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FAYETTEVILLE — Changes in the district’s leadership are intended to make the school system more responsive to the needs of students and teachers, Superintendent Matthew Wendt said.

School Board meeting

5 p.m. Thursday Adams Leadership Center, 1000 W. Bulldog Blvd.

Changes in Fayetteville School District directors for 2017-18

• District-level positions for math, literacy, science and social studies eliminated. Math position was vacant.

• Sandra Taylor, current director of literacy curriculum, will be an academic interventionist.

• Lesley Merritt, director of science, will shift to new position as district director of two programs to support students

• Steve Jacoby, director of social studies and former Fayetteville High School principal, will be interim high school principal

• Nandra Campbell, an academic coach and former Westwood Elementary assistant principal in Springdale School District, will be director of professional learning

• Christen Graham, an English-as-a-second-language secondary curriculum specialist in Springdale School District, will be part-time co-director of English language learning

• Megan Godfrey, an Englishas-a-second-language elementary curriculum specialist in Springdale School District, will be part-time co-director of English language learning

Employment awaits School Board approval

Source: Staff report

Wendt promoted some employees to new executive director positions, hired the Greenland superintendent to fill a vacant associate superintendent position and made changes to district-level director positions. The changes will bring some new faces into administrative roles, while other administrators will have new responsibilities for the 2017-18 school year.

“I want to communicate clearly to our community that this restructuring plan is not about increasing administration,” he said. “It is about increasing efficiency and effectiveness with the overall goal of improving academic achievement.”

The district had 28 senior-level leaders, from assistant directors up to the superintendent, in the 2016-17 school year. Wendt plans to add four positions to his leadership team, though one position will be filled with two part-time co-directors.

Wendt said he is working to fill “cracks and gaps” in a school system that has changed and has different needs now than it did in the 1990s. The leadership structure had not changed much since that time.

With district growth and changes in the makeup of the student population, a new approach was needed to remove barriers and promote higher achievement, he said.

In 1996-97, Fayetteville School District was made up of 7,681 students; enrollment last school year was 9,864 students. It’s on track to surpass 10,000 students within the next two school years.

A rise in poverty level is one of the most significant changes the district has experienced in 25 years, Wendt said. In 1996-97, 32 percent of students qualified for free or reduced-price meals, compared with 40 percent of students in the 2016-17 school year. Eligibility for federally subsidized meals is a gauge of poverty in school districts.

Wendt anticipates the poverty rate will rise above 50 percent within the next 10 years based on enrollment trends.

“We can continue to have the same high expectations, and we will,” he said. “Poor students can learn at high levels. We have to be willing to make adjustments to the system that will promote their success.”

There are other student needs, including language services for the 1,000 students who speak foreign languages, Wendt said. He is recommending two part-time co-directors to oversee English language learning. And he wants Chad Scott, the high school principal being promoted to executive director of student services, to study how to close student achievement gaps and why students are not in school.

INCOMING TEAM

Superintendents don’t have a book to follow when putting together a leadership team, said Carleton Holt, associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Arkansas. Holt is retiring next month after 18 years at the university. He spent 30 years working for public schools in Iowa and South Dakota, including as a school administrator.

“It’s going to be different in every single school district depending on the size, depending on needs and the culture,” Holt said.

Superintendents take input from their school boards, the community and internal organizations within the school district, Holt said. Superintendents evaluate data from federal and state reports and determine the strengths and weaknesses of people on their teams.

“You’re trying to come up with a plan with the best you can find,” Holt said.

Plans are informed by experiences, he said.

While changes can stir some complaints, they are intended to help the chief of a school district, private business or university accomplish his purpose, he said. In school districts, that purpose is helping students achieve in a fair and equitable way.

Beginning with the 2017-18 school year, Wendt will work closest with six members of his team: his three associate superintendents and three executive directors. Steven Weber will continue as associate superintendent for the division of teaching and learning. John L Colbert will continue as associate superintendent for the division of operations. Incoming Associate Superintendent Larry Ben will be associate superintendent for the division of administration, a position that will focus on people and policies in the district.

Ben starts at Fayetteville in July. He has served as the Greenland School District’s superintendent.

The three executive directors are Michelle Hayward, Mark Oesterle and Chad Scott.

Hayward was McNair Middle School principal and was promoted to executive director of elementary and middle education. Oesterle goes from director of professional learning, federal programs and English-as-a-second language, to executive director of secondary education. The new executive directors begin their new positions in July.

Scott’s position and four district-level directors await board approval Thursday.

One of the first projects for Ben will be creating an online organizational chart that will show who is on the leadership team and what their roles and responsibilities are, he said. The online chart will include photos and phone numbers.

“We owe it to the parents to make it easy for them to know who to contact and how to contact them,” Wendt said.

Wendt anticipates the cost of his 2017-18 administrative team will be in line with the administrative cost of this past school year.

The School Board has not approved salary schedules for the forthcoming school year but are expected to do so this summer. Salary schedules in the most recent school year ranged from $55,415 to $101,238 for assistant directors of district programs to $92,515 to $158,460 for associate superintendents. The pay varies depending on the position, experience and education.

A NEW TONE

The culture Wendt is establishing was evident as early as last August during the backto-school convocation, said Christine Wilkin, a member of district’s technology staff. Wendt invited all staff — bus drivers, school receptionists, teachers and district administrators — to the event.

Wilkin, who also is president of the Personnel Policies Committee for classified staff, remembers Wendt talking about the impact bus drivers have on students because they are the first school district employees many students see each day. Staff members who are not licensed educators are classified staff.

“By saying that and making the staff feel that they matter, it doesn’t matter what you do in the district, you matter to students,” Wilkin said. “I feel more excited about coming to work than I have in the past.”

Claire Garrett, president of the Personnel Policies Committee for certified staff, said the past school year was one of the most positive she has experienced in her career with the district. She has overseen special education programs for a group of schools but has been recommended as the new assistant principal at Root Elementary School.

Wendt and his associate superintendents Weber and Colbert are visible on campuses and have worked to build trust, she said. They enter classrooms to learn and ask questions, she said. Wendt has spent hours talking to staff about changes and listening to their questions.

Wendt attends most certified staff committee meetings and has discussed with them having Hayward and Oesterle in positions to be in buildings, working with principals and their staffs, Garrett said.

She encourages staff members who have concerns or questions to schedule a meeting with Wendt or one of the associate superintendents.

“They are active listeners,” Garrett said. “Most people are now getting the feeling that the communication lines are open.”

Print Headline: Fayetteville schools chief restructuring

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