My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Why I'm in Favor of the New Assistant Superintendent Position

I' ve already had a number of questions about the new Assistant Superintendent position -- which of course is totally fair and expected, particularly given tight budget times and some community concern about the number of administrative positions in our district -- so I am doing this posting to try to help explain this position, including why I am strongly in favor of it.

First, although this is a new position, in that we will hire a new person, the funding for this position is NOT new. This job was basically filled until last year by Wendy Kohler, who retired last summer, and has been filled this year by creating two other positions. If you look at the Amherst organizational chart ( you will see these two positions: Director of Professional Development, Evaluation, and Curriculum (Fran Ziperstein), and Curriculum Administrator (Mike Hayes). Both of these positions are being cut for this new position -- Fran Ziperstein is retiring, and Mike Hayes will return to teach math next year at the middle school. So, although the title of the position is new, and a new person will be hired, this position actually represents a reduction in the number of administrators compared to this year.

In addition, I think this new position will help the district really make strides in some extremely important ways, including increasing horizontal and vertical alignment in our curriculum (an issue noted as a problem in our district by many), increasing our ability to perform serious evaluation (again, a problem noted by many -- even if there is interest in conducting evaluation, we often don't have the capacity to do so), and increasing our ability to make data-driven decisions (again, something I'm entirely in favor of). As you can see in the job description which I've posted below, this person will focus on professional development, data analysis, curriculum, and grant-writing, and I believe will make a serious contribution to overall education in the Amherst public schools (and potentially help us bring in some grant funding, which would help some with our current budget crisis). In sum, this seems like money very well spent to me.

Amherst-Pelham Regional School District, Amherst, Massachusetts

Job Description
The Amherst Pelham Regional School District is currently seeking candidates for an Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction. The Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction will provide inspiration, leadership, guidance, and direction for the administrative and instructional staff in order to achieve and maintain the highest standards of excellence consistent with the individual needs of all students.


• Valid Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education certification as Assistant Superintendent/Superintendent and/or Director/Supervisor, or proof of eligibility.

• Successful leadership experience in standards-based curriculum development, differentiated instruction, and effective school research.

• Demonstrated ability to plan, implement, and evaluate professional development.

• Demonstrated ability to work collaboratively with school department personnel.

• Demonstrated competency in providing workshops in one or more instructional areas.

• Proven competence in utilizing multiple assessment tools and data analysis methodology regarding student performance data to aid decision making in planning/revising/refining curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

• Experience as a teacher within a public school setting.

• Masters Degree or higher in Public School/Educational Administration from an accredited college or university.

• Assists the Superintendent substantially and effectively in providing leadership in developing, achieving, and maintaining the best educational programs for the Amherst Regional School District.

• Collaborates with the Superintendent to ensure progress towards the attainment of the mission and goals of the Amherst Regional School District.

• Assists principals to improve curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Ensures collaboration, cooperation in order to maximize high academic achievement for all learners and excellence in teaching.

• Assures alignment and articulation of PreK-12 curriculum with the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks by working collaboratively with the established committees, building principals, coordinators, and department heads.

• In collaboration with the Superintendent provides system-wide leadership for curriculum, instruction, assessment and professional development. Oversees the systematic renewal and continuous improvement of programs, instruction, and assessment.

• Develops and manages the budget for new program adoption, curriculum leadership and professional development.

• Establishes and directs PreK-12 district-wide benchmark testing programs and facilitates the implementation of the state’s MCAS testing program. Analyzes results and ensures that results are considered in the revision of curriculum, instruction, and programs.

• Writes and/or coordinates all federal, state, and private grants related to teaching and learning.

• Coordinates the district’s mentor and new teacher orientation programs.

• Coordinates kindergarten registration.

• Coordinates and recommends all home education requests.

• Attends appropriate School Committee meetings and prepares studies and reports as requested by the Superintendent.

• Performs all other duties assigned by the Superintendent and/or School Committees.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Catherine, for clearing that up. Now that it's all in perspective, I appreciate the creation of an Asst. Super.

