By Nick Grabbe
September 18, 2009
In meetings with middle school parents and the School Committee this week, Mark Jackson was frank about the challenges of being principal of both regional schools.
"We want to avoid getting consumed by the immediate and the urgent and keep the angle of our lens wide," he told the School Committee. "It's an awkward situation. There's no handbook on how to manage a transition like this. I wasn't a candidate for this job."
Glenda Cresto, who resigned as middle school principal Aug. 31 will definitely not be returning despite one parent's effort to bring her back, Superintendent Alberto Rodriguez told the panel.
Jackson noted that he was a middle school principal elsewhere from 1993 to 2003, and that the two assistant principals, Mike Hayes and Libby Hurley, have "deep roots" in the building. Now that a scheduling fiasco has been corrected, his goal is to clearly define roles.
"We want to avoid pin-balling ourselves from one emergency to another so there's a sense of settledness on the large issues we face," Jackson said.
With expanded responsibility, he said he won't be able to have as much direct contact with parents and students. He urged parents to contact teachers when they have concerns about courses or assignments. Hayes has responsibility for curriculum, scheduling and budget development, while Hurley oversees special education and, with Dean of Students Rich Ferro, discipline.
Jackson said he doesn't want the only standard at the middle school to be "the trains run on time and it looks like a school." He said the new administrative structure, though temporary, presents some opportunities.
First, preparation of a budget proposal for next year will be more efficient and unified with one principal for both schools. Also, he will get a better sense of how the middle school curriculum can become better aligned with that of the high school.
Several School Committee members seemed reassured by Jackson's presentation, but others expressed concern about the direction of the middle school and the risk of burnout.
Steve Rivkin said there should be a "serious evaluation" of how the middle school teaches math, which is different from other districts. He urged Jackson to have "frank conversations" with more experienced high school teachers about how it can become better aligned with the middle school.
Jackson suggested renewing that discussion in six weeks. Sometimes teachers at all levels ask, "What the heck is going on down there?" he noted.
"It's an article of faith that we're not aligned," he said. Ninth grade teachers "expect to find people all over the map," he said.
Andy Churchill said he is concerned about burn out with Jackson doing double duty. "People can do extraordinary things for a limited time, but can't be expected to do them for a long time, he said.
Catherine Sanderson expressed worry about what will happen when Miki Gromacki, assistant principal of the high school, goes on maternity leave around the end of the year. Jackson said that Diane Chamberlain, interim assistant principal, will take over those responsibilities, but noted the school will be down an administrator.
Cresto report, parent survey
Rodriguez related several phone conversations he had Monday with Cresto. A middle school parent who is a professional mediator had acted as a go-between in the hope that Cresto might return to the job she left just after classes started.
"I can safely assure the community that Ms. Cresto is on her way to bigger and better things," he said. "I know the community felt there needed to be closure. It was an amicable parting, and I assured her anything I could do to help her further her career I would be there for her."
The panel also got the results of a survey of the parents of middle and high school students, whose respondents were predominantly white and highly educated.
Churchill asked how valid the results are if the responses are heavily skewed to white, highly educated residents. Elaine Puleo, who coordinated the survey, said it was "not a random sample of the population."
"A lot of parents care about their kids, whether or not they responded to the survey," said committee member Kathleen Anderson. "Maybe (parents of non-white children) didn't have the time or the initiative or didn't know about it." She suggested a direct phone survey to supplement the results.
Survey results are available at arps.org.
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.