High school to hire ‘coach’ for teachers

School board also approves new preschool position

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By Jason Starr
The Colchester Sun

The Colchester School Board unanimously agreed to fit two new teaching positions into the current school district budget on the urging of high school principal Amy Minor and Director of Special Education Carrie Lutz.

The district will bring on an “instructional coach” for the high school, designed to mentor teachers on how to change their in-classroom methods to comply with the state’s new “personalized learning plan” approach. They are also hiring an educator for the district’s new preschool program mandated by Act 166 — the universal pre-kindergarten law that passed last year.

The roughly $130,000 needed for compensation was freed up through the hiring this year of less experienced teachers to replace retiring or resigning teachers with more experience, District Business and Operations Manager George Trieb said.

Before voting in favor, board member Lincoln White peppered administrators with questions about the proposal. He questioned the compensation level for the preschool teacher — roughly $60,000, including benefits — saying it outpaces what similar positions pay at private day care centers and wondered about upward pressure the two new positions will place on future-year budgets.

Although the new salaries come within the current budget’s total teacher compensation, they represent money that could have been saved to help with future budgets, White said.

Board member Lindsey Cox argued that the school district should be a leader in teacher compensation and in creating an exemplary preschool program. She also advocated for helping teachers navigate the new requirements of personalized learning plan-based educating.

“Our teachers are being asked to fundamentally change the way they teach,” Cox said. “The work it takes to help someone change their practice is huge. It’s so crucial and without someone whose sole job it is to do that … they are not going to be able to do it.

“We’re not going over budget,” she added. “We are not adding positions we don’t know how to pay for.”

The instructional coach job description will include work in classrooms alongside teachers as well as professional development sessions for teachers. The coach will also work with local businesses to develop internship programs that are part of the personalized learning plan approach.

“I think I have a couple faculty members who would be interested in the position,” Minor said, noting that 13 of the high school’s teachers will be new to the school next year. “I think I would be able to find someone who would move us forward and be really passionate about this, about coaching and teaching adults.

“I think this could be transformational for the high school,” she said. “The faculty will be energized by having this (mentor). My prediction is that they say ‘one is not enough.’”

According to Superintendent Larry Waters, the cost of the preschool educator position will be offset by state funding available through Act 166. Colchester is beginning its program next school year, working with private child care center partners and its own program housed at Malletts Bay School to provide preschool education to Colchester children ages 3-5.

“I’m anticipating that pre-K will be a very lively part of our program,” Waters said.