While the primary focus on during the talks on Jan. 7 was dollars and cents, Superintendent Dr. Dan Brenner also made a presentation about new positions that he hopes to create in district. The positions will serve as department chairpersons, and will take the place of the current curriculum monitor and coordinator positions.
Currently, the monitors exist for grade six through grade twelve, and at the time of their creation, the goal was to, “look at the supervisory structure at the secondary level,” according to Brenner’s presentation. The monitors, however, were also teachers, and were tasked with teaching a full load of courses in addition to this new responsibility. While the curriculum monitor emerged as a “go-to” person in each department, Brenner outlined a number of weaknesses created by the current model that will be addressed by the new position. There is little articulation between schools, there is no supervision of staff, and the teaching a full complement of courses leaves very little time to tend to duties as a curriculum monitor.
The new position will be called a department chairperson. Chairpersons will exist in English, History, Math, Science, World Language, and Special Education, meaning six positions total replacing the current twelve positions. A chairperson will teach only one class. Brenner pointed to this as a model used by many private schools where the headmaster still teaches a class because it maintains a personal connection with students. The chairperson will alternate years teaching at DHS and MMS, and will spend defined time in both buildings.
Brenner pointed to improving articulation between buildings as a primary goal of the new positions. A number of decisions made at the middle school level impact coursework at DHS, and Brenner pointed to math tracks as evidence of this. In some cases, if a student wishes to take the highest level math possible at DHS, the track to take that class begins with the decision to take a certain math class while in sixth grade. Evaluation of staff will also be a change. Currently, according to Brenner, principals in the building are doing forty or more evaluations per year, sometimes in areas they know little about. The new department chairs will be “content area specialists” and in a position to be a better evaluator than a principal might be, while also freeing up time for those principals. Brenner said that the primary job of the principals at these schools is to “manage crises”, and while evaluations are important, the evaluation process will often take a backseat to dealing with other issues of the day.
The new position is an administrative position rather than a teaching position, and will report to building principals and the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Dr. Susie Da Silva. The chairperson will also “supervise all department staff, create schedules, act as parent liaison, and visit classes on a regular basis.”
Brenner closes by outline what he hopes this new model will bring to the district. “Better instructional practices yield better experiences for our students,” said Brenner. Brenner also said that giving these chairpeople more time to focus on these duties will “lead to creativity in thought that should generate new ideas for classes and programs.”
A public hearing on the new positions will offer teachers in the district and members of the public to voice support and concerns about the new position. The chairperson positions becoming six administrative spots as opposed to the current twelve spots held by teachers will likely be a point of contention. Joslyn Delancey, President of the Darien Education Association and teacher at Tokeneke, appeared at the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday to voice both support and concern. Delancey pointed to the collaborative process between teachers and Brenner as a strength of the proceedings regarding new positions. Delancy also voiced a concern about the reduction to six positions from twelve, and those positions becoming administrator positions.
The portion of the budget that deals with these positions says the cost will be $264,074 for 2017-18, up only slightly from $262,514. This also covers the program directors at the elementary school level along with the six chairperson positions replacing twelve curriculum monitor positions.
These changes are part of a number of personnel items in the proposed budget, including the additional of a 0.5 FTE counselor at DHS and at MMS, adding a 0.5 FTE psychologist at DHS, and the reduction of a 0.5 FTE social worker. Also reflected is the district-wide contractual salary increase of 2.87%, or $1.8 million. Personnel makes up 65% of the proposed budget, which $95,802,809.