Schoolschief juggles his staff
In his first presentation to the Dracut School Committee since taking the helm of the town’s beleaguered public schools, Superintendent Steven Stone on Monday is expected to discuss his staffing plans for the district, which has been in a state of flux for the past few months.
Stone, who inherited a school system facing severe budget constraints when he moved into the corner office on Aug. 1, hopes to have a new leadership team in place and a plan to restore some teaching positions when classes begin Sept. 5.
In June, then-superintendent Stacy L. Scotteliminated 54 positions, including 21 teachers, or 10 percent of Dracut’s teaching staff. The fine and performing arts department was particularly hard-hit by the layoffs, which were based on tenure. Half of the district’s 10 music teachers were let go, as were two of six fine arts teachers.
The layoffs triggered a public outcry and prompted singer-songwriter and musician Scott Grimes, a Dracut native, to organize a fund-raiser to benefit the performing arts department. The event, “An Evening with Scott Grimes and Friends,” is being held Saturday at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium. Grimes, who is best known for his work playing Dr. Archie Morris on the television show “ER,” will host and perform at the event.
Facing intense pressure from concerned students and parents who implored the School Committee in person and by petition to “save the music,” the five-member board last month voted unanimously to impose fees ranging from $20 per student to join the elementary chorus to $150 for band lessons for children in grades 5 through 8, with a family cap of $600 per year. The fees, which are new to Dracut, are expected to generate about $104,000, money that will be earmarked for the music department.
“The intent of the School Committee was to bring back music department staffing,” said Michael McNamara, the committee chairman.
Robin Mallory, the district’s longtime instrumental strings teacher, is calling on the School Committee to consider waiving fees for beginning music students and allowing parents to make monthly payments, rather than having to pay the fees in an annual lump sum. The School Committee is expected to review and possibly take action on those suggested revisions on Monday.
Meanwhile, Stone has made some moves at the administration level. The recent resignation of Amy Reece, the assistant director of special education, allowed Stone to hire someone to oversee services for the 50-plus Dracut students who are enrolled in programs outside of the district. He is currently interviewing candidates for the new position.
Stone also has reshaped the district’s technology department. Rather than replace technology director Adam Steiner, who resigned earlier this summer, Stone chose instead to call Ken Moge back to the district as network and student data manager, a position Moge had previously held in Dracut. The change will mean less focus on instructional support and more on the hardware and software systems required to run the district’s network, Stone said.
The superintendent also has announced plans to install William Frangiamore as the district’s new business manager. Frangiamore, who comes to Dracut on Sept. 4 with 12 years’ of experience as a business manager — most recently in Winchendon — replaces Thomas Rose, who left Dracut in June for a similar position in North Attleborough.
Stone is interviewing candidates to replace Janet Barry, who currently oversees Dracut’s special education and nursing programs and will retire in September, and the district’s curriculum director, Sonia Diaz, who is reportedly following Stone’s predecessor, Scott, to Framingham, where Scott is now the superintendent.
The new leadership team in Dracut will help guide the $59.96 million renovation of the town’s high school, a project approved by voters last year. That project may lead the town to sell the Eldridge Administration Building, which sits on a 1.83-acre parcel at the corner of Lakeview Avenue and Mammoth Road.
The renovated high school is one of several sites being considered as a possible future home for the school department’s administrative offices. Other sites being weighed include the junior high school and Town Hall.
At Monday’s meeting, Stone also plans to update the School Committee on his efforts to fill several leadership positions at schools throughout the district. Stone has promoted Maria McGuinness from vice principal to principal of Engelsby Intermediate, and has recalled Kathleen Downing as a vice principal at Dracut High. Downing had been one of the 54 staff members laid off in June.
In addition, Stone has named Bill Nunnally the new vice principal at Lakeview Junior High. Last year, Nunnally served as a districtwide vice principal under Scott.
Stone also is reworking some of the grants that the district has received to “make sure we’re getting the best bang from each buck,” said McNamara, who noted that the superintendent is scheduled to meet with the board’s finance subcommittee on Thursday.
As he scrutinizes each line item in the district’s spending plan, Stone is hoping to find enough money to reinstate a handful of the positions that were eliminated in June.
“I’ve been meeting with people in the district and looking at the budget as a whole, but it’s a bit premature for me to say anything more than that,” said Stone. “I’m still working my way through the budget.”
Tickets for “An evening with Scott Grimes and Friends” may be purchased by calling 978-454-2299.
Brenda J. Buote may be reached at email@example.com.