School superintendent looks to shake up administrative structure

Photo of Justin Papp
Westport Superintendent Colleen Palmer at the April 24, 2017 school board meeting.
Westport Superintendent Colleen Palmer at the April 24, 2017 school board meeting.Chris Marquette / Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — Westport elementary schools will not lose their respective assistant principals in charge of overseeing special education as some parents had feared, at least according to Superintendent Colleen Palmer’s proposed administrative structure.

“The SPED community was really worried about the positions of SPED vice principals in all the buildings,” said Merrily Bodell, a member of Westport’s SPED PTA at the Monday meeting of the Board of Education, at which Palmer presented her plan for the coming school year. “(I’m) really thrilled that there is not a proposal to change that at all.”

Special education parents this fall expressed some concern after Palmer stated a plan to assess the allocation of the district’s administrative resources based on school size and need. Many feared the district’s unique model for its elementary schools — in which one of two assistant principals at each school oversees special education — would be scrapped in an effort to

re-allocate and designated special education assistant principals might be eliminated in a shuffle.

Palmer, however, debuted a plan Monday that would see only one elementary school, Coleytown, which has the lowest enrollment, lose an assistant principal. Additionally, Palmer’s plan calls for the elimination of the directors of elementary education and of secondary education.

Even as those three positions would be eliminated, they would be replaced by three new ones: an assistant superintendent of schools, a district-wide director of academic programs and services and a pre-K through fifth-grade district math coordinator.

Under the new arrangement, elementary school assistant principals would no longer be required to work on the formulation of district-wide curriculum, allowing them to instead focus on their respective schools.

In support of the proposition, Palmer cited enrollment projections from two consultants — New England School Development Council and Milone & Macbroom — that show the school district could lose roughly 150 students over the next five years, on top of a decrease in enrollment of 300 over the last decade.

“The current way we’re structured does not promote coherence and collaboration as much as I would like to see,” Palmer told the board. “I’m trying to separate the district work from the building work.”

Palmer stressed that the rejiggering was not financially motivated and estimated it would not cost or save the district money. Palmer added that no administrators currently working in the district would be without a job as a result of the shift.

The proposal was met mostly by support among the board and public in attendance, especially from SPED parents, like Bodell, who view the shift as a way of lending better support to Staples High School, where many felt more special education resources were needed.

Some Coleytown parents expressed concern, though. Youn Su Chau, vice president of Coleytown’s PTA, asked that the board hold off on the restructuring.

“The bottom line is an administrative resource is being taken out of our building,” Chau said.

The board did not vote on the administrative restructuring and will meet again Jan. 2.; @justinjpapp1