FerndaleJune 13, 2012
New shared leadership model coming to UHS
By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer
FERNDALE — University High School is transitioning to a new model that will utilize three administrators in a co-leadership role rather than a traditional principal and assistant principals.
Under this shared leadership model, set to begin in the 2013-14 school year, administrative intern Andre Buford, English teacher Katie Jeffrey and science teacher Jason Beatty will each carry equal authority in new roles as UHS administrators. In the meantime, Principal George Tomey will spend much of the upcoming year training the three leaders to ease the transition to this next phase. He will then retire at the end of the 2012-13 school year.
The model was approved 5-1 by the Ferndale Public Schools Board of Education at its May 29 meeting following a detailed presentation from Tomey, Buford, Jeffrey and Beatty. Board Trustee Karen Twomey voted against the proposal; board Secretary Katrina Collins was absent from the meeting.
Beatty was confident that the new paradigm will work because all three administrators hold such strong feelings of ownership toward UHS and have helped establish the school’s unique culture.
“We are all very passionate about University High School,” he told the board. “This is a very different model, but we’ve never been afraid of a challenge. … We will all share a lot of the same responsibilities, but having our three different perspectives will help us collectively make decisions.”
Buford called the plan “a new model for urban education” and one that is “built on teamwork.” Jeffrey agreed, noting that she, Beatty and Buford will all be certified school administrators by April 2013.
Under the shared leadership model, Jeffrey will become the school’s leader of staff affairs, functioning as the head of all curriculum and instruction. Meanwhile, Buford will serve as leader of student and family affairs, working to build relationships with UHS students and enforcing discipline when necessary; and Beatty will serve as leader of building affairs, handling school budgets, calendars and other managerial tasks.
Tomey, the principal at UHS since it opened in 2005, threw his support behind the plan, which he contended carries “a spirit of innovation and reform.” He pointed out that Jeffrey, Buford and Beatty all have prior leadership experience and have already spent the past few years working closely together.
He believes one year will be enough time to transition to this new model.
“University High School has really been a labor of love and passion for me,” Tomey said. “We’ve established a great culture there, and I know that we’ll be leaving the building in excellent hands.”
Jeffrey thanked Tomey for helping her and her colleagues. “It’s scary to think about George leaving,” she said, “but he has really fostered an environment of growth from people within the school.”
Superintendent Gary Meier pointed out that the new system will allow Ferndale schools to get more time out of its UHS administrators — 615 combined work days, compared with just 445 currently — without costing the district any additional money, at least not at first.
“The cost during the first few years is essentially a wash,” he said, “but in years four and five, we will see a slight cost increase. By that point, though, we will know whether this model is working or not. I think not to take advantage of their skills and enthusiasm would be short-sighted.”
Deputy Superintendent Henry Gold and Barb Evoe, executive director of curriculum and instruction for the district, also expressed firm support, as did Board Treasurer Jim Pfleger. “This is obviously a very innovative model,” Pfleger said.
Even some officials who were initially skeptical were won over by the presentation. “At first, I reacted very negatively to this plan,” admitted Board Trustee Nancy Kerr-Mueller. “But now I think your attitude is selling it for me more than what it looks like on paper.”
Twomey, however, couldn’t be persuaded. “I was concerned that this was sold to me on the strength of the personalities that we have in place,” she said, “but I wasn’t sold on the strength of the model itself. Tri-chairs don’t typically last very long; there is definitely value in having strong leadership at the top. You moved me pretty far, but I’m still not quite there.”
Beatty, however, assured her that he and his colleagues will be flexible enough to make changes along the way if necessary. He also stressed their ability to work together in an open and cooperative manner even if problems should arise.
“One of our greatest strengths is our communication together,” he said.
Board Trustee Darcey McLaughlin seemed to sum up the board’s overall confidence in UHS’ shared leadership plan. “This model will not work for everyone,” she said, “but I’m convinced that it can work for us.”
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