Vinalhaven School welcomed a new school leader in September, and though she is new to the office, Gloria Delsandro has been a teacher at the school for seven years. “I have gotten lots of support from so many different people moving into this job,” she said. “People have been so welcoming and supportive.”
Delsandro received her Masters in Educational Leadership from the University of Maine at Orono last June. “I had been a teacher for 13 years [she taught for six years in Vermont before coming to Maine],” said Delsandro, “and I found my interests extended way beyond the classroom door. I am really invested in our school and I don’t believe I would have applied anywhere else.”
Delsandro fills the vacancy left by previous School Leader Mike Felton, who held the position for six years. Felton left to pursue a law degree at the University of Washington.
Vinalhaven School uses a governance structure that has its roots in site-based management and relies heavily on teamwork among staff. In a traditional model of school administration decisions come from the top-down, that is, from the school board to the superintendent to the principal to teachers. Vinalhaven’s structure empowers teachers to make decisions at the lowest possible level using a hierarchy of teams and team leaders. Vinalhaven’s hierarchy of leadership begins with individual teachers who are members of Grade Level Teams. Each Grade Level Team has one team leader who is a member of the Leadership Team. The Leadership Team answers to the school leader, who takes the place of the traditional principal. The school leader answers to the superintendent, and he to the Vinalhaven School Board. “I genuinely, sincerely believe in the way our school is set up,” said Delsandro. “This position is different than a traditional principal because it really is working with team leaders. [Being a team leader] is a huge commitment for teachers, it’s a lot of work, but it pays off.” Delsandro served a two-year term as the K-5 team leader during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years.
Delsandro will be overseeing some ambitious plans in the coming year. First, “we are working on revisiting the vision statement that was written 10 years ago,” she said. “We are working to create a new one based on where we are now. It is interesting seeing the changes in the last ten years.”
Second, the Vinalhaven School staff has been working on Response to Intervention (RTI), a federally-mandated program for intervention when a student isn’t meeting learning standards. Schools must have a plan in place for how they will implement the Response to Intervention program by 2010. According to Delsandro, the Vinalhaven School teachers “are being very proactive about planning the RTI program. We have been meeting in small teams to analyze student data. The teachers are going above and beyond,” she said.
In addition, Delsandro has a couple of pet projects. “I am really looking to make connections within the community to use resources we have,” she said. “We need different types of programming” for students who don’t do well in the traditional school model. Also, Delsandro and her team are working on post-graduate support for Vinalhaven students who go on to college or other training programs.
So far, Delsandro likes her new job. “It has been a really nice change for me. I have really enjoyed connecting with former students and being able to see how hard our teachers work and how smoothly our school runs because of that hard work,” she said. “I enjoy listening to parents, to teachers, to kids to hear every perspective to help me make informed decisions.”
However, the job has not come without challenges. “I think that, as with any new job, a challenge is being patient and seeing what the new job requires and how I can best meet all of the needs,” said Delsandro. “I have a list going of ideas for next year to help me balance my time and be more efficient. I want to make sure I have time to meet with parents and students as well as work with teachers and be in classrooms. Finding the time is a challenge, but I am hopeful to find a balance.”
Delsandro made it clear that she is in this for the long haul. “I have a personal investment in helping this school succeed,” she said. “I am the parent of a future little Viking.” In addition, “It’s really nice to be living in the community I have this job in. It’s a good place to live.”
Kris Osgood is a freelance writer who lives on Vinalhaven.