Academics: an afterthought of school “leadership”

Rosemont High School, stuck in academic mediocrity for 30 years became a hotbed of educational change in a few short months with Debbie Fortunato as principal. Debbie met regularly with Superintendent Galvin and told him about the changes.

Superintendent Galvin mentioned these changes in brief public comments to the school board at their meetings, but they were clearly low on the priority scale for the school board and Superintendent Galvin. Debbie was fine with that as long as she was left alone to move the high school forward.

By the end of Debbie’s first year at Rosemont High the dropouts were significantly reduced – not in comparison with data that counted the former dropouts as transfers but in real numbers – and the news of the change never made the newspapers.

The honors student count for students enrolling in math for eleventh grade classes, which would include accelerated tenth-graders, as it had during the previous year when the those students were in ninth grade, jumped from an average of 17 students taking honors eleventh grade math to 41 students taking honors eleventh grade math. All the 25 students who had entered ninth grade as accelerated students and an additional 16 students who had not been accelerated students but who had decided to take on the extra challenge of honors math, were included in that number.

By the end of Debbie’s second year at Rosemont the English and science departments decided to make the honors program switch. Other high schools were sending teams of visitors to Rosemont to see how these changes worked and how they might adopt them in their own schools.

The honors student count in math for eleventh grade classes was steady at 42 students by non-accelerated seniors and accelerated juniors) enrollment, which was counted when students signed up for courses in the spring, was up to 65 students and required an additional class to accommodate the extra students.

The tutoring center had doubled in size. The center and the school’s new three session alternative program were established using savings from nonteaching and teaching retirements and special education tuitions and transportation reductions.

With the savings the district hired more certified teachers to work as teaching assistants. The failure rate in Regents exams had been cut in half and the percentage of students scoring higher than 90 percent on important required course exit exams had doubled.

As the end of Debbie’s third year at Rosemont approached, even the initial reluctant soldiers among the department chairs were bragging to their peers about the positive changes in their school and the important role they had in making these changes.

Unfortunately, Lois Schafer wasn’t happy. The honors program she “owned” for nearly 15 years was now in shared hands. Her classes were bigger and included students who struggled academically and behaviorally, and she didn’t know how to deal with them. Many ended up in the principal’s office for disciplinary reasons, which reflected poorly on her during her evaluations. She tried to talk to her old friend Tom Galvin about this multiple times but he was having his own problems.

Tom was assistant principal when Lois was hired to run the honors math program and classes 18 years earlier. Tom failed to act when Lois complained. That’s when she turned to Jessie Thomas, repeatedly feeding Jessie information she thought would help her cause.

Meanwhile, Kevin Talbot met frequently with Superintendent Galvin. They talked about football strategy and player assignments. They reviewed scouting reports and game films for upcoming opponents. Kevin relied on Tom’s expertise and guidance.

Tom told Kevin several times that if the football winning percentage for Rosemont didn’t improve eventually Kevin would be out of coaching job. They both knew Todd Morgan was gunning for Kevin.

Kevin tried everything his mentor Tom Galvin suggested but it didn’t result in wins on the field.

Tom Galvin saw the writing on the wall once Todd Morgan’s and Jessie Thomas’ friends appeared on the school board ballots.

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