Title: School Superintendent, Ramsey Public Schools.
Why he matters: Montesano, from a famed family of Bergen County school leaders, this week was named New Jersey Superintendent of the Year by the state’s association of school administrators. But what he said about the pressures on school administrators these days, much of it coming from a certain governor, speaks well beyond the state’s most populous county.
In the genes: Montesano is the last of four brothers who have been school chiefs in Bergen County. The others are Joseph in Hacksensack, Charles in Mahwah, and James in Paramus. The first two retired, the third moved to Nyack, NY, schools. Topping it off, their father Rocco was Bergenfield superintendent. And their mother was a teacher. “It’s just one of those things that clicked for all of us.”
The history: Before Ramsey, Montesano was superintendent of Westwood schools, principal in Montvale, and a science teacher and coach in Ridgewood. His wife, Lisa Gross, is an elementary school principal in Randolph.
How the job has evolved: “Just the amount of change in the past five years has been more dramatic than anytime before that for me. Certainly, the economy has been a dramatic impact for us and how money is spent. And as we know, the governor has targeted particularly superintendents and the salaries they make, and that has caused certain pressures and issues.”
The governor’s caps: Gov. Chris Christie’s administration has imposed caps on school superintendent pay, topping out at $175,000 in base salary for most districts, depending on the enrollment.
How that affects Montesano: Not directly, at least not yet, since he closed a new contract before the caps went into effect, making $230,000 when the cap on his size district of 3,100 students would have been $165,000. His contract lasts until 2015.
What he sees instead: “I get concerned about the future of school leadership in New Jersey. I see a number of superintendents who have left, either retired or gone out of state, because of the caps. The people who have taken the job, I don’t want to disparage them, some are terrific educators, but they don’t come in with the kind of experience we are used to.”
Other pressures: The standards and accountability movement has had its benefits, he said. “I understand it, we need to be responsible for outcomes. But at the same time we are focusing on 21st century skills of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication, and I don’t see that being measured.”
Ramsey’s partial answer: The district gives its 9th and 12th graders an online test called the College and Workplace Training Readiness assessment that asks students to write about hypothetical situations using available data. “You may run a city and have to write about how you may reduce crime using the data. It’s a really interesting assessment.”
And more about the governor: “The negativity we are forced to deal with, even places like Ramsey, that can be disheartening. I’d love the governor or commissioner to come visit and see the things we have done.”
Not all bad: “It’s more challenging, but is it less fun? I love my job, and I love knowing I have an impact on the future of young people. That part will never change for me. That part is great.”