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The people have spoken: Will their voices be heard?

Posted on Sunday, April 27, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Several employees of Westmoreland County Public Schools recently got a surprise notification signed by Assistant Superintendent James Cook that they were being transferred to other schools in the county for the next school year. Those being transferred, as well as members of the community, are yearning for an explanation.  Secretaries, nurses, physical education teachers and other unconfirmed positions are among those being transferred. wmcps

School Board Chairman Iris Lane explained that transfers are made based on needs; those needs could be budget, greater need for a certain position, functional, operational, etc. Lane said that Dr. Lowry was looking at ways to improve the school system and switching members has been a possibility. Lowry stated that “typically transfers are not acted on by the school board – board actions are reserved for the BIG personnel decisions such as hires, terminations, approval of long term leaves of absence etc. Transfers fall within the daily operations of the school division for which the superintendent is responsible. See Policy GCI and GDI on our website.”

Employee decisions, such as transfers, are made by the Superintendent, based on the advice and recommendations from the assistant superintendents, namely those responsible for human resources and personnel. Lane stated that they cannot discuss specific personnel issues, but can comment on policies and processes: Policy GCI states “Upon recommendation of the superintendent, the Westmoreland County School Board shall place all employees within the various schools and facilities located in the school division.”  The superintendent has the authority to transfer (reassign) personnel.  Policy CBA addresses this under major duties and states he/she “oversees staff personnel management.”

Dr. Lowry stated and discussed that transfers are based on identified needs within the school system with the ultimate goal being to have an effectively and efficiently functioning school system to address student academics.

With the large number and array of employees being moved, it is not clear to the community what needs these transfers were based on or how the move improves the school system.

Lowry explained that two of the letters were delivered to employees who requested transfers and the other eight transfers were based upon recommendations from supervisors and principals or re-assignments by the superintendent and assistant superintendent.  “I cannot say specifically what positions because we are so small that would identify individuals.  I will also add that just because a base school is changed – that has nothing to do with supplemental duties such as coaching and other extra-curricular assignments.  For example, we might have say an elementary teacher who coaches at the high school – just because there could be a transfer from that elementary school say to the middle school – this would not have any impact necessarily on the coaching duties.  The supplemental duties are all done separately from base assignments.” It was also noted, that even if not teaching at the high school, a teacher may still do Drivers Education. “In a small county we have to be flexible.”

Lowry also said these transfers were based on comprehensive social and academic needs of students and the overall needs of the school division. She said they try to make decisions based on what is best for students and in this case, moving teachers to MMS may lower the student teacher ratio. “I will go on to say that some transfer decisions came directly out of student and parent requests that we offer an increased variety of extra-curricular and elective offerings for students,” Lowry stated.

When asked how these specific transfers would change or improve things, Lowry said she couldn’t answer very well as it was hard to answer without getting into specifics.

She noted, “I have just completed some extensive focus groups with high school students and have direct and very honest requests from them that we offer more electives across a range of topics.” Lowry further explained that the focus groups are all a part of the long term planning for improving graduation rate, student morale and motivation and achievement scores.  The high school administrators and guidance counselors selected the groups randomly and Lowry met with 5-7 per group for a total of about 60.  She met with one faculty group and plans to meet with more groups and share trend results. She said these focus groups played some role in the transfers, namely in regards to extra curriculars and electives, but were mostly for the future planning of a new high school.

However, when further questioned on how these specific transfers would play a role in increasing the desired extra curriculars and electives, Lowry could not provide a detailed answer. “You will have to trust me on this,” she replied.