Restructuring underway

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By Tom Wilmoth

The central office of Bedford County Public Schools will have some new faces and new titles this month as a result of action taken by the school board the past several meetings.
    As part of its effort to follow through with recommendations made in the state-mandated school efficiency study, the school board has voted to reorganize the central office staff structure to make it more in line with what the study suggested.
    But any positions created were countered with positions that were eliminated, though the study actually suggested adding two positions.
    “If we had left the current structure in place for a whole year, we would almost be setting ourselves back a year in working on these recommendations,” School Superintendent Dr. Douglas Schuch said. “The decision was made to look for opportunities to restructure without adding any positions.”
    Effective this week, Dr. Mac Duis has been appointed as the school system’s chief operating officer, Sharron Gunter has been appointed as supervisor of special services and Tracy Piestrak has been appointed supervisor of alternative education.
    The COO position was established as a recommendation from the efficiency study. Dr. Duis, who has served as BCPS director of instruction since 2009, will oversee technology, testing, planning, maintenance, transportation and school nutrition.
    Dr. Duis began his career in education as a middle school teacher in Pennsylvania and Indiana before returning to Central Virginia to serve as principal of Central Elementary School in Amherst County and later Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Bedford County. Dr. Duis earned a bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary in 1992, a master’s degree in educational administration in 1993 from Ball State University and a doctoral degree in educational leadership from the University of Virginia in 2005.
    Gunter, the new supervisor of special services, began her career in education in North Carolina in 1989  as the director of a church preschool program, a teacher assistant and eventually a special education teacher. In 1998, Gunter was employed by Lynchburg City Schools, first as a special education teacher, then as assistant principal at Sandusky Middle School and finally as coordinator of special education instruction. In 2012 she became the director  of the Laurel Regional School.
    Gunter earned a bachelor’s degree from Averett College in 1980 and holds three master’s degrees, the first in religious education from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1983, the second in educational leadership from Lynchburg College in 2006, and the third in special education focused on autism spectrum disorders from Lynchburg College in 2009. She is also an advanced doctoral candidate in the Lynchburg College Doctor of Education program.
    Piestrak, appointed supervisor of alternative education, began her career in education in 1994, serving as a teacher assistant, substitute teacher and Title I tutor in schools in Beaufort, South Carolina, and Jacksonville, North Carolina. In 2002, Piestrak taught fourth grade in North Carolina and then in 2003 began her employment in Bedford County, first as a third grade teacher at Montvale Elementary School, later as an instructional technology resource teacher, and most recently as coordinator of instructional technology for the school system, a position she has held since 2008. Piestrak earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington in 2002 and a master’s degree in educational leadership from Lynchburg College in 2007.
    The moves came as Gus Extrom retired this year as supervisor of alternative education. There was also the elimination of a supervisory position held by Tammy Donahue.
    Dr. Schuch said the moves are a positive opportunity to improve communication and teamwork.
    “I think the efficiency review did a good job of pointing out we do have good people, we just don’t have enough folks,” Dr. Schuch stated. “But if we can’t add positions next year to beef up this, we might be a little stronger, but ultimately we’re going to fall back right to where we are with senior management employees doing more than they can.”
    Assistant Superintendent Dr. Cherie Whitehurst said the efficiency study revealed a problem with how her position was structured or utilized in regard to other district office positions.
    “In the chain of command system, my role as the direct report for principals was not connected to instruction or special services,” she said. “Furthermore, most of my time was consumed with serving as the discipline hearing officer. While I was commended for my work with discipline, Prismatic consultants shared that I should be assigned to spending my time at a higher supervisory level.”
    As a result, it was recommended that the director of instruction and the director of special services become a direct report to Dr. Whitehurst’s position and that the position of director of elementary/secondary services be created to handle the discipline procedures/programing, some of the responsibility for principals’ evaluations, troubleshooting, and the development of more standardized operating procedures for all schools. That position has been filled by Dr. Tony Francis.
    The efficiency review also recommended that the position of chief operations officer, who will report directly to the superintendent, be created and serve as the discipline hearing officer as well as being a direct report for nutrition, maintenance, transportation, technology and testing/planning.  Dr. Duis has moved into this position and will serve as the discipline hearing officer.
    According to the efficiency review:  “The instruction of students is the key job of the school system and the chief target for innovation. All of the various parties to this instructional process must be brought together in cross-functional collaboration, communication, and creativity. The assistant superintendent is the unique position to accomplish this by bringing principals and teachers together for collaboration with central office instructional experts. In order to accomplish this collaboration, the assistant superintendent should be overseeing, but not involved in, the managing of discipline in the schools. The chief operations officer would become the disciplinary hearing officer for the division.”
    Dr. Whitehurst stated that with 12 Bedford County schools Accredited with Warning by the Commonwealth of Virginia, this newly comprised senior level leadership team will have the task of addressing the student achievement problem. “My role will be to bring together in collaboration central office administration, principals and teachers to plan for and execute a high quality educational program that produces better student achievement and prepares students for college and careers,” she stated.
    To help with this task Tim Overstreet, the new director of instruction, will be responsible for strengthening the curriculum and instructional programming; Dr. Francis, as director of elementary/secondary services, will work with principals to support school-based instructional leadership, management and better establish standard operating procedures; and Sara Staton, director of special services, will be responsible for leading and supervising educational programing and services for students with disabilities.
    “It is my hope that this team of experts will be able to work together with all stakeholders to diagnose what problems exist and to prescribe and implement the needed remedies to launch our district forward,” Dr. Whitehurst stated.