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  • Writer's pictureEmily Berry

Two people with big, new shoes to fill

Our district leadership has decided to create two new positions -- one at each of our elementary schools -- whose jobs will come with weighty responsibilities and a mandate to support both school culture and student citizenship. The only listed professional license or degree, however, will be a teaching certificate.

Lake Bluff and Atwater Elementary School will each have a new Dean of Students starting in the fall, similar to the one created this year at Shorewood Intermediate School -- I believe at the suggestion of parents who were concerned about student behavior, bullying and the struggle the principal there was having trying to manage those issues along with academic oversight and administrative duties.

The reported success of the Dean of Students at SIS seems to have prompted this idea for the elementary schools. (Side note, the board appears not to have a say in whether these new positions are created unless they were to reject the administration's proposed 2018-2019 budget this summer, which I think has zero percent chance of happening -- personnel and hiring is one of the operational concerns that fall under the Superintendent's duties and not the board's under the district's governing model).

At the Lake Bluff linkage and at the regular meeting tonight, Superintendent Bryan Davis said the new Dean of Students would take on some of what falls to our school counselors today, including teaching sections of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and handling behavioral problems, playground disputes and "drama" that doesn't really require a trained professional counselor. This in theory will free up time for counselors to spend more time doing small group or one-on-one counseling with students who need it, and will give the principals more time to focus on academics and teacher guidance.

Dr. Davis said the job listing will not specify that a counseling or social work degree is required, because the pool of candidates will be widest if the only requirement is a teaching certificate. I spoke during public comments in favor of selecting someone with a background in social work or counseling, because as a parent I would want the person tasked with resolving behavioral problems and disputes to have a background in child development, social work or counseling that goes beyond what a teacher would necessarily have. Some teachers I'm sure have deep experience at these things, I realize, because increasingly often they have to fill all of these roles in addition to teaching a classroom full of kids.

I would just be happier if this person has a degree and certification. I should also have added that it would be amazing to see a person of color hired for this role, and a dream candidate would have experience helping kids who are marginalized for any reason, or helping kids recover from trauma. I worry about perpetuating the racial imbalance in behavioral referrals that is typical in schools, along with the tendency for boys to be "in trouble" more often. All in all, this hiring decision will be pretty monumental.

I wish the board had more say in the decision to create this role -- at the Lake Bluff linkage, board member Pablo Muirhead said he had found out about it last week and initially didn't like the idea, but had come around to it after having his questions answered. During the regular meeting, board member Joanne Lipo Zovic said her questions had also been answered, and none of the other board members had any questions. I would feel better if they had discussed in more detail at the meeting what their initial concerns were and how/why they were resolved. It always makes me uncomfortable when elected officials make clear that they've had offline conversations but don't at least share the gist of them for the public. I guess in this case if they have no real say in it, there's not much point anyway.

I have a nagging worry that this Dean of Students position is intended to address many of the mental and behavioral health concerns that the district has been muddling its way through over the last year or so. I hope this is just the first of a long list of other things the district will do in pursuit of a healthier student body. I'll admit, this position isn't the worst way I could think of to start working on school culture. If we are lucky and get a couple of extraordinary leaders who connect with our kids, then there's a lot that one person can do. We can hope and support these people's success. But these positions are also a gamble, in that whatever we pay this person is that much less we can invest in hiring more counselors, hiring a social worker, bringing in outside speakers or training teachers (if they could find time for any more professional development, which honestly could be a challenge, because they are really at their limit with new initiatives and goals). Maybe this bet will pay off -- I just would have liked to see more public discussion before the decision was made to make it.

The other major discussion at tonight's meeting was about Expeditionary Learning, which I will bring up in a future post. For now, it's a late goodnight!

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