Fitchburg a School District in Flux
By Mina Corpuz
FITCHBURG -- At least five of the district’s schools will have new principals next school year.
Principals from South Street Elementary, Reingold Elementary and Longsjo Middle School were appointed to administration positions Monday. There are also ongoing searches to find a permanent leader for McKay Arts Academy and a new principal for Memorial Middle School.
“What’s happening is going to be unprecedented in Fitchburg,” School Committee Vice Chair Peter Stephens said at Monday’s board meeting about the turnover expected for the next school year.
Jonathan Thompson of South Street will serve as Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning, Longsjo Principal Craig Chalifoux will serve as Director of Finance and Operations, and Reingold Elementary Principal Adam Renda will become Chief Intervention and Innovation officer, which is a new position.
Superintendent Bob Jokela recommended the three principals for the administration positions because of their background and experience.
Thompson has been a part of turnaround efforts at South Street, Chalifoux has experience with facilities and grant writing, and Renda was able to apply his skills from Crocker at Reingold Elementary.
“I love it seeing homegrown people tonight, people in the system coming up and taking over knowing the system,” Stephens said. “I think all of the administrators are going to be able to jump right in. We’re going to hit the ground running.”
The School Committee approved three-year contracts for Thompson and Chalifoux to begin July 1 and to establish the Chief Intervention and Innovation Officer position.
A search to replace Thompson, Chalifoux, and Renda as principals will begin soon, Jokela said.
The staff changes come also coincide with the retirement of Paula Giaquinto, the assistant superintendent of curriculum.
Next Jokela presented a $60.2 million budget to the committee.
The district can expect an additional $3.8 million in funding through the governor’s budget, which incorporated changes of how to fund public education, he said. If those changes weren’t made, Fitchburg schools would have faced a budget shortfall.
A 49 percent increase in funding for the budget was driven by higher enrollment from groups like economically disadvantaged students, English language learners, and special education students, Jokela said.
There is also an increase in enrollment in kindergarten through eighth grade. To address that, the budget includes funding to add 13 teacher, school staff, and district staff positions at the elementary and middle school levels.
Other funding areas in the budget include capital improvements for school buildings, staff salary increases through contracts, investments in Chromebooks for students, and turnaround school curriculum investment.
The goals for next year are to focus on professional practice, collaboration, and hard work to make the Fitchburg the best urban district in the state.
Improving social emotional outcomes, focusing on student subgroups, and supporting school staff are efforts to reach that goal, Jokela said.
The School Committee will hold a second hearing on the budget and finalize it on May 20.
The committee also approved changes to the next year’s school calendar, which includes no school the Friday before Labor Day, four early release days instead of 10, and a different date for staff’s general meeting for professional development.
Changes to the calendar were presented as a way to decrease chronic student absenteeism and improve student educational and social outcomes.
“It became clear that our calendar was presenting a structural challenge with 10 early release days,” Jokela said. “Our absenteeism would be higher on those days.”
Initially he proposed starting the school year before Labor Day and eliminating February break. The goal was to address absenteeism and give students more time in the classroom.
Jokela met with the Fitchburg Education Association twice to come up with changes to the calendar.
FEA President Adam Cordio and Treasurer Katie Schmitt, who both teach at Fitchburg High, thanked school leadership for working with the group.
“It was really the first time we worked collaboratively,” Cordio said.
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