2006-02-09 / Editorial


A matter of principal

At our Jan. 19 School Committee meeting, a representative of the teachers’ union raised the question of how the superintendent can recommend adding an administrator when the School Committee’s response to declining enrollment has been to close classrooms and reduce staff. The question is reasonable and thoughtful and begs an answer to the question: What is the School Committee thinking?

First, the blame (or credit) for this recommendation belongs with the School Committee, not the superintendent. The superintendent’s proposal is an outgrowth of School Committee discussions that began last spring, and it is consistent with the committee’s goal of making the best use of our resources.

The current model of a superintendent-Lawn principal does not meet the daily needs of our schools. Combining the two jobs seriously short-changes our students and teachers and presents an impossible challenge for any individual striving to perform both roles effectively. While the superintendent of a district our size can be a part-time position, a school principal cannot. To provide the instructional leadership needed at the building level requires clear articulation of vision, a visible presence, consistent oversight, and site-based authority. A building principal guides curriculum, evaluates teachers and implements programs – crucial functions that cannot be adequately performed given the demands of the combined position.

Currently, we have a Melrose school principal and at Lawn school a combination superintendentprincipal, assisted by a dean of students (a position filled by a teacher). Although we are considering several different options for reorganizing administrative roles, all involve the elimination of the dean of students position, meaning there would be no net addition of administrators. With a fulltime principal at Lawn, the superintendency could then be reduced to a part-time position. These changes would generate cost savings as well as provide essential instructional leadership at the building level.

For the coming year, the School Committee has tabled the consideration of a Lawn principal, but not because of a lack of conviction that this restructuring of roles is needed. Rather, we recognize that it is premature to make this move before we have determined whether our middle-grade students’ needs can be fully met on-island. This spring, we will survey members of the extended school community to gather feedback and insights on our middle grades — where we are and where we should be going.

The School Committee has closed six classrooms, grades 1 through 6, during the past five years. Reduction has been and continues to be gradual and purposeful to ensure continued support for quality instruction. However, addressing lower enrollment in the seventh and eighth grades is complicated by the state and federal requirements that these teachers be certified to teach a specific subject area (versus general elementary education certification). Subject specialization limits the superintendent’s ability to reconfigure the middle grades. The overarching question is how declining enrollment might affect our ability to provide a full complement of programming in these grades.

The demands on school districts and teachers increased with the passage of No Child Left Behind legislation, underscoring the need for professional development and support. As we consolidate and regroup in our middle grades, our continued commitment to providing professional development is critically important. Equally important is the instructional leadership that will ensure optimal use of our human resources and alignment with the district vision.

Jamestown School’s strategic plan endorses fiscal responsibility as one of the district’s core values. The plan recognizes the dual objective of meeting the needs of all students while being responsive to those of the community. The School Committee’s longer term strategy — to provide an instructional leader at Lawn and at the same time realize a savings for the taxpayer — does both.

The Jamestown

School Committee:

Cathy Kaiser, chairwoman

Julie Kallfelz, co-chairwoman, Bucky Brennan, Jim

Filkins, Julia Held

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