Recently retired Wissahickon District Superintendent Judith Clark started work this week in her role as special consultant to Cheltenham Superintendent Wagner Marseille. Clark’s hiring was authorized by the Cheltenham school board at its November meeting along with the approval of three new administrative positions, all to lay the ground work for the strengthening of academic performance across the district.
The moves came at a meeting in which Superintendent Wagner Marseille, who took office in July, announced that the district had received the state’s 2014-15 SPP (School Performance Profile) score for Cheltenham High School. The CHS score of 66.5 was the second lowest of the high schools in Montgomery County, reflecting a drop of 7.5 points from the prior year. Marseille expressed profound dissatisfaction with the CHS testing performance while noting that standardized tests are not a full measure of the district’s strengths.
Clark, who will fill in for an assistant superintendent to be hired before the end of the school year (interviews are ongoing), will work on a wide range of assignments in areas from curriculum, strategic planning, contract administration and policy development to organizational design and development, professional learning and staff development, K-12 instructional initiatives, pupil services and special education. Most of her career was spent in areas of special education. She will be paid $650 per diem, according to the district’s communications director, Susan O’Grady.
The three new positions approved were: supervisor of curriculum/instruction and assessment for K-12 data analysis and instructional technology; supervisor of counseling, holistic supports and K-12 testing; and supervisor, special education support. The board votes for Clark as special consultant and for the three administrative positions were 8-0.
Thus far, the administration has provided little explanation of the rationale for the new positions other than to point to job descriptions often heavy with professional jargon. “It’s all part of what will end up being many changes within our district and how we do things, and it’s all in response to how we both assess where we are and begin that arduous but deliberate process of turning that around,” maintains board president Napoleon Nelson. He points to recent public committee and board meetings where “there has been a consistent theme of ‘we need to invest more in our kids’ capabilities and capacity to do the work.’”
The district has been accused in the past of being administratively top-heavy, although that could be a hard argument to make stick currently.
In terms of the data analysis position, board member Bill England emphasizes the importance of assembling and analyzing learning profiles of students, the “need to know more about our students so we can reach them where they are.” The position reports to the director of education. With regard to the supervisor of counseling, England notes the importance of counselors working with students and parents for “improving what we have and making certain what we’re doing focuses on upgrading student achievement.” The job description identifies 19 key responsibilities of the new position, which will report to Director of Pupil Services Cheryl Horsey.
The supervisor of special education support will focus primarily on professional development activities for strengthening special education-related teaching and student performance. IEPs (individual education plans), for example, need to be more clearly written and better carried out to meet student needs, said England. The position will report to Director of Special Education Beverly Gallagher.
Salary ranges were not provided by the district, although it said that maximums are cited in the collective bargaining agreement with administrators. The agreement is not available on the district’s website. The application deadline for supervisor of K-12 data analysis and counseling supervisor is Dec. 4. The deadline for supervisor of special education support is Nov. 30.
The board also voted unanimously to terminate the district’s consultant agreement with William Kiefer, who had been retained in July to orient the new superintendent on real estate-related issues. Kiefer was compensated at a rate of $112 per hour, although the number of hours worked under the contract, which set a maximum of 112 hours, was not disclosed. Kiefer was Cheltenham’s superintendent from 2006-10 and most recently acting superintendent until Marseille came on board.
Finally, in a related development, according to a source close to district operations, Director of Education Dwight Nolt has recently resigned his position, the effective date for which is not known. The district has not confirmed the resignation, but, said O’Grady in an email, “resignations and retirements are listed on our board agendas. We do not announce/communicate resignations and retirements prior to board approval outside of agenda notification.”