JEFFERSON — It’s official: The dean of students position at the Jefferson Middle School will be replaced with a licensed associate principal.
The previous position was a nonadministrative one with limited responsibilities, while the new associate principal will be able to serve in a wider capacity, as dictated by student need and a changing educational environment.
“The parameter of what we do has changed immensely in the last several decades,” Superintendent Mark Rollefson said as he introduced the measure to the School District of Jefferson Board of Education when it met Wednesday night.
The board unanimously approved the change.
School district planners felt this was an appropriate time to consider the change, in the wake of the announcement that current Dean of Students Dan Wilharm would be retiring at the end of this school year. Wilharm has been serving in that position for the past several years.
“I think it’s spot-on perfect timing,” said school board member Dick Lovett, noting that Wilharm’s retirement coincides with an increase in student needs and administrative responsibilities that justifies the position change.
The dean of students position largely focuses on discipline and does not extend into school planning or leadership.
Jefferson schools Superintendent Mark Rollefson endorsed the change.
As they began consideration of the issue, school officials noted that of all the Jefferson schools, the certified staff-to-principal ratio is greatest at Jefferson Middle School. Planners also noted that after-school Individualized Education Plan meetings and several other meetings occur nearly every night of the week, and these cannot be led by a dean of students.
The administrative recommendation provided to the school board as members took up this issue noted that that professionals in the health-care industry, mental health facilities, social services, and law enforcement are in agreement with schools that there has been an increase of students experiencing mental health issues due to trauma.
Officials noted that a trained and certified associate principal could bring an extra level of expertise to this issue.
In addition, the recommendation noted that the middle school, like other schools in the district, have seen increased needs and demands for student and staff security and safety since Wilharm took the dean of students position in 2004.
The recommendation cited bomb-threat preparation and drills, “Run-Hide-Fight” training, a more extensive and codified notification process, and other related safety/security drills have taken a greater role in today’s schools in keeping with national trends.
Officials noted that modern schools must monitor safety multiple times per day, and that security cameras, fob systems, locked doors, and visitor-management systems carry an entire new responsibility than in years past.
Another consideration is the increase in student access to technology, including both district-issued devices and students; own cellphones or personal electronic devices brought to school. This connectivity adds another entirely new dimension to student monitoring, behavior, and early adolescent social learning, officials noted.
Add to that the natural turbulence of the middle school age, where students are developing physically, socially and emotionally and are naturally more sensitive.
Finally, the advent of afternoon “What-I-Need” intervention and enrichment time, and all of the data that this requires adds a dimension to administrative responsibility not in evidence years ago, the recommendation stated.
The newly approved description for a middle school associate principal would report to the middle school principal. That person would jointly supervise, with the middle school principal, all certified and support staff personnel in the middle school.
Asked if the middle school associate principal position would entail the same number of days of work per year as the high school associate principal position, Rollefson said that would be part of the contract negotiations, but he thought not.
“We probably wouldn’t need a 260-day contract,” Rollefson said.
Later in the evening, the board went into closed session to set compensation parameters for the position. This will give the district guidance on a range of pay, although the exact pay rate will depend on the experience level and assets the new hiree brings to the table.