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Superintendent outlines administrative reorganization

One of the things Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III wanted to address in his proposed $183 million budget was the efficiency and effectiveness of the division’s administrative team and how best to align staff to support schools and have the greatest impact in the classroom.

“Just to put everything into perspective, I really believe streamlining this process will make it a lot easier for our constituents and other staff members to be able to follow,” said Gordon, who also noted that the administrative office is understaffed.

Gordon said the school administrative office should be divided into three levels: making Wendy Forsman the chief financial officer and reclassifying Dr. LaToya Harrison’s position from assistant superintendent of teaching and learning to chief academic officer, heading up the Teaching and Learning Department. The proposed organizational chart for fiscal year 2021 also would reclassify Dr. Suzanne Rice’s title from assistant superintendent of student services to chief of administrative services.

With all of the changes, Gordon noted that there are still just three new administrative positions in the proposed budget, despite what he said were rumors that the division had plans to double in size. The cost for those proposed positions and administrative changes comes to $327,229.

One of those new positions, a director of curriculum and instruction, is critical, he said.

“This is a new position that I think we need to have in order to take a hard look at how teaching and learning is really happening in the classroom — our pacing guides, our lesson planning, and making sure that we’re really filling the needs of our students,” Gordon said.

Any department level that deals with money will fall under Forsman. In the proposed organizational chart, Director of Facilities and Planning Terry Napier and Director of Food Services Dr. Lawrence Whiting would report to Forsman.

Another change will come to the oversight of custodians that Gordon said would free up time for principals to focus more on instruction.

“We’re going to move the custodians out from underneath of our principals,” Gordon said. “The head custodian will still directly report both to the principal and to (Supervisor of Custodial Services James) Downs, but we want our principals focusing on instruction in the classroom, as well as focusing on leadership.”

Some areas won’t change much, including the Facilities and Planning Department, though some titles are changing.

Technology will also be a focus as the division plans to add staff to better implement it in the classroom.

Anything involving classroom issues will move under Harrison’s purview, and “a hodgepodge of everything” else, Gordon said, will fall under Rice’s direction.

Gordon acknowledged Harrison has responsibility for a sizable department, “and it should be,” he said, since the division is focused on instruction. He said the science specialists would turn into a science/STEM specialist. The fine arts facilitator, currently a part-time position, would be a full-time fine arts specialist instead under the new budget and reorganization plan.

Students and members of the community gave Gordon a consistent message of increasing focus on the fine and performing arts.

“We’re beginning to have exploratory conversations about adding a fine and performing arts specialty center at Lakeland High School,” Gordon said. “We’re also taking the opportunity to explore and see what other fine and performing arts specialty centers across the state (are) doing, because we want to make ours better, with a larger focus on music production and behind-the-scenes work besides the stage production that you normally see.”

The superintendent said the Career and Technical Education department would fall under Dr. Ronald Leigh as the director of secondary leadership, as Gordon said he wants the CTE program to work better at tying into high school life and increasing dual-enrollments and certifications among students while working with local businesses to increase internships.

“We think partnering our CTE department with our secondary principals is a logical step since secondary leadership is all about preparing our kids for life after Suffolk Public Schools anyway,” Gordon said.

The division is also focusing on having its coordinator of federal programs and intervention services, as well as its enrichment specialists, fall under Director of Elementary Leadership Pamela Connor.

“Some of the things that we’re seeing from our elementary school students mean that we need more support,” Gordon said, “and we want to make sure that we do a better job of communicating what those expectations are going to be and collaborating more to do a better job of helping the students.”

Gordon is also hopeful that switching special education from the administrative services to the teaching and learning department will increase collaboration and results.

“For almost a decade, we haven’t made the gains that we need,” Gordon said.

There are also planned changes in community engagement and in human resources to better communicate the division’s message and to attract and retain staff.

“These are things that we need,” Gordon said. “Nothing that I’m presenting to the board (and) nothing that I’m presenting to our school community is a want. This is what we need in order to make our school division move forward.”

School Board member David Mitnick likes the changes.
“I’m happy to see the addition of the people to the central office staff because they are much needed positions,” Mitnick said. “The counselors and the fine arts have been squirming around for a long time looking for leadership, and I’m glad to see we’re adding those positions.”