The coming academic year is a time “get everybody back to center” at Andover High School, acording to new principal Chrisipher Lord, the school’s third leader in the last four years.
Last school year was not kind to Andover High. The teachers union voted to enter Work-to-Rule work action, cutting off volunteer activities such as college recommendations for students expecting their help. A hazing scandal involving the school’s basketball program led to student suspensions, action in court and a review of school policies.
As the 2012-13 school year approaches and Andover High gears for its re-accreditation, a new contract is in place, some new sports policies have been adopted and interim principal Tom Sharkey has returned to retirement, ushering in a new leader from Pawtucket, R.I.
That leader, Lord, has been in Andover since his July 1 hire date. He has spent the summer meeting with parents and students at the school and in their homes, in the classroom and at the dinner table. After many conversations, he said he’s ready to take charge.
“There is so much opportunity here, so many wonderful things already in place,” said Lord. “We just need to refocus ourselves and get almost a spiritual meaning of ‘excellence’ in everyone’s mind.”
“This is a year to reflect and get everybody back to center, get people thinking about what it is to have a meaningful high school,” continued Lord. The school needs to focus on “how we can work together to make this a fun and interesting, spirited, intelligent, innovative place for young people, and to get the grownups playing in the same sandbox — happily.”
Teachers brace for more work
Of the handful of changes coming to Andover High this year, possibly the most contentious of them is the switch to a three-courses-per-semester teaching model for the school’s teachers, after two years of turbulent contract talks ended with teachers accepting the teaching of an extra course one semester in exchange for a 5 percent boost in pay over three years.
“The kids aren’t going to see any difference. The kids will still go to four classes a day,” said Lord. “Who’s going to experience the difference is the teachers.”
To help with that transition, the school has replaced outgoing assistant principal Christopher Phillips with Mark Seide, an administrator with experience moving a school from a three-and-two teaching model to three-and-three at one of his previous schools.
For teachers, the struggle will be maintaining a three-course work load all year round, instead of just for one semester as they’ve done for over 15 years, according to Lord.
“The’ve worked a three-period schedule before. It’s just a question of pacing themselves and making sure that they don’t exhaust themselves” as they do it for a year straight, said Lord. “They need to maintain that level of commitment in a different way of utilizing their time.”
Already, staff reductions have taken place. Every department at the school has taken hits through retirements and cuts, Lord said. The number of course offerings for students will be the same as it was before teachers agreed to switch to the three-and-three model, he said.
School hires monitors, resource officer
Another addition to the high school this year includes a newly-hired school resource officer and six hall monitors who will, according to Lord, be “predictably unpredictable” in enforcing the school’s rules.
The new hires will fill the duty-related roles that teachers once held under the three-and-two teaching model, which had them carrying out duties during the semester during which they taught two courses.
Every day, the school will be locked down beginning at 7:45 a.m. The only way into the building will be through the front entrance, Lord said, and any students coming in will be required to swipe their student identification to register as tardy. Then, during the day, the monitors will be walking around the school.
The new hires “are monitoring bathrooms. They’re monitoring hallways. They’re monitoring outside,” said Lord. “Their scheduled day will vary. Some will be coming in early, some will be coming in the middle of the day. Some will be coming in late.”
The resource officer will be an Andover Police officer assigned to the school, according to Lord. Among his various duties, he will be responsible for checking on student parking to make sure students using the lot are following the school’s rules.
NEASC sets stage for Lord’s leadership
When Lord first applied for the position at Andover High School, he knew very little about the community he would be entering. So what better way to introduce him to the high school than to go through the school’s re-accreditation in only his second month in town?
While he has been meeting with parents and students over the last two months, the topic foremost in parents’ minds is the school’s re-accreditation, which will launch with a visit from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges in October.
During that visit, education experts will analyze every facet of Andover High School culture. They’ll shadow students, meet with teachers and officials, and consider whether Andover High meets their seven standards of quality.
“It doesn’t get any better than the standards and indicators that NEASC has established,” said Lord. “If we can marry ourselves to those indicators in a meaningful way, this school will be unstoppable.”
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