School Start Smooth But Staffing Holes Persist

by | Sep 6, 2022

As Supt. Brian Ricca told the School Committee at their meeting Tuesday night, the start of a new school year affects students no matter what the age. He said he learned that on the first day of school, Aug. 31, when he spent time at Cole Middle School and EGHS and saw students approach administrators with fear on their faces and basic questions like, Where am I supposed to be?

For the new EG superintendent (he started in July), that question appeared to be easier to answer for himself: at every school that first week. He visited Cole and EGHS the first day, Hanaford and Eldredge on Thursday, and Frenchtown and Meadowbrook on Friday. 

The first days went relatively smoothly, with no major snafus. But the fact remains that key positions remain unfilled one week into the new school year. They include:

  • Preschool Special Education Teacher, Meadowbrook 
  • Music Teacher, EGHS
  • French Teacher, EGHG
  • Middle School English, Cole
  • School Psychologist, Districtwide
  • School Psychologist, EGHS
  • Speech Language Pathologist, Districtwide
  • Social Worker, Districtwide
  • Principal, EGHS
  • Paraprofessional (one year only), Hanaford
  • IT Network System Specialist 

The EGHS principal job remains open but former EGHS principal Mike Podraza – the district’s assistant superintendent – is filling in. Former EGHS Principal Ken Hopkins resigned in August.

One position that has been filled is that of director of student services, a key role that handles all students with additional needs, such as those with learning and/or developmental disabilities. District veteran Neil Marcaccio has been named to that position and the School Committee Tuesday night approved his 3-year contract (shy of three full years, it ends June 30, 2025), which comes with a $135,000 a year salary. 

Marcaccio started as a special education teacher but is best known in the EG school district for his time as principal of Meadowbrook Farms. He has been serving as director of MTSS (multi-tiered system of supports) for the past year. That position has funding through federal Covid relief ESSER funds through this school year. Ricca did not say the district would be seeking a replacement right now but he said the work was “too critical” to abandon. 

“We’re going to find a way to have the work continue,” he said Tuesday after the meeting. 

Marcaccio said the aim of the MTSS position was always to build capacity among leaders at the various schools. MTSS looks to pinpoint where students need help and to get that help to the student. “It’s not something I’m willing to let go,” Marcaccio said, noting there’s a lot of overlap between student services and MTSS. 

He will take over from interim Student Services director Carol Brown next week. 

Ricca said he is working on filling the other positions but there are challenges. Some districts offer signing bonuses or higher salaries. The pay for all union positions is guided by labor contracts. Ricca publicly thanked teacher union head Donna McPhee for her flexibility when it comes to the positions social worker or school psychologist. Some applicants can have a lot of experience but not necessarily in a school setting. The contract might say, ok, that person needs to go to the first “step,” kind of like a teacher fresh out of college. Ricca said the union agreed to credit social work and psychologist applicants with work beyond their school experience. 

Pressed by School Committee member Nicole Bucka about the delivery of services, Marcaccio said he didn’t know of “a single situation where a direct service to a student cannot be provided, at least in the short term.” He acknowledged the district could add communication to families about the district’s situation.  

“I think right now we are covering things but I think it is critical to fill those positions by the end of the month,” said Ricca, noting the district was also looking at outside staffing agencies. “There are just not a lot of people out there,” he said.

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