I still don't, however, see how educational excellence can continue with so many interventions, clubs, paras and newer [fresher?] teachers being cut. It's like asking the educators to turn straw into gold. Seems to me the best we can hope for is bronze.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My response to Anonymous 2:08 - thanks for your post -- I share your belief that this is an important position. I also share your belief that educational excellence does have real financial costs -- but I'm actually hopeful that we may be better poised to get grant funding (e.g., if we have this position) AND to use our limited resources more wisely if we are following best practices and data-based decision-making. And I believe a person in this position could play a valuable role in helping to mentor new teachers and hopefully encourage them to stay (I still think there will be very few teacher cuts in the district -- probably 5 or so, and some of those might choose to retire).

Anonymous said...

Will our new Superintendent be hiring this assistant or will the School Committee do that before he arrives?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

The School Committee only hires the superintendent -- the superintendent then signs off on all other hires. So, Maria Geryk will ultimately hire this person.

Anonymous said...

This is off the subject, but I have a great idea how the school district can save $$$. It was 80 degrees yesterday, and when I picked up my child from school, I leaned against the radiator in the common area. It was on! How about shutting off the heat to save some $ on hot days? I approached a few teachers about this and they said the heat was coming out and they had no idea why?! Can we check into things like this which are obvious ways of saving $?

Anonymous said...

Oh, it gets worse. In one elementary school they leave the heat on all summer because of the unhealthy mold. Can you believe it? In this day and age? And they wonder why the taxpayer won't pass an over-ride.

Anonymous said...

I won't argue that some administrative positions are important, though our central office is way over the top, becoming the picture of an up and coming bureaucracy.

However, we cannot afford another admin postion. For the past five years, all our superintendent did was wring his/her hands over the budget, from October through June. Can't a bean counter do that for about $70k less per year?

How can we even justify the super's position when we can't afford to put teachers in the classroom?

Now, suddenly we can afford an assit super?

Clearly the people pushing for such a position are not in the trenches with the kids.

Wake up! Do you want teachers for your kids or do you want more administrators. Before answering, consider that you get 2 teachers for every 1 administrator.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

My responses:

Anonymous 13:33 and 2:52 - someone actually sent in these suggestions to the School Committee on the budget hotlines -- thanks! And remember to send official suggestions to that box so that they are read by ALL, not just me.

Anonymous 2:56 - I really disagree with you on this one ... sorry. I think one of the key problems in this district in the lack of vertical and horizontal alignment, and I hear this from teachers (people in the trenches). I hear from MS teachers that kids coming from even the different Amherst elementary schools are exposed to different writing and math and science curricula, making it VERY hard for these teachers to handle kids with such different levels of preparation. I hear from elementary school teachers that different teachers at their grade and the grades below them teach very different things -- again, making their jobs harder. I also think that anytime anyone raises an issue about really evaluating how something is working (e.g., the 9th grade science curricula, the K to 5 math curricula, the trimester system, the middle school, etc.), we hear constantly that we can't do it because we don't have people to do it. The assistant superintendent position as written would do wonders to let our district really empirically examine what we are doing to make sure that we are doing right by all kids, organize much needed professional development (esp. good for new teachers), and help foster vertical and horizontal alignment. To me, that is definitely worth two teaching positions (and I say this as one whose child is going to be in the single largest classroom in the district next year as a 6th grader). This to me is a clear case of having slightly larger classes (only for two grades in ONE school) is worth the greater benefit to all children and parents and teachers of having this type of important work get done.

Anonymous said...

All one has to do is take a look at central office and see exactly what Anon. 2:56 is talking about. Agree or not administrative positions should be the first place to cut back not expand. How can a system who is crying about not having enough money to continue to properly teach their children create yet another administrative postion by hiring an assitant superintendent. Is this what you mean by excellence in education? Will this salary be the exact same as the two leaving the positions now held as the work the assistant super will perform? And if so it must be an awfully high salary!
Have they started a search committee? Will Maria G. hire a consultant to do this search? And if so at what cost? Can you name any interested candidates?
How soon will they raze MM to put up the new town 3 story parking lot?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 8:13 - let me point out a few things. First, the new position is a new TITLE for the same position now being held by TWO people. The net benefit for the district is LESS money, because the person will be paid LESS than the two salaries together and of course will only have one set of benefits. Second, Maria is not hiring a consultant -- the position is being filled by a search committee of people in our district for FREE (parents, teachers, etc.). Third, how could I know candidats for this position, when it was just posted and obviously candidates' names are private? Fourth, I have no idea what this position has to do with building a parking garage in place of MM.