BOE approves new technology and substance abuse positions

| 15 Feb 2012 | 10:07

    Subject-area supervisors also on list of new hires SPARTA — The Board of Education approved the addition of two new staff positions at their meeting last month and are currently looking to fill them. The positions are: Technology Coordinator and Substance Abuse Counselor. These are two of the 79 positions that were eliminated in 2010 due to budget cuts that were necessary when the schools lost a large chunk of state and local funding. Superintendent Dr. Thomas Morton also discussed the addition of three subject area supervisors for the high school and two for the middle school. Technology Coordinator The school district currently employs David Acosta as IT (Instructional Technology) Director to oversee all the technology needs of the schools and the central offices. The new Technology Coordinator will assist Acosta and will also function as a teacher to work with students and staff, teaching them to use new technology and programs. Dr. Kathleen Monks, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, said that as the district’s technology needs and capabilities expand, it is apparent that more than one IT professional is necessary. She said the new technology coordinator would work to infuse more technology into the classroom to enhance the curriculum. Last June, the board approved $1.3 million of an unexpected $3 million surplus, which was announced that month, on technology upgrades for all the schools. Acosta made a presentation to the board regarding the upgrades, saying these were sorely needed to replace aging infrastructure and purchase programs and equipment to more effectively deliver the curriculum and meet state standards and requirements. Substance Abuse Counselor For the past two years since the budget cuts, substance abuse counseling has been provided by guidance counselors. Morton said staff and administrators urged him to reinstate the position and to seek a full time SAC to fulfill the duties of counseling both high school and middle school students. Morton said the new SAC would have more duties than the previous position and would be a certified educator or perhaps as psychologist. He said the counselor would report to the high school and middle school principals, director of guidance, and the director of special services, depending on where his or her services are needed. The new SAC will also be the 504 Officer, chair of the Intervention and Referral Services Committee (I&RS), and the Building Level Bullying Specialist. Due to the expanded duties of the position, Morton said high school Principal Dennis Tobin wants to call the position, Student Assistance Counselor. He said across the state, the title for this position is not consistent, but the acronym 'SAC’ is common in most districts. Morton said he wants the new counselor to work pro-actively with students to provide needed education and counseling on substance abuse prevention and intervention. Subject Area Supervisors Other new positions in the schools include five subject area supervisors that were approved by the board at their September meeting. Morton discussed the supervisors at last month’s board meeting and explained how important their function in the schools will be. He said when he first came to Sparta there were similar positions called department heads in the schools, but he said, “I saw a school system that was not functioning as I thought it should.” There was only a part-time curriculum director and all the schools were not operating with a unified curriculum. He said he knew he had to work on restructuring the district and create a unified curriculum guided by a full time curriculum director. He eliminated the department head positions and brought in Dr. Kathleen Monks as Director of Curriculum to revamp the curriculum. The goal was to build an entire curriculum department, which is common in most comparable “I” districts, and Sparta was on its way with a curriculum department of three people until the 2010 budget cuts. Now Monks is a department of one again, even though state mandates and graduation requirements keep changing and core content standards are becoming more stringent, and state reporting is increasingly arduous. Monks must stay on top of changing requirements while implementing new courses in the curriculum, analyzing district test scores, and imparting all of this to the teachers and help train them in new standards and procedures. Morton said the new supervisors, who will also teach two or three classes each, will play a key role by assisting Monks in advising and guiding teachers and helping to train, mentor, and support them in the delivery of the curriculum. He said they will work as a team with the teachers to improve the overall education of Sparta’s students by being able to focus on their departments. Morton said, “We have a highly skilled team of professionals, yet even the best teachers know that education is an evolving, lifelong endeavor. These new folks will report to our staff, making sure their needs are identified and met.” Tobin expressed the same sentiment, saying, “These professionals are both teachers and supervisors, working collaboratively towards improving our curriculum and instruction in the classroom, which will ultimately improve student performance. It is important to note these are experienced educators with extensive expertise and knowledge in their own content areas.” Supervisors are very commonplace in schools across the state and Sparta is one of very few districts that did not have them. The supervisors will also play a key role in the new state-mandated teacher evaluation system, slated to go into effect in September, 2012. Until now, the only personnel available to do the necessary observations and evaluations were the principals and assistant principals. As Sparta High School has over 100 staff members and 1,200 students and Sparta Middle School has about 70 staff and approximately 1,000 students, the supervisors will be able to work with teachers daily to fulfill the current required observations and evaluations. The new teacher evaluation system is being piloted in 11 school districts this year. According to the New Jersey Department of Education website, the system requires many formal and informal observations and evaluations based on multiple measures of teacher practices and student performance. Officials say these more complex evaluations will have greater meaning for teachers and school districts, allowing for more relevant staff development programs and employment consequences. Regarding the new staff and procedures, Morton said, “We are all working for the common goal of providing the best possible educational opportunity for our students. This is yet one more step along that path.”