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Merced school administrators to focus energy on lagging students

Four of Merced's middle school assistant principals may be on special assignment next school year -- trying to transform at-risk, unmotivated students into successful scholars likely to graduate in the years ahead.

The Merced City School District Board of Education this week approved a new job description for "administrators on special assignment." For the next school year, one of the two assistant principals at Cruickshank, Hoover, Rivera and Tenaya middle schools will spend half of his or her time working with students not likely to make it without some extra help.

"We are excited by the opportunity," Associate Superintendent Greg Spicer said. "These are at-risk students who tend to be dropouts, disengaged in school and not likely to be successful. Sometimes it's no motivation, attitude, or gangs and we want to see if we can make a difference there."

Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran stressed the district is reconfiguring the present staffing arrangement, not adding any administrators.

"It's a good plan," Duran said. "This will help kids who need an extra boost."

The designated assistant principal will spend half of his time doing traditional duties and the rest focusing on closing the achievement gap with underperforming students. Funding for the new duties would come from carryover state categorical funds, Spicer said.

Board member Gene Stamm said federal funding will be used for the special assignment portion of the assistant principal job for the next year and then the positions will be evaluated for their effectiveness in successive years.

"I'm hoping there's going to be something positive coming out of it," Stamm said.

Annie Dossetti, acting assistant superintendent, said there is a tremendous amount of research and resources on how to engage students. The assistant principal will use these and other tools to bolster the attendance, behavior and academic performance of unmotivated students.

"We want to get down to why they are unmotivated and not achieving," Dossetti said. "They will be meeting with them on a daily basis. These are kids who aren't reaching their full potential."

Dora Crane, Merced City Teachers Association president, questioned the new job description, saying it's a way to add back two assistant principal positions pared last spring during budget talks.

"Resource teachers already are doing 90 percent of that job," Crane said. She questioned spending federal jobs money on administrative positions rather than classroom teachers. She plans to meet with Spicer to discuss the new job description.

Spicer said anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of middle school students don't graduate. The assistant principal would be tasked with connecting these students with other resources like counselors.

"It's a little different focus," Spicer said. The assistant principals would act as facilitators, connecting students with the people who could help them succeed.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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