With gaps in test scores between River Dell students and their District Factor Group (DFG) counterparts and results from the most recent survey showing that parents would want their students to have mathematics tutoring once a week, the River Dell Board of Education voted along town lines, 5-3, with Paul Barnes (Oradell) crossing the border to decline investigating the creation of an academic coach position.
The academic coach position, proposed by Board member Michael Chakansky, would have called for the district to hire a teacher that would be available for high school students for several hours after the school day who needed extra assistance in mathematics.
"This was brought out by my personal experience of looking at tutors," Chakansky said. "My proposal is for an academic coach to provide an enviroment for a particular core subject to be available for a period of time after school so as to not conflict with athletics or other post school activities. I think we owe it to our students to try it and see what happens."
But the proposal faced a major setback when Superintendent Patrick Fletcher outlines several reasons why he would not support the measure. Among his chief concerns was the possible contractual issue with the River Dell Education Association (RDEA) in regards to hiring a staff member outside of the existing contract that was not vetted or reviewed.
"Second, I don't think this is an activity the school board should become involved in," Fletcher. "The board has opportunities to enhance the extra help programs that already occur and am very encouraged by the number of students that are already taking advantage of the extra help offered now. And finally the way this process has gone about has left a lot to be desired. To come out of nowhere at a board meeting without the involvement of the superintendent or other board members created an environment where this could not be vetted fully. For those reasons, I am not supportive of this measure."
While several board members all expressed interest in doing more to help student achievement, a general consensus could not be reached that an academic coach is the best option.
Board member Patti Almberg suggested giving the middle school Plus program the full year and then looking to implement a similar model at the high school. The Plus program offers additional help to seventh and eighth grade students following the regular school day.
"The best way to increase learning is to make our class sizes smaller," Barnes argued. "Rather than hire academic coaches, we would be better to spend our money on hiring additional teachers which would allow our teacher to student ration to go down."
Board member Roger Tashjian suggested giving Fletcher until Oct. 29 to vet out the details of creating an academic coach position but his motion failed 5-3. Along with Tashjian and Chakansky, Dorothea Durand supported moving ahead in researching the creation. Barnes, Stephanie Hartman, Almberg, Claudia O'Neil and Vito Acquafredda rejected the proposal.