The Montclair School Board has chosen Major Jennings—the former head coach of the Montclair High School basketball team—to replace Samantha Morra as assistant principal of Mount Hebron Middle School.
"He's been acting assistant principal there twice before," said Interim Schools Superintendent Dr. Clarence Hoover, who added that Jennings would bring "stability" to the school.
Jennings will serve in the position on an interim basis while the district seeks to first find a permanent principal to replace Guy Whitlock—who was transferred to the district's central office a few months ago—and then to find a permanent assistant principal to replace Morra.
District officials said they expected Jennings to apply for the permanent assistant principal position.
Next year will be the first since 1993 that Jennings—a technology teacher at Mount Hebron who has worked in the district for 19 years—will not be head coach of the varsity boys basketball team.
Also on Tuesday night, Hoover announced a suspension of Morra's pay pending an investigation into "recent activities." The suspension will continue while the school board figures out its next move in the case.
Early last month, the school board voted to terminate Morra's position as assistant principal of Mount Hebron Middle School and return her to a teaching position in the district.
Montclair school district officials confirmed that the central office was investigating Morra to determine whether she enrolled her children in Montclair schools using a Montclair mailing address that is actually part of the Little Falls school district.
Hoover had recommended the demotion of Morra, who had held the $115,000-a-year assistant principal position for two years. She was due to return to her previous job as a technology teacher at Mount Hebron. Morra maintains that former Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez gave her verbal approval to send her children to Montclair schools.
Alvarez has denied the claim.
At Tuesday night's school board meeting, members of the public stood up to speak out both for and against Morra.
Resident Norma Tassy said Morra needs to be removed from the district completely, calling her actions a "theft of service."
She said it's highly likely that other district employees are also sending their children to Montclair schools illegally.
"I hope the board will study this matter," she said.
But resident Mary Rourke stood up to voice support for Morra.
"I would like everyone to keep track of her entire contribution," she said, noting Morra's many years of service to the district.
Morra's attorney also spoke, saying that he believed Morra was being tried in the court of public opinion before all the facts are known.
Also during the meeting, the school board voted in favor of a resolution accepting an out-of-district student at Montclair High School, the child of staff member Helen Kuryllo.
According to the resolution, Kuryllo will be required to pay $12,952.
School board members reiterated that anyone living outside the district has to apply and get permission—and pay the required tuition—before their children can attend a Montclair school. Hoover emphasized that no preferences are given to the children of district employees. He also said that no out-of-district child is accepted unless there is space available.
In his remarks, Hoover reported that 100 more students would be entering the school district this fall, making things "tight" at the elementary and middle school levels.
He said he has visited every school in town and that all are ready for a successful new school year.
Early Wednesday, Hoover sent out the following email blast to all Mount Hebron parents/caregivers:
I am happy to announce that Mr. Major Jennings has been appointed Acting Assistant Principal of Mt. Hebron Middle School by the Montclair Board of Education at their September 4, 2012 Board of Education meeting. Mr. Jennings brings a wealth of experience to this position as he is a 20-year veteran of the Montclair Public Schools. In addition, he has served in this capacity on two prior occasions.
Mr. Jennings is eager to continue the positive work that has been started at Mt. Hebron. Prior to accepting this assignment, Mr. Jennings was a technology teacher at Mr. Hebron.
Our search for a principal continues, but please be assured that you are in good hands with Ms. Terry Trigg-Scales as the Interim Principal. The district is taking all steps to ensure a smooth and successful school year.
Your patience is much appreciated.