School committee splits student support services position

The All-Island School Committee ended a lengthy search to fill one position with a vote to split the duties between two existing jobs.

The All-Island School Committee approved splitting the director of student support services position into two. — Michael Cummo

Following a long discussion, the All-Island School Committee last Thursday met and approved the restructuring of the director of student support services position. Hope MacLeod, interim shared services director, and Nancy Dugan, high school special education director, will take on new roles within the administration to fill the position.

The vote followed a lengthy search process that began with the retirement of Phil Campbell in August 2015 after two years on the job. Posted in February, the job received 20 applicants. Four out of six applicants accepted interviews, two were selected as finalists, and one dropped out. After going through the vetting process, Superintendent of Martha’s Vineyard Schools Matt D’Andrea decided the finalist was not a good fit for the position.

“My first instinct was that we would open up the position again,” Mr. D’Andrea said Thursday. “Richie [Smith] and I sat and talked about it, and the more we talked, we realized that we hadn’t just done one search, but we’ve done multiple searches for this position over the past several years. Dan Seklecki left the position in 2012, and since then we’ve had six people in that position, either someone we’ve hired or someone who has served as an interim. My feeling is that the instability of that position is detrimental to the programs.”

As a result, Mr. D’Andrea and assistant superintendent of schools Richie Smith decided on an alternative approach, which they presented Thursday as a recommendation. Ms. Dugan will serve as the director for students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. She has worked at the high school for two years, but previously held the position of assistant director of elementary special education in Mashpee, and elementary special education coordinator in Barnstable. Ms. MacLeod will serve students from seventh grade through twelfth grade.

“They have worked together this year, and they have worked well together,” Mr. D’Andrea said. “This is a collaborative position … Now we have two people in these two positions who are here. They are committed to the Island, and it brings stability to the situation. They know the Island, they know the schools, they know the resources, and it will end this revolving door that we’ve had at the position.”

The positions will be funded by a pool of money that was already allocated. Previously there was a director of special education at the high school, a district director of student support services at the superintendent’s office, and a coordinator of the shared services program. Mr. D’Andrea said they will hire a board-certified behavioral analyst to fill the shared services coordinator position and to work with Ms. MacLeod and Ms. Dugan.

After speaking with Ms. Dugan, Ms. MacLeod, Mr. Seklecki, and other staff members, Mr. D’Andrea said he felt good about the restructuring.

“It’s thinking outside the box; it brings change to the program, it takes a massive job and splits responsibilities, but provides support for each other in that,” he said. “If we get two years down the road, we’re going to have two people who know this district pre-K to 12, and will be supporting and working with each other.”

He said the seventh and eighth grade overlap was a conscious decision.

“That’s something that makes sense — these are kids that are going to be coming to the high school, and for Hope to be involved in what’s going on with their IEPs [individual education programs], getting to know the parents, staying in touch with the parents — it only make the transition to high school better,” he said.

Split views

Some parents, however, did not agree with the proposal. They cited concerns with eliminating the position previously devoted to the managerial functions of the entire program with two positions that will be focused on working in the schools.

“I do not see how an already overburdened system is going to function effectively when the work previously done by a separate district director is added to the job of the in-school SPED director,” Michelle Jasny of West Tisbury said in a letter read by Laura Silber, a member of the Island parents’ advisory council on special education, at the meeting. Ms. Jasny also expressed concerns with eliminating an oversight position within the school district.

“Of course I understand that there has been difficulty filling that position permanently, but eliminating the position altogether seems shortsighted and dangerous,” Ms. Jasny said. “With this new model, the high school SPED director will effectively be her own overseer. This is unacceptable. To whom does a parent then appeal if we are not satisfied with the in-school support services?”

Both women described tumultuous experiences with the program, including mishandled special education requests, a lack of compliance, and the necessity to file complaints with the state. Other parents supported the proposal, however.

“I think they made a good choice,” Bill Engler, a parent who sat on the hiring committee, said. “I think it’s a good solution. It is creative. It is what we looked at. I see it as the administration getting closer … They’re in the high school, Nancy will be in the elementary school — versus me going to the district and all this distance, she’s actually closer to the issues, and will be able to address them quicker, and have a greater impact. That’s what I’m expecting.”

Addressing the concerns, Mr. D’Andrea said that he and Mr. Smith will be responsible for oversight when necessary.

“Are we taking a layer away by making it so Hope’s position is not the supervisor of the high school?” he said. “Sure. I can see that. They’re going to be working together. The next step is me and Richie. If a parent has a concern and it cannot be resolved at the director level, it will, as it always has, come to either Richie or myself.”

Mr. D’Andrea said improving the Island’s special education programs was one of his main goals when he took the superintendent position.

“One of my goals coming into the position was to really take a look at our special ed program, specifically the shared services programs, and look at what we’re doing, what other districts are doing across the state, and look to see if we can do things better, if we can do them more efficiently, and if we can do a better job meeting student needs,” he said.

To that point, he said, the school has contracted with Elizabeth Keefe from Lesley University, who will work as a consultant to review the shared services, provide guidance with the special education programs, and make recommendations for improvements from September to December. A full report will be given in early 2017.

“I anticipate that Hope and Nancy are going to be here, and I want them here, because it’s good for our program,” Mr. D’Andrea said. “If out of this evaluation it says we could maybe shift things this way or that way, then we’ll sit and we’ll do those things. It will be flexible. But I’m really confident that this is going to be something that Elizabeth Keefe will say is the right way to do it. Going out and finding one person from off-Island, we know that we haven’t had much success with that.”