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Decision on MMS associate principal delayed
MONROE - Monroe Middle School principal candidates and teachers will have to wait two more weeks before they find out if the school board will reinstate the associate principal position for next year.

The Monroe School Board voted 5-3 to table a decision on reviving the associate principal position for 2014-15. The district is considering bringing back the position after having four different educators serve as a dean of students this year in addition to handling other duties. Terri Montgomery, the current dean of students at MMS, also serves as a reading specialist and instructional facilitator. However, the bulk of her time is devoted to handling student discipline.

"We are in a place where we are maintaining," Monroe School District Superintendent Cory Hirsbrunner said. "We are just getting by. It's not a place that is moving the school forward with all the mandates we will have to do next year."

After a four-year, $8 million non-recurring referendum failed in 2011, the district pledged to cut the middle school associate principal position before this school year. The position was officially cut in January of 2013.

In a written statement to the board, Hirsbrunner said, "While cutting the administrative position may have been the right thing to do politically, because we said we would, I am not confident that it was the best thing to do for the district, students or staff, given the new accountability measures and mandates that are causing much more time, work and effort on all staff including administrators."

Board members discussed the role of an associate principal that includes the ability to conduct teacher evaluations while juggling student discipline. They also discussed the new MMS principal search timeline and the salary to add another administrator.

Under the state Department of Public Instruction's Wisconsin Educator Effectiveness system, which is a new way for evaluating teachers in 2014-15, principals and associate principals will spend more time in classrooms and outside of school completing evaluations and observing teachers in an effort to increase student achievement.

The board considered other options like bringing in an outside company to handle teacher evaluations, but teachers and Hirsbrunner didn't support that plan. First, only administrators with a license in Educator Effectiveness can evaluate teachers.

"I would be concerned having someone from the outside come in to do evaluations," Hirsbrunner said. "I don't know if someone from the outside would know our kids, staff, initiatives or expectations."

Board member Les Bieneman wanted the board to consider using a principal, a dean of students and a part-time administrator. The average salary of associate principals in Badger Conference schools is $79,000.

"The No. 1 priority for the principal would be evaluations," Bieneman said. "We may be able to have two-and-a-half people instead of two, and we may save some money."

Monroe Business Manager Ron Olson said the district could save about $5,000 to $10,000 under Bieneman's suggestion, but the dean of students position works under a teacher contract with a stipend and can't evaluate teachers.

Joe Monroe, the district's director of pupil services, said the middle school has already had 452 office discipline referrals this year, which is more than the school had each of the past two years. He said that the middle school had an average of six office discipline referrals per day in February.

"We are seeing a significant increase in the intensity and behaviors," Monroe said. "There are more mental heath issues now in the community."

Board member Amy Bazley, who is on the interview team, had several teachers support the reinstatement of an associate principal position.

"They want someone visible every day of the school year, not as another disciplinarian, but to have another administrator for support," Bazley said. "That is what I got."

There were 90 applicants for the middle school principal position. The district interviewed six candidates Monday.

Monroe cautioned that principal candidates are keeping tabs on the administrative situation at the middle school.

"I think we have to know if we have someone and we want to offer them the job, it doesn't mean they will take it," Monroe said. "They are taking a hard look at the structure to see if we are setting them up for success."

Reference checks are being done on the six principal candidates and the district will weigh writing samples and student surveys after the tour they gave candidates. Hirsbrunner said she will get back to candidates in about two weeks and will name finalists.

"Knowing whether we will or won't have the associate principal position could effect our decision," she said.

The district is the only one of all the Badger South and North schools that doesn't have a principal and full-time associate principal or dean of students. Olson said based on data from Forecast5 Analytics, most districts with an enrollment of 450 or more students across the state have a principal and associate principal. MMS has 547 students and a comparable district like Portage has a principal and a full-time dean of students with no other job duties.

"If you have 500 students and don't have an associate principal, you are in a huge minority with about four or five school districts in the state," Olson said.

Board members Larry Eakins and Michael Boehme supported the proposal to bring back the associate principal position.

"I think everything we are hearing supports the fact that we need an assistant principal," Boehme said.

Eakins didn't see a need to wait for a decision, but some board members wanted to get input from MMS Principal Lynne Wheeler who is retiring at the end of the year.

"I'm ready to vote yes tonight, and I will be ready to vote yes in two weeks," Eakins said. "Why put it off?"