News Feature

Deer Isle
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, January 26, 2012
Deer Isle-Stonington CSD board weighs administrative options
Teachers, students negative on Blue-White scheduling

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by Jessica Brophy

Several board members called for more information about alternative administrative structures on January 23, at a rescheduled school board meeting.

Over the past year, the school board has discussed leaving Union 76 as a way to explore cost-saving alternative administrative structures. Some of the different options under consideration include reducing to one full-time principal for both schools, perhaps with an assistant principal; requiring principals to teach part-time; hiring a business manager for the school and sharply reducing the role of the superintendent; and having one full-time principal and one part-time principal/part-time superintendent.

Administrative costs per student in the CSD for the current school year are $1,741, compared to $918 for the state average. Board vice chairman Linda Nelson said she considers it the school board’s responsibility to reduce costs in the budget that do not have a direct impact on students.

School board member Skip Greenlaw said he agrees that administrative costs should be curtailed, but he thinks drastically changing the administrative organization—particularly, reducing the full-time principal positions—would undo much of the progress made in the schools over the past few years.

“We all have worked really hard to try to change the culture of the school,” said Greenlaw. “I think it makes no sense to undo that.” He also said he thinks the principals are “doing everything they can,” and that reducing from two full-time principals would “destroy the school system.”

Board member Vicki Zelnick said budget costs need to be curtailed somewhere with declining enrollment. “We have to think about where it will come from,” said Zelnick, who noted that the current budget does not take into account the depreciation costs of the buildings, and does not set aside money for major renovations that may be necessary.

In terms of leaving Union 76, Nelson said she has been approached by “two or three citizens asking what good it does us to be part of the union, and why we subsidize the other schools” for administrative services.

Greenlaw said he doesn’t think the CSD is subsidizing the other schools, since the cost share of central office costs is determined by a formula based on school population, number of employees and the time demanded of the superintendent. “We have a very good formula to determine who pays for what,” Greenlaw said.

Nelson said the CSD should consider looking to other island school districts like North Haven and Vinalhaven, both as examples of alternative administrative structures and perhaps also “allying” with them.

“I’m not saying [the principals] don’t work hard, but at the same time if other districts are able to do it with so much less, why can’t we?” Nelson said.

Board member Virginia Olsen said it is important to be “up front” with Brooklin and Sedgwick about leaving the union if that is what the CSD board decides to do. “If we don’t want to be a part of the union, we need to be honest,” she said.

Brooklin and Sedgwick school boards are waiting to hear from the CSD on the issue. The CSD board has indicated its preference to move the central office into the high school, but Brooklin and Sedgwick school boards are hesitant to agree to the move without assurances from the CSD that the Island schools will not leave the union in the near future.

Alternative administrative structures will be on the agenda in February, as will budget priorities for the 2012-13 budget.

Teachers and students “dislike” Blue-White schedule

Mike Wood, part-time assistant principal and part-time adult education director, reported to the board that teachers overwhelmingly dislike the Blue-White schedule, which was enacted at the beginning of the school year. The Blue-White schedule alternates. One week has two White days and three Blue days, and the next has three White days and two Blue. Each day has different courses, which run all year. In block scheduling, students have the same course every day, but only for a part of the year, with other courses in the other part of the year.

“It creates lots of conflicts, a lot of problems, and if a student is absent, they fall behind,” Wood said of the Blue-White schedule. “I think the failure rate is going to be higher.”

At the December meeting, student representative Sarah Wilson reported that students overwhelmingly dislike the new schedule and that many feel their grades are lower because of it.

High school principal Todd West surveyed the teachers in his monthly report, and 82 percent of the high school teachers would not recommend the Blue-White schedule for the 2013-14 school year.

The Blue-White schedule will be on the agenda at the February meeting.

Other business

In other business, the board released a new communications plan aimed at “improving community engagement and citizen participation with our schools,” according to a press release containing an outline of the new plan. The communication plan includes creating “more consistent two-way communication between the school board and the community” and more “pro-active and in-depth communications on large issues” through a “variety of media/distribution channels.” Some of these channels include Online sources and social media. To receive emails related to the school system, contact Webster at su76.rwebster@gmail.com to be put on the e-mail list.

West told the board DI-SHS has been invited to give a presentation at the New England Secondary School Consortium—the organization running the League of Innovative Schools—and is one of only three main schools invited to do so. West and three other members of the leadership team will present on using data, Professional Learning Communities and teacher leadership to guide school improvement.

The board also heard reports from high school guidance counselor Sandy Robinson on her progress. West shared a K-12 curriculum mapping update with the board, and the math program was also discussed.

The school board next meets on Tuesday, February 7, at 6 p.m. at the elementary school.