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Added staff in Duluth middle and high schools will focus on behavior

Principals of the Duluth school district’s middle and high schools will have some extra help to deal with student behavior next year.

East High School will add a dean of students. Denfeld High School will add a second assistant principal to replace its dean. Ordean East Middle School will add a dean and Lincoln Park Middle School will add a full-time social worker.

How principals spend money allocated to their buildings, whether it’s low-income or general fund money, “is a delicate thing,” said Tim Sworsky, human resources manager for the district.

“These positions aren’t necessarily in front of students, which would help keep class sizes lower, but they are being added to deal with student behaviors that can be just as disruptive in some cases as having larger class sizes.”

Denfeld and Lincoln Park schools have certain low-income funds that Ordean East and East schools do not, and are putting some of that money toward these new efforts. East is using general fund money and Ordean East is using some of its portion of operating levy funds.

When Duluth had three high schools, each had a principal and two assistant principals funded by the district. Budget cuts did away with that structure before Central High School closed in 2011.

Sometimes more administrative support is needed at certain schools, Superintendent Bill Gronseth, and it’s left to the principals to decide how to spend their building money.

“We do try to keep our focus on the classroom, and the majority of those funds are used for supporting our students,” he said, whether it’s through teachers, additional help or staff who focus on behavior.

A large portion of money approved by voters in November meant for classroom expenses — nearly $1.5 million — was earmarked for the hiring of teachers districtwide in an effort to lower class sizes.  

Assistant principals act in a somewhat different capacity than deans, who spend more time dealing with attendance and minor student issues. Assistant principals are licensed to rule on things such as suspensions, and they also work more with staff. They are paid more than deans.

Denfeld’s Jim Erickson, for example, was paid $86,478 as assistant principal during the 2012-13 school year, according to public records. So was East’s Cheryl Lien, who has taken a year’s leave without pay and will be replaced. Lien’s husband, Duluth attorney Michael Lien, has taken a job in the Twin Cities area, Sworsky said.

 Her leave, he said, means she keeps open the possibility of returning to her position if the couple decide to return to Duluth. Lien, a 2010 Goldfine Teacher of the Year, has been with the district since 1987, working both at Denfeld and East as a social studies teacher. She became an administrator in 2011.

Denfeld Dean Tom Tusken, otherwise known as the student success coordinator, has returned to teaching.

Assistant principals work with students on discipline issues. They also observe teachers and perform evaluations, Gronseth said. That work will be split evenly at Denfeld, because the school will have two assistant principals. At East, the dean will work mostly with students while the new assistant principal will work mostly with staff.

Piedmont Elementary School also is adding a full-time social worker using low-income money.

Lincoln and Piedmont schools have higher numbers of students living in poverty, with more behavioral issues and family concerns than most schools, Gronseth said.

The addition of full-time social workers at both schools is a way “to help support those families and those students,” he said.