Public Outcry Caused Academy Changes

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School Board Chairman Defends
Teacher Layoffs and Restructuring

By Patrick Cronin

Hampton Union, Tuesday, April 21, 2009

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Russell "Rusty" Bridle
Hampton School Board Chairman

HAMPTON -- School officials said the restructuring of Hampton Academy that calls for the elimination of seven teaching positions was in response to years of concern from the community over scheduling.

"People have been screaming for years that the teachers had too much planning time and not enough face time with the students," said School Board Chairman Rusty Bridle.

While people may be critical about how the board went about implementing the changes, Bridle said that, at the end of the day, he hopes people realize it was done in order to improve the school.

The issue of excessive planning periods for teachers came up in November 2007, when the board reviewed the master schedule at Hampton Academy.

The schedule showed teachers had multiple planning periods held outside the classroom during the school day. One teacher had 13 planning periods each week, with four of them on Friday.

At the time, the board discussed reducing staff, but opted to wait to study the issue further.

Bridle said the decision to do something this year about excessive planning periods at the Academy came up during a March 17 non-public session regarding the renomination of teachers.

At the meeting, the board rejected the recommendation to renominate all the staff at the Academy as recommended and, instead, directed SAU 21 Assistant Superintendent Maureen Ward to develop a new schedule without multiple planning periods that was more focused on improving academic skills.

The board voted to implement the proposal it directed Ward to make at its March 30 and April 10 non-public sessions. Ward said the proposal was in response to the board's concerns over scheduling and student performance.

"Anyone listening to the Hampton Board meetings over the past several years heard a recurring complaint that teachers have an excessive number of unassigned periods during the school day," Ward said. "There has not been one meeting this year that did not have one or more members of the public speak to the board about their disappointment in student achievement and the high cost of education in Hampton."

School Board member Norm Silberdick said he voted in favor of the change because it creates as much time as possible for students to be in classes with certified teachers.

"By eliminating the excessive planning time and reorganizing the schedule, it obviously had an impact which resulted in a reduction in force," Silberdick.

"Taking out the planning periods showed the Academy was overstaffed," Bridle said.

As result, the board voted 4 to 1, with Bridle in opposition, on April 10 to reduce seven teaching positions that resulted in the layoff of five teachers.

Two other teaching positions were eliminated, one due to retirement and the other, which is currently held by Andrea Shepard, who was appointed as the new vice principal of the Academy beginning in September.

"We didn't start out saying 'let's reduce staff and we can build around it,'" Silberdick said. "It was the other way around. It was let's make the day more efficient and get kids a better education."

Bridle said the roughly $780,000 in savings from the reduction of staff was not the impetus of the change.

"The board didn't even discuss the savings," Bridle said. "My personal opinion is that it goes back to the taxpayers.

"We are not looking at spending that on something else," the board chairman said. "It should go back to the taxpayers."

Bridle said the change to a "vertical schedule" does not mean the school is reverting back to a "junior high philosophy" as was previously reported. The new schedule has the same characteristics as a middle school, but without all the excess planning times.

Bridle said the reduction of staff will not increase class sizes, which will remain between 18 to 20 students.

Reading, he said, was added as a core subject in Grade 6 to improve student performance. Bridle said the decision to eliminate consumer science and technology education programs was more due to scheduling than anything else.

The board wanted to add library and computer literacy, which he said were not previously offered. The chairman said the board believes assigning classes to a certified librarian and a certified computer teacher will increase the proficiency of students in these areas and better prepare them for high school.

"Right now in the schedule there is no time for students to go to the library," Bridle said.

Bridle said he understands why people are upset that the decisions were made in non-public sessions. However, the board chairman contended that many of the changes being implemented have been discussed over the years at public meetings.

"Because these decisions impacted personnel, we had to do it behind closed doors." Bridle said. "I just think the plan needs to be given a chance.

"The board is trying to honor the wishes of the taxpayers who have been talking for years about the inadequacies in the schedule at Hampton Academy," the School Board chairman said.

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