Coaching conundrum circles Board of Ed budget meeting

Seen here outside the Board of Education after officially taking over in 2012, William McKersie is set to call Greenwich home for at least three more years. — Ken Borsuk

Superintendent William McKersie standing outside of the Board of Education — Ken Borsuk

With staffing adjustments in the proposed 2015-16 budget, including the removal of three instructional coaching positions, questions have arisen as to how Greenwich Public Schools plans to preserve the effectiveness of its coaching model.

The Board of Education held its first question-and-answer session for the proposed $147-million budget last week, welcoming input from the public. Though the budget has seen little contention overall, the meeting provided an opportunity for further clarification on key changes to the budget — specifically, the instructional coaching staff changes.

According to the district, cutting the number of coaches down from 11 to eight would save the district approximately $250,000, funding that could be used toward pressing initiatives like the Hamilton Avenue School STEM magnet program and the district’s digital learning environment. The district maintains that the reduction is not indicative of the coaching model’s success and has stated that coaches are still an integral part of the district’s curriculum development.

Though they admit that the decrease in coaches would reduce the number of teachers being served, Superintendent of Schools William McKersie and Greenwich Public Schools staff members plan to increase the impact of the coaching model by increasing collaboration between the coaches and district staff. In order to achieve this, the district plans to employ coaches with a more generalized area of expertise, rather than having them focus on specialized subject areas.

The difference between generalized and specialized coaching practices brought some confusion to the board, as some members expressed concerns that a more generalized model would leave gaps in specific subject areas of need.

“I think one issue is the issue of going from specialization to generalization, and then the other issue is the number of coaches that we need,” board member Adriana Ospina said. “I want to have a better understanding of the specialization versus generalization, and then once we have a grasp on that, then I think it will be easier to discuss what the right number is, whether eight, nine, 10, or 11.”

Greenwich Education Association (GEA) President Carol Sutton spoke out against the proposed change to the coaching model, citing an impromptu survey of GEA building representatives that showed that most teachers sought help within specific subject areas rather than with general practices. While the GEA, which serves as the town’s teachers’ union, is in favor of preserving all 11 coaching positions, Ms. Sutton suggested that the district maintain its specialized coaching strategy regardless of the number.

“In the event that three coaches are cut by the end of this process, the GEA has asked the district to consider a model that retains specialization,” she said. “If two coaches will be assigned to each elementary network, one can be a STEM coach and the other a literacy coach. In this way, the teachers would get the experts that they so need.”

Dr. McKersie said the shift to the more generalized model would not bring about a loss of expertise; instead, coaches would employ a broader strategy, while retaining the ability to focus in on specific subject areas.

“It’s a generalist with a keen sense of specialization. This would not be black and white, simply going from specialists to generalists with no expertise along the way,” Dr. McKersie said. “We know that while literacy and the ELA area and the STEM area are essential, generalists would also have those strengths. … Even at 11 coaches, we don’t have enough to serve some 900 teachers.”

He added, “The coaching reduction is not simply to reduce three, but to reorganize the work and to say, ‘With a smaller number, how do you redeploy and reorganize?’”

Board Chairman Barbara O’Neill was one of the few to speak in support of the coaching changes, seeing the shift as an opportunity to increase accountability and structure for the coaching program under the Common Core. Echoing a statement from board member Peter Bernstein, Ms. O’Neill requested improved metrics quantifying the success of the coaching program to ensure that the shift in approach would remain equally effective.

The proposed reorganization would include the hiring of new coaches by February. Deputy Superintendent Ellen Flanagan and Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Learning Irene Parisi are leading a work group to determine the criteria for the new coaches and complete the new model for the incoming coaches.

Focuses of that new model include the transition to new state standards based on the Common Core and greater cross-subject collaboration between coaches. The district would also move a second coach to the middle school level for greater support and position a STEM coach specifically at Hamilton Avenue School.

Despite the conflicts over the coaching model changes, the proposed budget garnered overall approval from all parties involved for its fiscal responsibility and commitment to growth. The Board of Education has requested further explanation for the prospective change from specialized coaching to the generalized method for the next budget meeting, which is scheduled for Dec. 11 at Cos Cob School. The budget is scheduled to be voted on at the board’s Dec. 18 meeting at Greenwich High School.

[email protected]

By participating in the comments section of this site you are agreeing to our Privacy Policy and User Agreement

© Hersam Acorn. All rights reserved. The Greenwich Post, 10 Corbin Drive, Floor 3, Darien, CT 06820

Designed by WPSHOWER

Powered by WordPress