High school looking to add two educators

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Math teacher, counselor aimed to help meet school's needs

By Stephen Lega

Marion County Superintendent Donald Smith said a few weeks ago that the time for talking is over. Instead, the district needs to take action to make improvements.

Last week, the Marion County Board of Education reached a consensus to support allowing Marion County High School to hire two new educators for the remainder of the 2010-11 academic year. It will be up to the high school's site-based decision making council to decide if it will hire two math teachers or one math teacher and one counselor.

Chris Brady, the interim high school principal, told the board that the high school needs at least one more teacher to help reduce the size of math classes.

"We have eight sections of math that have above 28 students in them," Brady said. "One of our courses has 34 students scheduled, and several have 30 and 31 in there."

In the most recent test scores released by the Kentucky Department of Education, Marion County High School scores declined in every area, but district and school officials were particularly concerned with the school's math and science scores.

Brady reminded the board that the high school missed its No Child Left Behind goal in math. He made it clear that he wanted to hire a qualified teacher, not just someone to reduce class sizes.

"I don't want to put just a warm body in there. I want a quality candidate,  otherwise I'm not interested in doing this," he said.

Sr. Kay Carlew, the board chairwoman, asked about the likelihood of finding a good applicant at this time of the year.

Board member Bernard Miles said the district has rehired retired teachers previously to help. Brady said he would be willing to look at retirees.

Smith said the district is going to place its resources into the areas with the most need.

"And right now, everybody knows what that is, the high school and St. Charles [Middle]," he said.

Smith added that hiring two more educators at the high school could cost between $60,000 and $80,000.

Carlew also mentioned that she was concerned about the high school not having another person to help students who were falling behind and failing classes. 

Brady said that was another of his concerns, which is why he also wanted to talk to the board about possibly hiring another counselor at the high school.

He said the high school has around 1,000 students and just two counselors, which is a ratio of nearly 500 students per counselor. With the counselors various responsibilities, they don't have much time to devote to assisting students who are falling behind, Brady said.

"I certainly see the need, one, for a qualified math teacher and, two, for another math person who could really help those kids who are struggling," Carlew said.

Assistant Principal Christina McRay said the purpose of the additional math teacher would be to lighten the load on the teachers.

And Brady said if the high school decides to hire a counselor, that person would serve primarily to intervene with students to address problems. That person would sit down one-on-one with students, look at attendance issues and try to better understand why a student is struggling or falling behind.

Board member Brad Mattingly asked what would be done to make sure those students are being helped if an interventionist is hired. 

Brady said the high school has some funds available for extended school services, but he added that in many cases it's a matter of addressing attendance issues.

"If we could cure the attendance problem, some of the other things would fall in place," Brady said.

Board member Alex Ackermann asked how adding another math teacher would affect class sizes. Brady said the school would be able to offer more sections of some classes, and Assistant Principal Stacey Hall also noted that an additional math teacher could also be used to offer remediation for students.

Ackermann said it sounded like the high school needs more than one math teacher. Later in the meeting, she asked math teacher Haley Parman what would be a manageable class. Parman said having classes in the mid-20s was manageable. With more students than that it could sometimes be difficult to provide individual attention to those students.

Brady was clear that hiring one teacher would not in and of itself fix the high school's problems.

"One's not going to help everything, but it will help," he said.

Smith also said that hiring two more educators for the remainder of the school year will help in planning for the 2011-12 academic year. He added that the site-based council will need to have some tough conversations about staffing needs as it plans for next year.

The board was expected to take formal action on the request to allow the high school to hire two more educators during its Nov. 9 meeting. 

Brady said Monday that he has already posted job listings for anticipated positions for both a math teacher and a counselor. He made those postings following a meeting of the site-based council Thursday.

"They thought our use of the interventionist would be better to meet our needs," he said.

He said he has already had some interest in the positions, although he reiterated that he's not just looking for anyone. He wants good, qualified people who can help the school make improvements.