HARVARD — School Committee members Piali De and Kirsten Wright unveiled a conceptual retooling of administrative functions at Hildreth Elementary during the committee’s meeting Monday night.
The proposal, pitched for discussion purposes, suggests the return of an associate principal and the weaving of a cross grade- and subject-spanning “matrix” for curriculum development at the school.
The Instructional Leadership subcommittee reviewed the principal’s several roles and responsibilities in the wake of the departure of Mary Beth Banios. Banios left in July to become Maynard’s assistant superintendent for curriculum development.
The study group agreed that the annual evaluation of each elementary-school teacher “is more than a one-person job,” said De. The principal also shoulders curriculum-development leadership responsibilities.
Since advertising is afoot to find a permanent principal, the subcommittee was urged to finish work and pitch its counterproposal — especially as it relates to the principal post.
The subcommittee proposes that an associate principal be hired — a post that has been discontinued in the past. The associate principal would aid in student discipline, teacher evaluations and be the math coordinator.
Wright explained that, outside of language arts and l iteracy studies, math had the second-highest workload required of the five core subject matters — math, literacy, social studies, science and humanities.
But De said committee members “don’t want to lock ourselves in” and that an associate principal could take on science curriculum development, she said.
De said that a teacher survey suggests a “disconnect” on instructional leadership, with a call for “greater empowerment” on curriculum development. In the primary school, the reading coordinator “fell under the budget ax this year,” causing the cobbling together of stop-gap tutoring. A systemic retooling, with an eye toward finances, was pitched.
A full-time director of literacy was suggested for the coming year. As proposed, the literacy director would lead the development of both reading and writing skills from grade school through grade 8.
For math and social studies at the elementary school, the committee suggested the creation of two stipend positions for teachers to develop math and social-studies frameworks for the school. The work would come atop their regular workload.
Some 10 days of summertime prep work would also be needed for the expanded roles. Time missed from teaching classes would be covered by substitutes to allow the leaders to reach out to other grade levels.
The subcommittee suggested the creation of a “matrix” to integrate teachers horizontally by grade and vertically by subject matters to weave together a more coherent curriculum development plan at the Hildreth School. The grade-section teachers would split up literacy, math, science and social-studies tasks. Then grade leaders would meet with their subject-matter peers spanning across all the grades to synchronize studies and pinpoint any deficits as reflected in MCAS testing, for example.
“Is there time for teachers to do this?” asked board Chairman Keith Cheveralls.
“That was a huge part of the discussion,” admitted De, who added that clear roles and responsibilities would streamline the matrix meeting process for various team members. Early release and professional-development days would be used for team meetings. De called the plan “very doable” and estimated the curriculum leadership redo could cost $17,000 more, “which we think we can absorb.”
Superintendent of Schools Thomas Jefferson agreed the concept is “very doable” and that it “gives us the bandwidth on teacher evaluations.” While Gretchen Henry has served as “sort of a de-facto associate principal,” the reality is that there are seven teacher evaluators at the Bromfield Middle/High School but only one at the elementary school. Jefferson also liked the concept of the combined literacy director.
Jefferson said the time had come to “bite the bullet” so that “folks that come in have a chance to succeed… I think we have the talent.”
Cheveralls sought to reassure onlookers that no change is afoot and that the idea is still in study.
“In my experience, whenever you’re talking about change, whether small or big bites, people react to the feeling of being changed,” he said.
De agreed that more dialogue needs to be shared at the school council, teacher and community level on the concept “as to what’s working and not.”
Committee member Virginia Justicz asked how many teachers had been consulted on the idea.
“A couple? Half? Most? And what was sense of any drawbacks of this model?” she asked.
“This model hasn’t been brought forward till tonight,” said Wright. Thirteen people were consulted for initial feedback, including interim Principal Suzanne Mahoney.
“Is this the last stop? I don’t think it is,” said Wright. The next step is the school council to “let everyone digest this.”
“If it needs to be scrapped, then it’s back-to-the-drawing-board,” De said.
Cheveralls suggested quick involvement with other stakeholders to hear concerns, field questions and incorporate input.
“This needs to be as carefully explained and rationalized outside this room for people to embrace, or else it will have a hard time — no matter how good it is,” he said. “The bottom line will be, ‘How does it affect me?’ for faculty and staff. They’re looking at it and asking ‘What does it mean to me?'”
Jefferson said most teachers are already on study teams.
“For one out of five meetings, one may be the agenda keeper,” he said. “That we’ll leave to the teams to work out.”
While the principal search proceeds, another beat-the-clock issue includes the building of the fiscal 2012 budget. The School Committee meets again Monday, Nov. 23, and Jefferson is expected to serve up a draft budget for the committee to nibble on over the Thanksgiving weekend.
The committee is scheduled to meet only once next month, on Dec. 3.