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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 5, 2009

Study likes super system, board not so sure

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Most of the Guilderland School Board members expressed disappointment Tuesday night at the scope of a study on the structure of administration in the district.

“This was only a $4,000 study to see if we’re following best practices,” said board President Richard Weisz.

The board will have to decide, he said, if Guilderland taxpayers should fund a larger study on what is essentially a statewide issue.

“There isn’t an easy apparent answer on how to change our structure to save money,” said Weisz.

The board commissioned the study in the fall at the request of Superintendent John McGuire. Concerns had been raised about combining the supervisory post for English and social studies at the high school after the social studies supervisor had retired. Also, during last year’s budget process, McGuire had pushed for a full-time guidance director, which the board cut to part-time.

The report was prepared and presented by Jeffery McLellan, the executive director of the Capital Area School Development Association.

He said his charge was twofold: first, to see if the supervisory structure at Guilderland met the mission and goals of the school district and, secondly, to provide data on similar schools around New York State.

He and a colleague, Sam Shevat, an educational consultant at CASDA, conducted half-hour interviews with 31 of the 32 administrators at Guilderland — only the superintendent wasn’t interviewed — and gathered information on the Suburban Council schools as well as nine other similar districts across the state, ranging from Baldwinsville in central New York to East Islip and West Islip on Long Island. Guilderland has about 5,300 students.

McLellan called the study a “snapshot” and said, “Guilderland demonstrates a highly functional administrative team.”  He advised against “dismantling the supervisory structure.”

He highlighted the report’s five recommendations:

— Maintain the current site-based instructional supervisory model: Guilderland has developed a sense of community in its school buildings, he said, and the interviews showed “there is a sense of collegiality”;

— Make the supervisor for counseling position full time for the entire district: The current supervisor has to choose between counseling sixth-graders and administrative work, the report says. Making the supervisory post full-time, McLellan said, would bolster guidance in the elementary schools and help with the transition to middle school and then to high school;

— Review the special-education program: The current four full-time special-education administrators “might be viable,” said McLellan, but should be evaluated;

— Create clearly defined strategies for transition from fifth to sixth grade and from eighth to ninth grade: “When you do have site-based administration...extra special care has to be put on transition,” said McLellan. He said performance data is lacking; and

— Maintain the current administrative structure: “You have a highly effective administrative structure,” said McLellan, praising the “myriad of not only vertical but horizontal meetings.”

He noted, however, the rapid turnover of high school principals in recent years and said the district should plan to attract and keep building administrators for at least five years.

Board views

“I think the study is static,” said board member Hy Dubowsky. “Our charge for managing the district is, where do we go, not where we are.”

Just because similar districts are doing something, Dubowsky said, doesn’t mean that Guilderland should, too. While he called the study a good jumping-off point, Dubowsky said that the matter should be considered in light of the current fiscal crisis.

“This was designed to be a snapshot,” responded McLellan.

Board member Denise Eisele said that she had been hoping to see in the report, not just how good the supervisors are, but how effective their supervisory roles are.

“Your methodology suggested the results you got,” said board member Colleen O’Connell. While she said she was fond of the administrators and glad they are comfortable and collegial, O’Connell said the report was biased because it was based on interviews with those who were its subject.

“We tried to be objective,” responded McLellan. “What we got back is consistency in terms of the effectiveness of their roles.”

McGuire added that, it has been his experience at other districts that supervisors who are unhappy will talk about the problems.

O’Connell also told McLellan that she didn’t share his concern about “guidance issues” at the elementary schools. She listed a number of professionals already employed by the district to guide young students. “I don’t see where we’re not addressing needs,” she said.

“We didn’t drill down into all the services available,” conceded McLellan.

Board member Barbara Fraterrigo expressed frustration that the report didn’t touch on the issue of two disciplines sharing a supervisor, an issue that sparked the need for the study.

Guilderland is losing enrollment, she said, and this year the district is “absolutely losing money.”

To keep faith with the community, Fraterrigo said, it’s likely the district will have to make administrative cuts this year and she had hoped the report would “point us in the right direction.”

Fraterrigo also said she would have liked to have seen interviews with teachers. While the supervisors are “happy and collegial and having a great time,” Fraterrigo said, she would like to know, from the teachers, how often the supervisors see them and how helpful they are.

McLellan concluded that, if Guilderland wants to pursue a further ranging study, it should look to a statewide organization.

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