The Saugerties school system restructured its administration prior to the start of the current school year, giving Lawrence Mautone a new title, deputy superintendent, and hiring an assistant superintendent, Olanike Audu, to focus on what’s happening in the classroom.
“It was really a restructuring of positions that had existed in the district,” explained schools superintendent Seth Turner. “There had been an elementary coordinator position, which over time had been filled by Joe Fondino in the past and by Susan Geiss. What we really wanted to do was shift that responsibility into a bona-fide curriculum, instruction, data and assessment individual.”
For Mautone, his appointment as deputy superintendent means he’ll be able to focus on many of the non-curriculum-oriented areas he’d been tackling for some time in an unofficial capacity. “Although we’ve had an assistant superintendent position since the mid-Nineties,” said Turner, “the roles and responsibilities for that position have really shifted, and we really were lacking oversight on k-12 curriculum and instruction.”
When Mautone served as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, he was taking on a wealth of responsibilities beyond that, including oversight of facilities and dealing with DASA (Dignity for All Students Act), Title IX and harassment issues, said Turner. “What he has become is a bona-fide deputy superintendent. He’s my designee to handle a lot of issues which he can now do in an official capacity.”
The new position of assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction will allow Audu to play to the same strengths she showed earlier in her career in England, where she was offered a prestigious job even before she’d graduated from a teacher training course at the University of London.
“Those schools are actually better than private schools in terms of their rigor and performance,” said Audu of the grammar schools. “They are in the top ten percent of performance in England. I worked in that school system for about ten years. In that process I became an advance skills teacher (AST), which is an equivalent of a board-certified teacher.”
The AST program required teachers like Audu to give up a classroom day each week to work with teachers in other local districts, providing the sort of professional development which administrators hope will help in Saugerties.
“They figure that since you have these teaching skills down, there’s no point in keeping that in your school,” Audu said. “That is in addition to your classroom teaching. The idea is that only good teachers can develop other teachers. If you stop teaching, then you’re going to lose those skills. England was really keen on having teachers participate in this program.”
A year later, Audu was performing a similar consultancy role for 19 secondary schools across Medway County. There were consultants in specific areas of learning like English, mathematics and science, but none in professional development. “Since I was one of the few advance skills teachers in the county, I think it helped me to gain that position,” she said.
But while she’d established a career in education with a master’s degree in England, she had to start anew in many areas after moving to New York. She enrolled in the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to earn a master’s in education which was accepted in New York State. Because of her experience as an AST she wasn’t required to follow up with further teaching practice.
Audu’s first administrative job was as principal at the Highland Residential Center, a school in the Office of Family and Social Services (OCFS), where she spent three years. Appointed education director for OCFS, she left that job after just two weeks to take on the role of assistant superintendent in the Saugerties, where she’d already served as a teaching assistant.
“She was the right candidate because she had a strong background in instructional coaching, which is a shift in how we wanted to present our professional development,” said Turner. “It’s about developing professional learning communities within our buildings as opposed to having periodic or one-shot-deal professional development.”
Turner’s goal is to turn the district’s principals, department heads and lead teachers into instructional leaders. “It’s a shift in our model in wanting to improve our pedagogy,” he aid. “She went through a very arduous process involving several committees and many stakeholders, and she had the ability to communicate with a variety of individuals, be it teachers, assistants, parents, administrators, board members, in a very effective manner.”
Audu, currently completing her doctorate in education leadership at Sage College of Albany, said her focus in Saugerties would be on helping teachers help the district’s students. It’s something of a learning process for everyone, she said.
“I need to understand what the culture is in the sense of the overall aspirations,” she said, “so I’ve met with Mr. Turner and Mr. Averill [Thomas Averill, Saugerties High School’s principal], and together we’ve started looking at the graduation rates, for example, which is the top of my agenda now, and looking at literacy across the board, so that our students are quite literate and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills to actually help them understand and articulate the curriculum and interpret it in such a way that they can then build on their own potential to become successful. And one of the first things I think is necessary from what the research has told us is that you can not get students graduation to improve or increase their literacy if teachers practice is not improved. You just can’t do it.”
Part of that process will be a shift away from special career-development days toward ongoing development within the district, say Turner and Audu.
“Teachers listen to other teachers, because teachers are extremely intelligent people, and very hardworking,” Audu said. “But there is no consistent practice in the system to support them. Think of it: If you have a football team, but they only get coaching three times a year, what do you think is going to happen to that team? They are professionals the same way, but like athletes at the top of their game they need consistent training embedded in their functionality. It’s all about collaboration, how we now move from isolated classroom practice to this collaborative culture where we are all learning together and all growing together.”