School Committee mulls administrative reorganization
At the Monday, November 19, meeting of the Block Island School Committee, Superintendent Robert Hicks suggested it might be time to think about reorganizing the administrative structure of the school, particularly the position of principal. While the current arrangement of part-time co-principals seemed to be working well, he said, there could be value in change.
In thinking a good deal about the new state-mandated Common Core curriculum currently being developed at the school, Hicks said he recognized that it would bring a need for more curriculum monitoring. This line of thinking led him to consider the possibility of having one part-time co-principal and creating a full-time position for a second co-principal who also takes on the responsibilities of curriculum director.
Pat Doyle suggested the change would bring “a significant leap in costs,” and she thought the board should consider this more closely. She added, “Perhaps we should go in the direction of a full-time principal.” Hicks said when Karen Kurzman was co-principal, she also had a stipend to do curriculum development, an area of her expertise, adding she actually “worked very inexpensively for us.”
Bill Padien, who had just been reinstated as chair of the committee, expressed his concern that the school not go back to the site-based management form of governance of the past. He said, “I agree with what Pat says about costs. There is an ongoing argument about why education costs so much on Block Island.”
He wondered if there were any existing staff who might fill the curriculum slot. Hicks said, “I’ve thought long and hard about one principal.” However, he said he worried about the mainland demands that can draw administrators off island for as many as 30 days, and he didn’t think it could work. Annie Hall said, “I like having two principals because if one leaves, there is still one available.”
Elizabeth Connor thought it would be “interesting to look at the curriculum development” piece and that it was important to “look at in-house choices and what can make our school the best it can be.” Doyle replied, “Spending money doesn’t always improve quality. Are we moving this forward to accommodate a person who is in-house?”
Hicks argued that successful organizations have “to think about leadership roles, and I don’t think it’s pejorative to ... make an investment in our internal resources.” Though no specific persons were identified, the school has for the past year underwritten a sabbatical year for fourth grade teacher Kristine Monje, who is studying a program leading to principal certification.
No decisions were made and the group agreed to continue the discussion after Hicks said he would sound out faculty and staff on the issue. Padien also suggested board members should bring their ideas directly to Hicks before next month’s meeting. He agreed that the issue should be on the next few agendas.
Election of officers and attendance
Since it was the first meeting after the election, board members needed to select officers, which they did by re-electing Padien as chair and voting Connor in as secretary. They signed papers authorizing them as signatories on school checks and Padien was also appointed to be the liaison to the town’s legal counsel.
Hicks was pleased to announce that student attendance at the school was generally “very strong, up overall and running at 96 percent.” He felt it was too soon to tell if the results were attributable to the change in school schedule which extended the school days from Monday to Thursday one half hour and cut it by two hours on Fridays. Members thought perhaps people were taking advantage of Friday afternoons to take care of appointments and shopping, consequently not taking their children out of school earlier in the week.
To date, Padien was pleased that he hadn’t “received any complaints from parents or students on the new schedule. So far it’s working fine.” Regarding attendance, Doyle said, “I’d like to get word out to teachers and administrators that they’re doing good work and it’s having an impact.” Hicks agreed it was important to do so.
Hall extended an exuberant thank you to Hicks for coming over to “stay with the school, to keep an eye on it during the hurricane.” She said, “It’s amazing… and above and beyond what was ever expected.” Hicks quipped, “I just wanted to be in a place where I could count on having electricity.”
Required Common Core changes
In addition to significant changes to the math curriculum as a result of implementation of new Common Core standards, Hicks announced that there would be a major shift in the high school English program. It is in the direction, he said, of requiring that more non-fiction be read than fiction. He stressed that the emphasis would be on introducing more essays and memoirs — “what is called ‘literary non-fiction.’” The changes are still in the process of being implemented, Hicks said.
Connor asked, “Who decides what the kids read?” Hicks said in the absence of departments in each discipline, which mainland schools have, the decisions would be made collaboratively between faculty and administrators. He added, “Monitoring the curriculum will be an ongoing project.”
By the end of this academic year, he added, all students through the 10th grade will have had one year of Common Core math.
Padien and Hicks discussed a future capital improvement project involving roofing repairs. However, as they don’t pose an immediate problem, they anticipate it affecting the 2015-16 budget or thereabouts.
After review, the board voted to approve policies governing duties and management principles, committees of the School Committee, orientation of School Committee candidates, goals and objectives and meetings.
Connor announced the School Friends were sponsoring a fundraising raffle called “The Twelve Days of Christmas Raffle.” She also noted there was a pie and clothing sale going on currently at Island Bound Book Store.
Remarking on the recent election, Padien noted that Sean McGarry, a school board member for years, had been elected to the Town Council. The newly elected candidate for School Committee filling McGarry’s slot is Chris Willi, who was unable to be present for the meeting.
The board reviewed the current standing of accounts, which generally indicated things going well to this point in the academic year.
The next meeting was scheduled for December 17.