Although junior high schools in the Los Altos School District don’t have vice principals on staff, the schools have designated Teachers in Charge to step into the breach and cover administrative responsibilities.
Unlike Teachers in Charge on the elementary school campuses, whose primary role is to substitute for absent principals, the Teachers in Charge at Blach and Egan Junior High schools play a critical role in the culture, spirit, safety and operations of the campus. Unlike full-time vice principals, the Teachers in Charge are actively in the classrooms teaching.
The Teacher in Charge positions, funded in part by the Los Altos Educational Foundation, enable the budget-challenged schools to reap the benefits of vice principals by using a teacher.
Both Coni Cullimore at Egan and Jason Dewberry at Blach wear many hats. Each teaches half the day – Cullimore teaches math and Dewberry, history – and each spends half the day in the Teacher in Charge role, essentially acting as vice principal.
Key responsibilities of Teachers in Charge include:
• First-line discipline of students: supervising the campus during break times, reinforcing behavioral expectations, establishing consequences and communicating with parents. Principals serve as backup for more serious incidents.
• Facilities, logistics and operations support: preparing for events such as assemblies and graduation, coordinating maintenance needs and repairs, and managing emergency preparedness.
• Campus culture and student spirit: organizing spirit days, creating a safe and positive climate on campus, helping each child to be seen and heard.
• Covering principal absences and unexpected staff absences.
Cullimore said she enjoys her position because she enjoys both teaching and leading.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” she said. “I really enjoy teaching and being in the classroom, but I like the administrative side – helping create a socially appropriate environment for kids.”
The principals agree that the main benefit of the Teacher in Charge positions, in addition to the enhancements to campus life, is that the Teachers in Charge free the principals for their most important work, focusing on children and learning, and enabling them to know every student on campus – something possible because of the small schools in the Los Altos School District.
“Los Altos has some of the strongest junior high schools in California as evidenced not only by test scores, but the 21st-century learning experience our children get here,” said Leslie Crane, Blach principal. “The support from the Teacher in Charge allows me to focus more attention on the kids, the curriculum and what’s happening in the classrooms, enabling us to better educate the whole child.”
“The most important thing I do as an administrator is to understand the adolescents at my school, student by student, finding what works best for every child,” said Brenda Dyckman, Egan principal. “No one is invisible and everyone matters. Having Teachers in Charge helps kids grow into mature, responsible teenagers, and helps us form better partnerships with parents.”
Last year during budget-cut discussions, the district board of trustees considered reducing the hours of the Teacher in Charge positions. Late in the budget planning process, the Los Altos Educational Foundation pledged an additional $540,000 for the 2010-2011 school year. That pledge retained the Teacher in Charge positions, effectively helping the junior highs run as usual this year.
For more information, visit www.laefonline.org.