Schools mull new positions
By BARBARA BEHRENDT, Times Staff Writer
INVERNESS -- Ask high school administrators about their biggest challenges these days and two issues, assessment and discipline, probably will come up.
Superintendent David Hickey brought one possible solution to the School Board several weeks ago. He proposed adding two new positions at two of the high schools and one new position at the third high school.
One new position was an assessment specialist. That person would deal with school testing issues. The other new job would be a dean to handle school discipline at the larger high schools.
At the regular board meeting earlier this month, Hickey asked the board to approve the job descriptions and $86,000 to make the necessary changes in the high school staffing plans.
But the board balked, delaying a decision on the positions. Members voiced concern that they had not yet had enough time to examine the idea and the costs. More discussion on the idea is slated for a workshop Tuesday with a possible decision at a meeting in June.
Several issues have arisen about the new positions.
Board members have talked about the need to help out the high schools, but they also have emphasized that adding more guidance help to the schools might be the first need. Guidance counselors are needed to provide direct student services, they said.
Board member Sandra "Sam" Himmel has argued that two of the three high schools have grown large enough to require another guidance counselor. The staffing plan allows one for every 350 students.
Money is another issue. At a time when pay raises of 2 percent concerned employee unions and officials are making dire predictions about what the new school year budget might hold, some people in the school system have questioned whether now is the time to be talking about such staff additions.
Terry Flaherty, president of the Citrus County Education Association, has said administrators should not be talking about wish lists when there are so many fiscal needs and so much concern on the financial horizon.
While an $86,000 addition to the budget was proposed to cover the new positions, Hickey said this week that money was still up for discussion. That amount would obviously not cover the cost of six positions. The specialists would be instructional positions paid on the teacher pay scale who would work an extended year, according to the job descriptions.
The School Board has also asked about whether creating an assessment specialist position wasn't duplicating efforts with the existing assessment teachers at the high schools. During the first workshop on the topic, the board asked specifically about who was doing assessment work at Crystal River High School. Hickey said it was his wife.
Last week, when asked whether his wife, Beverly, would be qualified to take one of these new assessment specialist positions, Hickey said she was qualified and noted that she even had one of the important traits that would be necessary: a concrete sequential personality that marks an organized and logical person.
But he went on to say that he did not even know if his wife would be working during the next school year. They had been discussing the issue and hadn't made a decision.
Mrs. Hickey has worked as a guidance counselor for the past year at Crystal River High School but could not continue in that job. She is not certified in guidance and has not taken any classes toward certification, which would be required if she wanted to keep the job next year, according to the district certification specialist Elaine Feigel.
The potential of a conflict concerned board member Patience Nave, who said, "I would not want people in the community to think that we had created a job for Mrs. Hickey."
But Hickey said that was not the case. He said that if the job were created, the choice of who would fill it would be made based on the best person for the job and for the students.
Board Chairwoman Pat Deutschman took particular offense at any question that Mrs. Hickey's situation would have any effect on the board's decision.
"That is one of the dumbest things I've ever heard," Deutschman said. "Over and over again we have said that we do not create positions around people and I don't think this board believes that Mr. Hickey is creating a job for his wife."
The issue became moot Friday, one day after a Citrus Times reporter spoke with Hickey, Deutschman and Feigel. According to Crystal River High principal Steve Myers, Mrs. Hickey told him Friday morning that she was retiring and would not return to the school for the new school year.
With that issue dissipated, board members will be able to focus on the need for the new positions and the money that would have to be spent to create them.
Myers strongly supported creating the assessment specialist job because testing has become such a huge part of what the school handles.
"It has become so monumental that I'm literally occupying one of my guidance positions with assessment duties full time," Myers said.
His school is not large enough to qualify for a dean but he said if it were, he would certainly see the need to add a person who had discipline as their sole responsibility. Crystal River expects to open its doors to 1,410 students in August, about 125 more than this year. The proposed staffing plan adds a dean for schools with more than 1,499 students, and both Lecanto and Citrus high schools are expected to easily meet that standard in the coming school year.
"When you get close to 1,500, it obviously lends itself to conflict now and then," Myers said.
The proposed staffing plan changes would place assessment specialists at each high school regardless of size. Much of the discussion has focused on that new concept in a position.
Nave said she knew the high schools needed guidance help and she had hoped to see some changes in that area already. But she also agreed that assessment was another issue where the schools needed some help.
Himmel also said she knows that the high schools have a variety of needs but she isn't sure extended work years are needed or whether the structure proposed is the best option. "I think there are still a lot of unanswered questions," she said.
Deutschman said she was sold on the need for the new assessment specialist position because that person would work with testing data and coordinate testing programs.
"This is new to the high schools. No one has been responsible for coordinating these activities before," Deutschman said. "It's awful complex stuff and it may be why the high schools haven't seen the progression of progress (in test scores) of the other schools."
"They have been a little bit further behind . . . but this is catch up time," he said.
Another strong supporter of adding the assessment specialist job is Jan Morphew, the district's director of research and accountability.
"In Florida today, education is basically a triangle," Morphew said. "One side is curriculum, one side is instruction and the last is assessment. . . . This person would be the key to pull all these components together."
They would make sure data from tests was used to improve curriculum and instruction in the classroom and that would improve achievement on future tests.
"The ability to analyze data and devise remediation plans is more important than ever," she said. "This is high stakes. . . . This is a powerful position, and I mean powerful in terms of the ability to make a difference."
-- Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 564-3621.
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