LAKE GEORGE — School officials are eliminating the high school vice principal position next school year to create an interim district-wide curriculum and student support services position.
Vice Principal Cody Conley would be losing the job he has held since 2010, and that loss has prompted strong negative reaction on social media.
Superintendent Lynne Rutnik said the changes are necessary as the district follows a new strategic plan that focuses on curriculum.
The changes are not about Conley’s job performance, she said.
“He is a wonderful administrator. We value him. He’s part of our family here. As we move forward, looking at the director of curriculum, support services, our number one priority is making sure we meet the needs of all students,” she said.
The district is giving Conley the highest recommendation, she said, and the board made the decision in January to give Conley a five-month headstart to find another job. If he cannot find an administrative position elsewhere, he has a guaranteed teaching job at the elementary school should he want it, she said.
The strategic plan adopted last year has four overarching themes: an engaging and innovative learning environment for each student; a comprehensive K-12 instructional program, using best practices; student connections to extracurricular opportunities; and an appreciation for diversity and local traditions, according to the district website.
Rutnik said the board reviewed data from the strategic plan survey, academic needs and enrollment trends and found that people wanted a stronger focus on curriculum and on adapting to changing state standards.
“This person would be able to wrap their arms around the whole district and talk about curriculum and assessment as we move through the grades, connecting the elementary, junior-senior high school. Right now, we don’t have one person that really focuses on that,” she said.
The district has a full-time teacher at the high school who receives a stipend to focus on curriculum and a teacher on special assignment handles this function at the elementary school. Those positions will not change, Rutnik said.
Lake George wants to go “from good to great” on putting state standards in place, she said.
The enrollment decrease from 1,085 students in 2007 to 776 in 2018 was a factor in the restructuring, but not the sole factor, she said.
“In 10 years, we’re down 309 students, and that’s very unfortunate. Our budget theme this year is alignment, aligning the systems and structure to support our district goals. It is also sustainability,” she said.
There are 450 students at the high school.
The district will save money through the change, but Rutnik did not provide specific figures.
The new position will be a one-year contract position, so the district will not incur the legacy costs of having to pay for the pension and other benefits. It would be reviewed annually.
It would be a perfect job for a recently retired school administrator who has done work in curriculum and instruction, she said.
“I have no doubt because of the reputation around Lake George, we will get highly qualified candidates,” she said.
In addition to handling disciplinary issues, Conley was in charge of the bullying and wellness and safety committee, Rutnik said. Those duties will be reassigned.
No one is talking about eliminating more positions, she said. The district has just begun its budget process.
Rutnik acknowledged that it is been a difficult weekend as people have been calling and posting on social media in reaction to the news. Conley is a “beloved resource” at the school, she said.
“We’re hoping, as things calm down, we can really start to move with student-focused discussion points,” she said.
The decision is likely to be a hot topic at the school board’s next meeting, which is scheduled for Feb. 13 at 7 p.m.
Rutnik said faculty members were not included in the decision.
The faculty will have input into crafting the new K-12 curriculum director position, she said. The responsibilities also will include supporting the high school’s principal, support staff, counselors and social worker to address the social-emotional needs of the students.
Rutnik said in the letter on the website that she hoped the community would respectfully agree to disagree and think about what they post on social media.
Before coming to Lake George, Conley was a teacher in the Glens Falls City School District. He did not return a phone message or email seeking comment on Monday.
Lake George school board President Timothy Collins said in a news release that the board supports the decision.
“Trends such as coherence between K-12 and a climate of innovative practices presented myself, the superintendent and the board with almost a mandate to re-examine and ultimately re-align our financial and human resources to shape the district and ensure its legacy of excellence,” he said in a news release.
This is the second administrative controversy that has happened within a year. Last February, more than 60 people attended a board meeting to express support for high school Principal Francis Cocozza, who is still with the district.
No one publicly stated what the issue was, but Rutnik mentioned a “difference of opinions” in a statement she read on the matter at the time.