Andover BOE opens school year with new superintendent

Dennis Tobin, ex-Sparta head, takes the helm

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  • Long Pond School Principal Bryan Fleming, who serves as the anti-bullying coordinator for the Andover Regional School District, speaks at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday night, September 18th. Listening are (from L) Board of Education member Steve Minnick, LPS teacher Nick Moustakas, Curriculum Coordinator Jennifer Reynolds, and Florence M. Burd Elementary School Principal Cindy Mizelle. Photos by Mandy Coriston

  • Andover Regional School District's interim Superintendent Dennis Tobin speaks at his first public Board of Education meeting held Tuesday, September 18, 2018.

  • The Andover Regional Board of Education's first meeting of the school year was held Tuesday, September 18th. It was also the first public board meeting for interim Superintendent Dennis Tobin. From left: Vincenia Annuzzi, Jessica Brennan, Eric Danielson, Superintendent Tobin, Mike Fancher, Business Administrator Nicole Sylvester, Colleen Figueiredo, Amanda Miller, and Steve Minnick.

By Mandy Coriston

— The Andover Regional Board of Education held its first meeting of the new school year on Tuesday night, September 18th, with interim Superintendent Dennis Tobin at the helm. The meeting was also the first for the new business administrator and board secretary Nicole Sylvester. In addition, Curriculum Coordinator Jennifer Reynolds gave a presentation on the district’s PARCC Test scores, and Long Pond School Principal and district anti-bullying coordinator Bryan Fleming spoke about the district’s goals for the HIB (Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying) program for the 2018-19 school year.

The focus of the meeting was very much on assessment, improvement and community. During her report on the PARCC scores, Reynolds said the numbers were mixed as to where Andover stood against the state averages for students meeting grade-level expectations in English and Language Arts.

“We can’t say we were excited about all the numbers, but we care very much about the progress,” she said, “I think one of the factors here is consistency and that’s one of the things we’ll be looking at.”

Reynolds explained that score improvements shown in 4th- and 7th- grade scores reflected that the teachers in those programs were the only two had taught that grade level the year prior.

“We can’t expect all our teachers to be curriculum experts if we keep changing the curriculum they are teaching,” she said, “We definitely need to increase stability in personnel and programming for both math and ELA.”

Reynolds also said that the district’s math scores had made positive strides.

“We teach two periods of math a day now, where before we taught one, and that’s reflected in the numbers,” she said, “and we’re also factoring out the 8th-grade students taking high school level Algebra I.”

Reynolds said she’d taken time to sit down with all the teachers at each grade level and go over the data. After discussion, the district is forming some very specific goals for PARCC, beginning with observing the teachers who are having the most success in improving test scores.

“We can’t just focus on the bad, we also need to see the good. We need to see what works and what doesn’t, so we can continue to improve,” Reynolds said.

After lengthy discourse and data study with the faculty, Reynolds has put together an action plan for continuing to raise the district’s PARCC scores.

“We’re going to need to build a culture of community and support, so we’ll be doing more informal observations, and making more data-driven decisions,” she said, “We’ll also help teachers set individual goals for their classes, but we really need to be collaborative. Teachers need to trust the board to make the right decisions, and we need to trust each other for our kids. It’s not the job of just the ELA teacher to make sure that kids have the comprehension to do word problems in math. Being literate is a job for all of us.”

Superintendent Tobin, who most recently served as the superintendent of schools in Sparta and who came out of retirement to accept the interim contract with Andover, took his first opportunity to speak after Reynolds’ report.

“The most important thing is that the teacher in the classroom has a good relationship with the administration and for us to provide them with what they need to improve,” Tobin said, “We need to put tools in place for assessment, and improve and invest in professional development.”

Principal Fleming’s report on the district’s goals for the HIB program also focused on improvement.

“When we completed our self-assessment, we realized our scores reflected that we need to do a better job of archiving our documents,” he said, “We need to keep better records and file all of our meeting documents in notebooks we can all access to see what we’ve done and what we need to keep doing.”

Fleming also said that another immediate need that can be addressed is that of training and development. “We’ve got two anti-bullying specialists now, one for each school, and we’ll be going to a conference soon for certification,” he said, “And we’re going to be bringing in more outside assemblies for the students.” Superintendent Tobin responded to the reports by praising Reynolds and Fleming for their honest evaluations. “To be good at anything, we need to be able to reflect and assess,” he said.

After a few brief committee reports, Tobin gave his first superintendent’s report.

“I’m excited about this position,” he said, “and I am looking forward to improving education for our young students.” Tobin said he’d spent his first two weeks on the job familiarizing himself with people around and involved in the district, including PTA leaders, the Board of Education, and the district Legal Counsel. “I’ll be meeting with the superintendents of Green and Newton soon, as well as the Education Foundation,” he said, “I’m looking forward to it.”

Tobin also said he wants to get to know the public within the school district, as well.

“I’ll be looking into doing some ‘superintendent’s forums’ where people can come and talk to me in a less formal setting,” he said, “Hopefully we can set up some sessions where people can just ask me any and all questions.”

The new superintendent is already looking to streamline the operations of the Board of Education by changing the structure of their committees, which currently number seventeen. Tobin proposed that all those committees be consolidated into a smaller set of three committees; Personnel and Policy, Finance and Operations, and Curriculum and Professional Development. Each committee will have an administrative chair- Tobin himself, Business Administrator Sylvester, and Curriculum Coordinator Reynolds respectively- and a Board of Education member as the two base members of each committee. Remaining board members may sit on whichever committee(s) they choose to fill out the ranks. This new structure will commence with next month’s meeting.

A matter of transportation arose in the public portion of the meeting, brought to the board by Mike Quaglio, who lives in the Drake Manor neighborhood of Andover Township. Quaglio is troubled by the amount of time his young children spend on the school bus, given that they live such a short distance from the school.

“My commute from Denville is about the same time they spend on the school bus,” Quaglio said, “That’s about 40 minutes. I’d thought the routes would be reassessed with the new school year, but I don’t think they were.”

“We’ll look into that,” Tobin said, “We share this bus service between the three districts, and improving times and managing bus stops are always big concerns. We don’t want our kids to be on the buses any longer than they have to be.” Tobin said he’s already been out on the road with the transportation coordinator looking at routes, but further addressed the matter, saying, “when I meet with the Newton and Green superintendents, I’ll make sure that’s an agenda item.”

The next Andover Regional Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, October 30, 2018, at 7:30 p.m. in the Board of Education conference room at Long Pond School on Limecrest Road.

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