Press-Republican

February 16, 2013

Peru Central approves administrative reorganization

By ASHLEIGH LIVINGSTON
Press-Republican

---- — PERU — As of March 1, Peru Central’s primary and intermediate schools will be considered one elementary school.

And the middle and high schools, both located in the same building, will be one secondary school.

The reconfiguration, accompanied by a district-wide reorganization of Peru Central School’s administration, was approved unanimously by the Peru Central School Board at a meeting this week.

“We’re trying to increase academic performance, we’re tying to eliminate student achievement gaps, (and) we’re trying to expand opportunities for professional learning,” Brimstein said.

‘BAD TIMING’

But before the vote, some at the session said they felt the timing of the changes was inappropriate.

“This proposed mid-year change, starting nearly two-thirds of the way through the current school year, is going to ask all constituents of our school to inevitably change most of what we’ve worked hard to establish this year,” said Peru parent Richard Hathaway, who also teaches science in the district.

“We’re being asked to do all of this in the most stressful part of the year, with final exams, APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review of teachers and principals) and high-stakes state testing right around the corner.”

The timeline of the reorganization, Superintendent Dr. Patrick Brimstein explained during a presentation about the process, is actually very purposeful.

The district could reorganize anytime, he said, but officials felt doing so in conjunction with the implementation of the Professional Performance Review and other state mandates was a good opportunity to work through all the changes simultaneously and collaboratively. 

“We really sought to have a learning period where we could learn together, and next year, fresh, start a brand-new year with a very clear picture of where we’re going and a very clear agenda of how we’re going to get there together,” he said.

CONTINUITY OF PROGRAMS

The reorganization will involve the creation of a K-12 Office of Curriculum, Assessment and Professional Development, which will be headed by current Peru Intermediate School Principal Scott Storms. And a K-12 Office of Student Support will be headed by Director of Special Education Irene Stephney.

“These people are going to have the freedom and the maneuverability to walk between buildings to support ... members of the Leadership Team (and) also to help identify and bring the professional development opportunities,” Brimstein said.

The Office of Curriculum, he said, will focus on professional development, ensuring continuity of programs across buildings and collecting data that can be used in real time to make assessments.

The Office of Student Support’s aim is to maintain the integrity and continuity of services for students with special learning needs. 

“We’re trying to increase academic performance, we’re tying to eliminate student achievement gaps, (and) we’re trying to expand opportunities for professional learning,” Brimstein said.

‘SEAMLESS TRANSITIONS’

In addition, the superintendent noted, the changes are intended to ensure and create a seamless series of transitions for students across grade levels, as well as foster district-wide communication and collaboration.

The district’s current model of four separate schools, he added, makes it more of a challenge to accomplish those things.

“It’s difficult to create the links between pillars so that we can really foster and promote and encourage and support professional dialogue that has to happen in a learning organization of professional people, which is what Peru has,” he said.

PRINCIPAL ADJUSTMENTS

Brimstein noted that the idea is to capitalize on the district’s strengths and maximize its resources without creating any additional financial burden.

To do so, Peru High School Principal Christopher Mazzella will become principal of the Secondary School, which will include grades seven through 12, with Middle School Principal Cheryl Felt serving as associate principal.

The district has hired Matthew Slattery to head the elementary school, spanning grades kindergarten through six; he will vacate his post as principal of Beekmantown Elementary School on March 1 and join PCSD on March 4.

Though Slattery is a new hire, his employment is not an additional expense to the district; he will step into the shoes of Scott Osborne, who left his post as principal of Peru Primary School in fall 2012.

Since then, Peter Atchinson has been acting as interim principal of the Primary School and will step down on March 1.

PERU ACADEMY?

The reorganization also calls for Sanford Coakley, now Peru High School dean of students, to become the Elementary School’s associate principal.

In addition, Brimstein said, there has been some discussion about giving the Secondary School the name “Peru Academy.”

In a separate interview, he told the Press-Republican the Student Council is in the process of creating an online survey to allow people to weigh in on what the name will be — they will be able to chose from a selection of names for the school or write in their own suggestions.

“Whatever consensus seems to be, we’re going to name it that,” he said.

He anticipated the survey would be available to the public on the school’s website, perucsd.org/secondary soon.

‘LOW MORALE’

District residents and employees at the session also expressed concerns before the vote that the school community was not part of the decision to reorganize.

Julie Dynko, a first-grade teacher and Peru Central parent and taxpayer, told the board she had never seen such low morale among the school’s employees.

“Major decisions have been made with seemingly no thought as to how those decisions with affect those who work here,” she said. “Communication is severely lacking.”

For example, she said, she had not been informed that the district was considering hiring Slattery until earlier that day.

“Some people were surprised when they read about it in the board agenda online,” she said.

‘PURPOSEFUL TIMELINE’

During his presentation, which included Power Point slides, Brimstein told meeting attendees that he had given a similar talk to the public at a board meeting several months ago and had sent the slides out to all faculty and staff.

He also noted that the names of those under consideration for the positions weren’t shared earlier because the administrative group is a union, and details had to be negotiated in collective bargaining.

“We don’t share what’s being bargained,” he said during the meeting. “That’s a breach of practice. We share after a contract’s been negotiated.”

‘LEARNING PERIOD’

Brimstein also noted that the period from March 1 to the end of the 2012-13 school year will be a learning period, when the school community will transition together into the new model and communicate about ways to improve it.

“The model does not have me giving all the answers,” he said. “The model is much more organic. The model that we’re proposing here is something that we build together.”

Brimstein added that the district’s Leadership Team is excited to take on the challenge.

“This team is wonderful, the way it responds,” he said.

Before the close of the meeting, Board President Donna LaRocque told meeting attendees letters would go home to all parents and students alerting them to the upcoming changes.

In addition, she said, when discussion of reorganization first began, the board didn’t expect it would come to fruition for a couple of years.

“The reason the timeline was accelerated was because of Mr. Osborne’s departure,” she said. “And it only made sense at that point to try to put something in motion that we knew was going to further the district.”

Email Ashleigh Livingston:

alivingston@pressrepublican.com