Superintendent explains why he wants to hire assistant

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 9, 2013 

Except for one question, the Muscogee County School Board didn't discuss superintendent David Lewis' recommendation at Monday evening's work session to fill the assistant superintendent position, which has been vacant for five years.

So it looks like the board will approve Lewis' request to hire former colleague Rebecca Braaten when it convenes next Monday at 6 p.m. for its monthly meeting.

Braaten has been a professional educator for 17 years, including 11 years in the Polk County (Fla.) School District, where she began as a guidance counselor and eventually became senior director of K-12 science and acceleration. She was assistant principal at Frostproof Middle Senior High School (2003-05) in Polk County while Lewis was principal. Lewis was Polk's associate superintendent for learning when the Muscogee board hired him as superintendent in July.

Board member Naomi Buckner of District 4 asked the lone question about Lewis' recommendation during the work session. She wanted to know whether the salary for such a position already is in the budget. Lewis confirmed it is.

Before the meeting, MCSD communications director Valerie Fuller explained the position has been vacant since Robin Pennock retired in 2008, when superintendent John Phillips also retired. His successor, Susan Andrews, chose not to fill the job during her three-year tenure. Although it remained unfunded, it wasn't eliminated, Fuller said. After she retired in 2012, the job stayed vacant during the board's superintendent search. It was put back in the budget for this fiscal year, which started July 1, in anticipation of giving the new superintendent that option to hire an assistant superintendent, Fuller said.

Braaten's salary would be $122,500, slightly more than the $120,540 the district's six chief officers earn. Pennock's salary was $128,658 when she retired in 2008.

Lewis' three-year contract calls for a salary of $170,000, the same as Andrews. Phillips' last salary when he was superintendent (2003-08) was $192,000.

After the meeting, Lewis explained his reasoning to hire an assistant superintendent.

"Looking at the complexity of education, moving to the Common Core and some other areas that are recent mandates, those are certainly things," he said. "As I've begun to assess the district, roughly 30 days now, I clearly saw that there is a need to bring some assistance in with some expertise in those areas that I've seen, such as middle school education, developing our Advanced Placement pipeline. When I looked at the individual, I felt like that she's a person I know and have a lot of confidence and trust in. She knows my vision, she knows my expectations, and she can assist our district in moving it forward."

Among the accomplishments she lists on her resume, Braaten helped the Polk County district:

• Make the Advanced Placement Honor Roll the past two years.

• Receive the 2011 Advanced Placement Equity and Excellence District of the Year award.

• Establish 20 middle school STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Accelerated Academic Programs (2010-13).

• Increase Dual Enrollment Program participation rates by 87.8 percent (2010-12).

• Increase Advanced Placement participation rates (number of exams taken) by 155 percent (2010-12).

• Increase Advanced Placement performance rates (number of exams passed) by 107 percent (2006-12).

"These are all things we did together," Lewis said. "I envisioned it, and she operationalized some of the aspects of it, … and the fact that she's been a school-based administrator is one of the things that's important to our principals and assistant principals that currently our cabinet doesn't have a lot of. The school-based experience is credibility and important."

Lewis didn't interview anyone else for the job.

"The board policy affords me that opportunity," he said, "and I didn't want to be disingenuous by having people interview for a position that I already had someone in mind."

Braaten would be the No. 2 official in MCSD, the "go-to person" whenever Lewis isn't available, he said. Although his cabinet would remain the same for now and all the officers still would report to him, Lewis hinted at more top-level moves.

"There may be some impending changes based on other opportunities that come along for other people," he said, "but that will be their news to share."

The Ledger-Enquirer tried to reach Braaten for comment Monday, but the secretary who answered the phone number listed for Braaten in the Polk County School District said Braaten left last week to work in Georgia.

MCSD CABINET: Here are the top officials, their titles and their salaries in the Muscogee County School District

REBECCA BRAATEN

Experience: Polk County (Fla.) School District, senior director of K-12 science and acceleration since July 2013, director of academic rigor and secondary curriculum from August 2012 to July 2013, Department of Academic Rigor director from September 2009 to August 2012, Sunshine State Standards senior curriculum coordinator from July 2005 to September 2009; assistant principal of Frostproof Middle Senior High School from 2003 to 2005 and guidance counselor from 2002 to 2003; Farmington (N.M.) Municipal Schools, guidance counselor at Hermosa Middle School from 2000 to 2002, science teacher at Piedra Vista High School from 1998 to 2000, and science and physical education teacher at Tibbetts Junior High School from 1996 to 1998.

Education: Educational leadership doctoral program candidate, National-Louis University, January 2012-present; master of arts in educational administration, New Mexico State University, 2002; secondary teaching certificate, University of New Mexico, 1996; bachelor of science in biology and political science, New Mexico Highlands University, 1993.

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