A. Gideon August 29, 2012 at 11:33 PM
"Besides, the BOE really does seem to be on top of costs now. They are doing an excellent job of controlling expenses. " The BOE has certainly been trying to get/maintain control of spending. They've had some luck in this regard, most notably in terms of retirements. They've also implemented some changes that are positive for both the students and budget, such as bringing some students back "in district". More, there are other ideas still - I hope - in process that will also benefit the district. On the other hand, the lack of information from CO has caused a lot of consternation to the BOE and the town at large. This worries me somewhat. In a business, one can budget for the short term while leaving trouble on the horizon. Will we find something like this buried in CO's books once we've someone actually looking? It wouldn't be the first time an outsider found something hidden there. Finally, given that a new contract with the MEA is due, I wouldn't be quite as certain of future costs. The hiring of a real negotiator, given that the MEA has such on its own payroll, it a good step in this regard. It should help result in a more equitable agreement that reflects current economic reality along with our desire to keep - and willingness to pay for - stellar educators while weeding out those less so. Still...the future remains unwritten. ...Andrew


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