On Monday, January 17, 2011, I attended a school board meeting prompted by reading the report printed in the Tripoli Leader from a meeting held the previous Tuesday. At issue was a major decision about choosing to either remain in or remove our district from the special education pool. After talking to three board members on the telephone it became clear to me that leaving this pool was probably the decision that would be made. At least there was data presented I could reason with in this decision. The concern to me was how the board might choose to spend the “surplus” money from a decision to leave this pool as I was not hearing any data about this.
After a lengthy discussion at the board meeting about the decision to remain or rescind from the pool and some input from a few community members, the decision was made to leave the pool with a vote of 3-2. The follow-up as to what to do with the money saved by this decision appeared to be something that board members said could wait for another meeting. So when the discussion moved on to other agenda topics, and I noted that the agenda had not indicated an opportunity to decide about this topic, I chose to leave the board meeting with unanswered and unasked questions, determined to follow up in the next few days. Imagine my disappointment when I talked to faculty the next day and learned that the board had decided to move ahead to look to hire a new part-time administrator.
At a time when I see Iowa districts pushing education forward through making decisions that are best for kids, I see our district making a decision that is best for administrators. I have asked to see the data that indicates that our current administrators have any more work today than they did when the decision was made to go with this current administrative structure or any more work than other districts. I would also like to see the data that having two part-time individuals fulfill a full-time principal position is an effective working model. The current practice of hiring a lead teacher to fulfill this role does not appear to be very effective for our children, ask any of them that have disrupted class time due to this model.
Several years ago our district chose to move to the current structure of having one person serve as both secondary principal and superintendent. At that time we were told that it would save our district money and be a viable way to allow the Tripoli Community School District to not be forced to merge with another district. What has changed? You would be hard pressed to find any educator, administrator or teacher, which has not been asked to do more paperwork in the past few years due to our compliance-based statewide system. Administrators are hired knowing their plate will be full and that a normal workday of eight hours will not be the norm. One argument I heard for hiring another administrator is to keep up with administrative paperwork with the transition out of the pool. But by Mr. Heller’s admission at the board meeting it was discovered that this paperwork would be minimal. Another argument is that hiring another part-time administrator will allow the current administrators to have more time. (Which leads to the question, more time to do fewer duties at no change in pay?) This is an interesting model to consider when the trend in other districts is to have administrators share duties, like we currently do. And if a part-time administrator/part-time teacher is hired, what courses will our students either gain or lose in such a structure?
Reading about current educational trends and participating in other district professional development over the past year has shown me other models based on what works for kids and teachers. A very common example is one that gives the teacher more time to be a more collaborative, connected learner that allows them to be a more effective teacher. There is research to show that giving teachers a consistent, frequent common time to collaborate during the school day improves performance. A decision to offer this to our teachers is one way to consider using some of this money. This would more directly affect our children.
Another trend in education is to use computers in direct instruction. Although there are many steps in preparing a district to be a 1:1 computer school (which was also talked about during the January 17 meeting), one of these is purchasing computers. Choosing a potential project like this would certainly impact our students directly, more so than hiring another administrator.
One concern I have heard from people for hiring another administrator is that of having the principal and superintendent be a different individual, particularly for matters of discipline. This is a valid concern. Again, will this be accomplished by hiring another part-time person? Perhaps there is more validity in the suggestion made by school board member, Ron Orf, to consider restructuring to have a full-time secondary principal and to share a part-time superintendent with another district.
As you can see, this is a complex issue and one that I believe needs further input from taxpayers in this district and more information showing that this is the best long-term decision for our district. I encourage you to contact school board members with your views about their plan for a new administrative structure and how it will benefit our kids, the ones designed for schools to serve.