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Tupper Lake school admin experiment ending

Superintendent says he can no longer be principal, too, asks board to hire one

October 2, 2012
By JESSICA COLLIER - Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

TUPPER LAKE - The man who has held both the titles of superintendent and middle/high school principal for the last year told the Tupper Lake Central School District board Monday night they should hire someone else to do one of his jobs.

Seth McGowan said the state's new requirements for teacher evaluations are too time-consuming in even one of the jobs, and there's no way he can do both and keep the district in compliance with all the state regulations.

When school board member Paul Ellis asked McGowan if he was looking for a mid-year change, McGowan answered, "The sooner the better. We don't have a minute to waste."

Article Photos

Seth McGowan
(Enterprise file photo)

The district could be looking to have someone in place by January.

McGowan said he's already having trouble keeping up on teacher evaluations, but in January, the superintendent needs to focus on building a budget, and he's not sure he'll have time for that.

"That strikes me as very dangerous in a questionable economic environment," McGowan said.

If he could do it, he would, but he doesn't think there's any way he'll have the time, he said.

"I'm not afraid of a hard day's work," McGowan said. "That's not the issue."

The board decided to combine the two positions to try to save money starting in summer 2011, after middle/high school Principal Pam Martin retired.

Even before the new evaluation standards went into effect, McGowan said long-term planning was getting lost among all his other duties.

"That's a dangerous road, I feel, to be on as an educational leader," McGowan said. "You always want to be looking down the road."

Now, he said, most of those duties will also get pushed out by the time taken up with teacher evaluations.

"Very little else fits into the day," McGowan said. "I don't really feel like there's any way to do this realistically."

School board President Dan Mansfield asked McGowan to bring to the board's November meeting a breakdown of the financial implications of hiring someone to do the principal's job, and also a breakdown of duties and responsibilities, something he did when he proposed combining the two positions.

"I believe we gave it our best shot," said school board member Jane Whitmore.

McGowan said there's enough money in reserves in the budget to put someone else in the position, because the district wanted to plan for this type of necessity.


New teacher evaluations


The new Annual Professional Performance Review requirements are thorough and time-consuming, McGowan and the other administrators told the board.

So far, McGowan, L.P. Quinn Elementary School Principal Carolyn Merrihew and Director of Special Programs Kelly Wight have put at least 300 hours into training in locations like Malone, Plattsburgh and Albany, and McGowan still has training to do in his role as superintendent.

McGowan said teacher evaluations used to take up about 10 percent of an administrator's time, based on a 10-hour work day year-round. With the new requirements, he estimates they will take up 41 percent of each administrator's time, which he called a significant difference.

Based on the number of teachers the district has this year, administrators would have had to spend 60 hours in the past evaluating new teachers and 74 hours evaluating tenured teachers. Starting this year, that time will jump to 360 hours for new teachers, since they have to be evaluated twice, and 888 hours for tenured teachers.

All three administrators said they believe the new evaluation standards are a positive step forward despite the amount of time they take. They are more objective than in the past, requiring an administrator to back up his or her opinions with documented proof of teacher behaviors.

"It's really very good in practice, very good," Merrihew said.

"It's a great concept; it's just an enormous execution," Wight said. "The overall benefits that are coming from this are really quite substantial."

The trade-off for spending that time and providing that proof, they said, is that school districts are supposed to be able to dismiss ineffective tenured teachers in a quicker and more affordable way than in the past. Before, it was next to impossible - such a costly and long process that most school districts gave up before getting to a conclusion, McGowan said.

Merrihew noted that it also helps teachers who are willing to improve to become more effective teachers through regular, objective feedback from administrators.

Wight agreed, saying the new requirements help force administrators to have professional conversations they might have avoided in the past. Talking about those issues has been helpful and are already providing a new consciousness of what teachers are doing in the classroom, she said.

"When you're in the middle of it, it's some of the best work we've ever done," Wight said. "It's fun."

McGowan said most people across the state who fulfill the sole role of building principal are concerned about getting all the work done.

He said that if he realized the scale and depth of the new evaluation standards last year or earlier this summer, he would have made this recommendation earlier or never recommended combining the two jobs in the first place.

"We had no way of knowing about the APPR at the time," McGowan said.

Ellis asked whether the state is helping with this new requirement by providing any money. McGowan said the only funding was from Race to the Top, through a one-time grant in recent years. Two-thirds of the roughly $26,000 the school district got from that is tied up in regional efforts, and the rest has been spent a number of times over already, McGowan said.

Ellis also asked if there was a way to give feedback to the state on the new requirements. He said he finds it ironic that the schools have to implement plans to evaluate themselves.

"It seems like that would be good medicine for the state, too," Ellis said.


Other administrators


When McGowan first proposed combining the two positions, he presented a complicated series of job duty transitions among about nine teachers and administrators. Ellis asked if adding a principal would free up any of those people to get back into classrooms and spend more time with students.

McGowan said some of the responsibility breakdown didn't end up, in reality, the way he had proposed it in theory. He said he could consider restoring people to where they were before, but he wants to take a look at where the needs are in the district.

"I think what we had before was a little bit broken, frankly," McGowan said.


Other options


School board members asked if it would be possible to contract out the teacher evaluation duties.

McGowan said that might work in the future, but he and Wight both said it's important now for the district officials to get a thorough understanding of how the evaluations work.

Contracting out that work would also be subject to negotiations with employees, McGowan said.




The district was required to apply for a variance from the state to be able to legally have the same person serve as both superintendent and principal.

At the beginning of Monday's board meeting, former district employee Trish Anrig asked about evaluations the district was required to do under the variance stipulations.

McGowan did not answer her question at the time and didn't tell her he'd address those issues later in the meeting, but while he was giving his presentation later in the meeting, he said he's spoken with officials from the state Education Department about this topic. He said they told him they'll probably accept a lighter end evaluation than would have been required if the district had planned to continue the initiative, "since we haven't gotten very far yet," McGowan said.


Contact Jessica Collier at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or



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