Superintendent outlines school needs

Published 10:20 pm Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The City Council and School Board held a joint work session on education Wednesday, ending the afternoon with positive comments and high hopes for state funding.

School Superintendent Dr. Deran Whitney presented a three-year plan with a list of needs, including improving teacher compensation, getting additional teachers and other professionals and completing school construction projects.

“Hopefully at budget time, we will be able to accommodate your needs,” City Councilman Mike Duman said at the end of the meeting.

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The governor’s funding proposal would give Suffolk 12 new teaching positions if it survives the budget process intact, Whitney said. He hopes to use those positions to reduce class sizes, especially at the elementary level, and get middle school reading specialists, he said.

Some elementary classes are packed with more than 30 students, Whitney said.

“That’s not the most conducive environment to teaching and learning,” he said.

The middle school reading specialists also are sorely needed, he added.

Whitney also wants to see full-time graduation coaches to help motivate at-risk students to stay in school. He said the division saw an increase in the graduation rate when the positions were added in a part-time capacity.

“I’m convinced that if we make them full-time, we’d see another bump,” he said.

Whitney thanked City Council for funding the first phase of a compensation plan that boosted the salaries of all Suffolk Public Schools employees this year. The division lost about 30 fewer teachers than the previous year, he said.

“We saw a difference in retention of teachers, whether it was because of compensation or not,” he said. “We do need to complete the compensation plan we started.”

Other needs in the first year of Whitney’s plan include redesigning middle school programs and curriculum and continuing the construction of two new schools in North Suffolk.

Needs for the second and third years mirror some of those in the first year, such as maintaining competitive salaries and adding teaching positions.

Whitney also said he wants to expand the AVID program for middle-schoolers who might be college-bound and would be the first college students in their families.

An expansion of Northern Shores Elementary School also is needed, Whitney said. About 10 more classrooms could be added.

A learning center at Driver Elementary School, after it is vacated by students who will attend the new northern elementary school, also is a hope of the School Board.

Praise for the positive tone of the meeting echoed around the table following Whitney’s comments.

“I appreciate you all taking time to hear our vision, and hopefully it will come to fruition,” School Board member Lorraine Skeeter said.