Department chairs become instructional coaches

Contract language drives change

Instead of the once-traditional department chairs, RB departments will be led by instructional coaches next year.  Why the change?  What does it mean?

Steven Baer

Instead of the once-traditional department chairs, RB departments will be led by “instructional coaches” next year. Why the change? What does it mean?

Lauren Grimaldi, News Editor

On December 19, the school board and RBEA signed a new contract. Among the new policies that will take effect over the next two years was the introduction of the position of Instructional Coach. This position replaces the previous title of department chair. The new job, which fills much the same function as a department chair, offers less money and less release time.

So what went into this change being made?

Superintendent Kevin Skinkis cited that this was not really decided by the board.

“Three years ago, when I arrived, there was a change in state legislation to evaluations of teachers,” Skinkis said. “And at that time our current practice was that department chairs are members of the teachers union and they were evaluating their fellow union members.”

The conflict of a union member evaluating another union member, said Skinkis, motivated the change.

“Both the local teacher unions (IEA and AFT) had gone public and said that it’s a bad practice to have [this practice],” Skinkis said. “We were in the middle of a five year contract [at the time of this] and the department chair’s stipends and release time were already set.”

Skinkis noted that, because of the existing contract language, changes to the position could not be made until the contract came up for renegotiation.

“The decision to change the title from department chair to instructional coaches was jointly agreed upon by the board and RBEA,” Skinkis said.

Skinkis indicated that this change basically just realigns the position to the most recent responsibilities and that union members evaluating other union members could create a conflict of interest.

Before teachers were eliminated during a reduction in force based on seniority. According to Skinkis, this is no longer the case.

“And now with the new law (Senate Bill 7), teacher evaluations play a role in which teachers are reduced,” Skinkis said. “And prior to [the bill] it went based on seniority. You want to eliminate [conflicts of interest] so it’s just focused on helping the teachers.”

During negotiations, Skinkis felt that this matter was an open discussion.  “The administration felt it was important to still have leaders within the departments,” he said.

Now, aside from all of the technical details as to why this decision will made. How will this impact the school as a whole?

“Because this contract got signed so late we’ll have to see over the next two years how this will work,” Skinkis said. “How the responsibilities will fit in and what’s considered administrative work or instructional coach work.”

He knows, however, that this change may not be easy.

“I expect there to be some growing pains,” Skinkis said.

The current department chairs will receive their pay and release time for the rest of this year, but after that they can reapply for the new position, which the administration will start taking interviews for in April. Skinkis noted that an instructional coach will have somewhat the same responsibilities that a department chair had.

“One of the bigger changes would be peer coaching, working with teachers and the student performance data and helping the teachers work that into their instruction, helping the teachers get good evaluations, and student performance,”  Skinkis said.

In the end, Skinkis is not sure whether or not the instructional coaches will have the same amount of work as department chairs did.

“It’s still to be determined to see how the new role plays out under the new structure,” Skinkis said.