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."

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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