The monthly public meeting of the Secaucus Board of Education on July 20 was not entirely fraught with controversy and dissent. Yes, two trustees voted against hiring the new superintendent of schools, and, yes, a former trustee accused two other trustees of basically doing the mayor’s bidding. However, the board made several appointments other than that of superintendent; they accepted the retirement of a long time administrator, and hired summer help. Jennifer Montesano was hired to be the new superintendent of schools by a 5-2 vote. The negative votes cast were by Lou Giele and Sharon Dellafave, who suggested (reading from prepared statements) that the superintendent interviewing process the board employed was flawed from the start. Their dissension was not necessarily a reflection on the qualifications of Ms. Montesano. Both trustees urged their colleagues to continue the search for a new superintendent, but their pleas to resume the search were ignored. Montesano will replace interim Superintendent Kenneth Knops whose two-year contract was extended through November at a recent board meeting. Montesano is currently the superintendent in Haworth in Bergen County. Her contract in Secaucus is for three- and one-half years, beginning on or before December 1, 2017.
We promised in our last edition (7/27) that we would expand on Jennifer Montesano’s history in this week’s edition. Last week we ran a lengthy article that described what transpired at the July 20 school meeting when the new superintendent was approved by the board and introduced to the public. We mentioned that she was a physical education teacher and vice principal and principal of several area schools. Jennifer grew up in Bloomfield in nearby Essex County. She graduated high school from Mount Saint Dominic Academy in Caldwell where she was a standout in soccer and track. She attended Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut where she pursued her soccer career, but she graduated Montclair State University with a bachelor’s degree. The young athlete returned to St. Dominic’s Academy to coach its track and field squad. She earned master’s degrees from Columbia University’s Teachers College in kinesiology and in educational leadership from Caldwell University. She served as vice principal of both Sparta Middle School and Little Falls Middle School before becoming principal of a Clifton elementary school.
We asked Montesano about the relationship the superintendent should have with his/her employer, which is the board of education. She responded neutrally by saying, “I think the relationship between the board and the superintendent is extremely important. Open communication between both is the key and building a positive relationship between both parties allows the vision of the board to be carried out through the superintendent in a supportive and positive way. This type of relationship will result in the success of all aspects of the district for its staff and students.”
Montesano lives in Little Falls and is single. She has no offspring but values her relationship with her two nephews, ages 7 and 11. “I love the Jersey Shore where I spend time with my family. I volunteer at my church and love to attend sporting events.” We wish the young educator, who appears to have boundless energy and a positive personality, great luck when she assumes responsibility of the Secaucus school district.
The board hired another administrator, Jerome H. Kaiser, Ph.D. His title is Supervisor 6-12 Science, Family Consumer Science, Art and Business. Kaiser will receive $90,500 plus a doctorate degree stipend of $2,000. His appointment is effective September 1. The hiring of three teachers for the elementary schools was tabled with no explanation. Shelbey Manthrope, however, was hired at a salary of $61,879 as a teacher at Huber Street School, effective September 1. Ten summer custodians were hired, and each will earn $13/hour. One per diem custodian was hired, also at $13/hour. Three IT individuals were hired for the summer at $13/hour. Superintendent Knops advised that the board would conduct an orientation program for new teachers from August 28 through August 31. The board accepted, with regret, the retirement of Susan Smahl, the Director of Special Education. Smahl has been with the district for many years. Her retirement is effective October 1.
An uncharacteristically somber Ken Knops gave the monthly HIB (harassment, intimidation, bullying) report that showed one confirmed incident at Huber Street School in the last weeks of the school year. The superintendent touted the new standard based report cards that will be used in the coming school year, and praised the teachers that comprised the program committee under Clarendon principal Steve Viggiani. Town Councilman and former school board president John Gerbasio spoke briefly, addressing his comments to Superintendent Knops. “Ken brought new standards and ideas to the district. It’s been my pleasure dealing with him.” Knops, as mentioned above, will be leaving the district at the end of November. He was brought in two years ago when then-Superintendent Robert Presuto abruptly resigned early in the school year. At the time the board hired him, Knops was a retired superintendent who had served at several New Jersey schools. His appointment was a temporary one.
The next regular public meeting of the Secaucus Board of Education is on Thursday, August 24. The meetings start at 7 p.m. and are usually held in the multi-purpose room of Huber Street School. The first day of the 2017-2018 school year is Thursday, September 7.