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School Rankings, Transgender Bathrooms, and Requests to Pre-Approve All Classroom Texts in Monty Twp

By Barbara A. Preston | Posted August 10, 2023

A number of Montgomery residents continued to attend school board meetings through July to voice their concerns about multiple issues. Some want to pre-approve all materials before any texts, periodicals, videos, or picture books are allowed through the classroom doors.

Some requested to know exactly what changes where made to the transgender bathroom policy, and why the board was reviewing it.

Other regular meeting attendees said they were unhappy with Montgomery’s school ranking on Niche, which is 43 in the state.

Monty Superintendent Debunks Niche as a Valid Measure of Public Schools

Montgomery School District Superintendent Mary E. McLoughlin replied that Niche ratings are largely based on subjective data (online reviews by anybody who wants to submit one).

“About being 43rd in Niche, as a member of the public said, 50 percent—or half of the information they derive—is from surveys. So, somebody asked how can we get the scores up? Please get out there and be positive in the surveys because that’s half of the score.”

McLoughlin added that she researched the Niche platform and found that it ranks Bridgewater-Raritan higher than Montgomery.

“But they have 62 percent proficiency in reading, and we have 71 percent. They have a 38 perfect proficiency in math, we have 59 percent. Hillsborough has 66 percent in reading, we have 71. They have 42 in math. We have 59," she pointed out.

Montgomery Township School Board meeting

The Montgomery Township School Board held a special meeting in July to inform township residents about how books are selected.

McLoughlin also stated that some of the Niche data is incorrect.

The Bridgewater-Raritan school district also has a 13 to 1 teacher-to-student ratio, McLoughlin said. And, Hillsborough has 16 to 1 ratio. "But Montgomery is listed on Niche as having 17 to 1 ratio, which is inaccurate. Right on the state of NJ website, it says we have 12 to 1. So that is misinformation that Niche has that impacted that score."

“ Niche also says that 30 percent of our Montgomery teachers are in their first or second year. That [is wrong and] impacts us negatively," she added. In fact, the average Montgomery teacher has almost 13 years of experience according to the NJ Department of Education.

“We also have a cost-of-living rating of C+. The other districts have a A- and Bs. So all those things mean is that it’s more expensive to live in Montgomery. And that counts against us."

“Also, student absenteeism [during COVID], which we talked about in the state data, counts against us. I need parents to make sure their children come to school. They cannot miss school. They have to be here. Anything over 10 days a year counts against the school district.”

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Niche is a marketing company headquartered in Pittsburgh, Penn, is made up of fully remote employees from across the US. In addition to profiling and ranking schools, it also ranks towns in its "Best Places to Live" survey based largely on "millions of resident reviews."

Transgender policy

Regarding the transgender bathroom policy, it turned out no changes were made to it.

Montgomery School Board Member Ania Wolecka-Jernigan explained, “There’s a concern that came from the community. We opened that policy just to read through it and understand the issues that parents have been sharing with us.

“And also we did have a debate, because ... right now from a legal perspective, they treat this policy as a mandate. The state of New Jersey says it’s a guideline, so that’s part of the reason why we opened it up for discussion back in March to have a conversation, you know, how do we reflect this policy [as a ] mandate versus [as a] guideline, which is where we reach an agreement with the principals that there will be very strict code of conduct violations if anyone abuses this particular policy.”

“It will be treated with specific requirements that there will be no abuse that takes place, of kids that don’t perhaps, want to use it to their advantage, right, because I think you mentioned the word safety.

"The principals assured us that would be a major code of conduct violation for the students and if any students would be caught, you know, not following, proper policy, that would be an issue, " Wolecka-Jernigan said.

Martin "Marty" Carlson

Board Member Martin "Marty" Carlson.

Classroom Books, Periodicals, Videos, and Other Learning Materials

Board Member Marty Carlson addressed the issue that some parents want to pre-approve what books, periodicals, and videos their children are exposed to in school.

Carlson said, “I guess books that have been replaced is one thing, book banning is another, but options for other folks, and I think sometimes, I’ve heard that the classes offer say three books and there’s not a lot of selection. Is there a possibility of encouraging those teachers to add more books to those book lists so that the parents and the children have more choice?”

Superintendent McLoughlin responded that schools have to meet state standards and specific criteria. Teachers “have to discuss certain social events that go on in life, discuss different genders, different sexualities, different religions – so in order to do it, that’s how those books are selected.”

Board President Zelda Spence-Wallace noted the district has a responsibly to respect teaching as a profession, and trusting their judgement when books and resources are selected.

The next Montgomery Township School Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, August 22 at 7:30 pm in the Montgomery Upper Middle School Media Center, 375 Burnt Hill Road, Skillman. ■


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