Shaftsbury school board gives principal approval to hire math specialist


SHAFTSBURY >> After over a year of deliberations, the Shaftsbury school board has finally given the principal approval to begin interviewing candidates for the school's math specialist position.

The math specialist will work primarily with students in the younger grades who have begun to fall behind their peers at math, in order to stop them from falling irreparably far behind or into special education. The position had been called "math interventionist" until Tuesday, when Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union Superintendent Jim Culkeen informed the board that the SU was recommending that they change the title, as typically only teachers who are funded through Title funds are given the "interventionist" description. The school already employs a reading specialist who performs a similar function for students struggling with reading. According to principal Jeff Johnson, Shaftsbury is the only elementary school in the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union without a math interventionist.

Principal Jeff Johnson first brought up the need for a math interventionist at a board meeting in September of 2014, noting that the school's math scores were not as good as they should be. Shaftsbury, along with many other schools in the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, utilizes a Multi-Tiered System of Support for their students. Johnson explained at the September 2014 meeting that 80 percent of students should get a math concept in Tier 1, the basic classroom instruction. Another 15 percent will understand the concept after a one-on-one lesson, or Tier 2 intervention. Finally, five percent of students will need extensive, or Tier 3, additional instruction. Johnson pointed out that it is difficult for teachers to give the Tier 2 and 3 students the necessary attention while performing their other duties.

After much debate, the board in February 2015 approved the math interventionist position and allocated funds for it in the FY16 budget, however, the board never approved the job description during the year. Two members of the board that approved the budget were unseated during March elections, Todd Ordway by Jeff Leake and Jennifer Arlotta by Holly Bahan. After more debates this winter, the board once again approved budgeting money for the position in the FY17 budget.

"An elementary teacher who understands how elementary students learn, and has a strong background in math would be the ideal candidate," said Culkeen. Bahan disagreed strongly, saying that the candidate hired should be the "best of the best," and should have a master's degree and should be qualified to work with at least middle school as well as elementary school students, if not high school as well. Shaftsbury Elementary goes through sixth grade. She added that the position should be paid for through Title funds, not with local money.

"Our kids don't need to be learning calculus," responded Leake, "they need an elementary educator."

"I have a lot of teachers at this school now who could fill this position," said Johnson, who said that he will certainly be looking for the most qualified candidate, "They're great math teachers. They also happen to teach science, and social studies, and English. But they're great teachers, and that's what I need for this position, a great teacher."

The board voted 3-1 to approve the job description and give Johnson the go-ahead to post the position. Only Bahan was opposed. Vice-chairman David Durfee was not present for the vote.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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