Reading Superintendent Discusses Wood End Principal Search, Drug Policy and More
Reading Superintendent answered questions for residents live on Tuesday.
Reading Superintendent John Doherty participated in a live blog Tuesday with Patch. He answered residents questions regarding school related issues. In case you missed it, here are some of the questions and answers:
1. Question from Charlie: Have you made a decision on the new Wood End principal yet?
Answer: Good afternoon, Charlie, I will have a decision on the Wood End principal by Thursday.
2. Question from Ashley Troutman: Reading Memorial High School will have a new drug and alcohol policy next year. What will you and your staff do to ensure that the students are aware of all the changes?
Answer: Great question. As you know, in May, the Reading School Committee approved a new set of Chemical Health Regulations for Reading Memorial High School students. This past weekend, a letter was sent to all of next year's high school families with a copy of the new regulations, a chart which shows the differences between the current regulations and the new regulations, and an invitation to attend the June 6 RCASA event at the Field House which will highlight the regulations in more detail. In addition to the mailing, we will be having individual class meetings will all students in grades 8-11 before the end of the school year. The grade 8 meeting will happen when the students come up to the high school for move up day on June 4.
3. Question from Jim P: I’ve heard about a melee at the high school that involved fighting, fireworks in hallways and graffiti. Can you tell us more about what happened?
Answer: Good Afternoon, Jim P: There were some incidents last week at the high school which occurred both during the day and outside of the school day. There was some toilet paper and trash that was thrown on the campus at night. In addition, some other schools in the district had graffiti painted. We are working with the police to identify who caused that mess. In addition, there were some events that occurred during the school day. Those events were investigated by our high school administration and appropriate disciplinary action was taken with the students who were involved.
4. Question from Regina Murphy: Could you please tell us why Reading does not have free full-day kindergarten when many surrounding communities provide this program to their residents.
Answer: Thank you for your question, Regina. We feel that the full day kindergarten experience is extremely important for the growth and development of our students. Over 60% of our incoming kindergarten students will be in full day kindergarten next year. Unfortunately, we are not able to currently offer free full day kindergarten for all of our incoming students because of space limitations and the additional budgetary impact full day kindergarten would have in our district. Next year, we will not have any available classrooms at our elementary schools and it would require an additional 1 to 3 classrooms at each school to offer full day kindergarten for all students. We are currently having an elementary space study being conducted in our district which is looking at the long term needs for both full day kindergarten and pre-school. We will be hearing the recommendations from that study at the School Committee Meeting on June 11.
5. Question from Patty: There has been a lot written about a possible drug problem with young adults in Reading. What are the Reading schools doing to handle this?
Answer: Thank you, Patty for this important question. Over the last year, we have made several changes to our policies, our programs, and our curriculum to improve the behavioral health of our students. I could blog for hours on this topic, but we developed a behavioral health task force last year which came up with a series of recommendations on how to improve the overall behavioral health of our students. We have begun to implement several of these recommendations, including adding a new health curriculum next year in Grades 7 and 11/12, implementing a health screen for students in grades 8 and 10, hiring additional school counselors for next year, working with the Reading Police to identify the issues proactively through canine searches, strengthening our chemical health regulations for all students (see above question), and working closely with the town and the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse. This is a community issue and all of the stakeholders have been working collaboratively to tackle this serious problem.
6. Question from Irene M: Have you made a decision on the new athletic director?
Answer: Good Afternoon, Irene: We are currently in the interview process for the new Assistant Principal for Athletics and Extra-curricular Activities. Forty-six candidates applied for the position and we interviewed 11 candidates yesterday. The screening committee has recommended several pre-finalists which will be narrowed down over the next week. I hope to have an announcement by mid June.
7. Question from JP: What qualities do you look for in a principal?
Answer: Good Afternoon, JP: We look for leaders who believe in the mission and vision of our district. Building principals need to be effective communicators with both staff and the community. They need to be able to build a culture that focuses on what is best for students and to make decisions that are in the best interest of students. Because the job is so complex, they need to be organized and be able to prioritize their daily routine. They need to have a vision for what they would like to do in their school and be able to communicate that vision effectively. They also need to be a team player and be able to work with other administrators in the district. Finally, they have to be here for the right reasons, which is to benefit students.
8. Question from Scully: How is leading a school system hampered by the sluggish economy?
Answer: Good Afternoon, Scully: That is an excellent question. Certainly the sluggish economy impacts budgets and grant opportunities which allow you to continue to improve and innovate. However, I feel that we have an excellent relationship with the Town of Reading which allows us to solve budgetary issues collaboratively. There have been numerous occasions over the last few years where that collaboration and problem solving has allowed us to do more in our schools, with less.
9. Question from Ashley Troutman: What precautions does the school system plan to take before prom and graduation season?
Answer: Thank you, Ashley: The high school administration works closely with students to educate them about making good choices, especially during prom season. A few weeks ago, the Senior Class, met with District Attorney Gerry Leone, Chief Cormier, and the high school administration to discuss making good choices not just before proms, but when driving. The dangers of texting and driving were brought up as part of the presentation. In addtion, students are administered breathalyzers prior to entering a prom or dance. We also work very closely with RCASA, who has developed their own communication using the Youth Crew in preparation for prom season.
10. Question from RMHS: What's the hardest part about being a superintendent in Reading?
Answer: Thanks, RMHS. I enjoy being a Superintendent in the Reading Public Schools. The staff, students, and community are truly committed to providing a quality education for our students. Probably the hardest part about being a Superintendent is that sometimes there are mandates that are out of your control that you have to implement, but you know may not necessarily be in the best interest of the district. In those situations, you try to find ways to look at those mandates as opportunities to make a positive change for children.
Thank you to Superintendent Doherty for joining us and all of the contributors for participating.