By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — As schools open this week for the city’s 7,000 students, they are finding new leaders and improved buildings.
They are also being introduced to changes affecting how students are taught and how teachers are evaluated.
Superintendent James Scully said several large rooms at Consentino School have been reconfigured into smaller classrooms to create more rooms and relieve overcrowding. He said there have been electrical upgrades at Consentino and Whittier Middle School to accommodate better technology and new air-conditioning systems, and that a project to repair and expand the high school sports training area is about to begin.
Scully said the existing weight training room located in the Charles C. White Pool building was damaged by a leaky roof and most of the equipment is old and outdated. The new facility is expected to be ready in about six months, he said.
The overhaul, which is being paid for with a donation from local businessman Ernie DiBurro, is to include new bikes and treadmills, free weights and other training equipment.
This is the first year that all city schools will follow state standards for instruction in English, math, science and social studies, Scully said. The standards, part of the state’s 2011 curriculum frameworks, are aligned with the MCAS test, he said.
Scully said teachers can expect to see principals in their classrooms more often under a new evaluation process. The process is the result of new guidelines from the state education department and negotiations between school officials and the Haverhill teachers union, he said.
The superintendent called the new evaluation process is “teacher friendly” and said it is not designed to be punitive. It is designed to make sure principals are evaluating teachers regularly and discussing ways they can be better teachers, he said.
Under the process, principals will walk into classrooms unannounced, take notes and talk to teachers later about what they observed, Scully said.
In making the changes, the superintendent said the goal of Haverhill and the state is to standardize the process so teachers at different schools are evaluated similarly and teachers in different communities are evaluated similarly.
“In the past, the evaluations have been arbitrary and they varied from school to school,” Scully said.
He said there will be an expanded emphasis this year on reaching out to parents of students with behavioral issues and who are excessively absent.
“We are going to be sending people to homes to talk to parents, and not just during the day like we have done in the past,” Scully said. “We’re going to send our truant officers to see parents in the evening when they are more likely to be home.”
The superintendent said officials will be keeping a close eye on the budget and spending.
“Every new year brings a lot of new challenges,” said Scully, who is in his third year leading the district. “Our goal is to be more efficient and service oriented, while keeping a close eye on the budget.”
The district ended the last fiscal year this past summer with a deficit of more than $1 million. The city covered the debt, but Mayor James Fiorentini strongly urged Scully and the School Committee not to let it happen again.
There will be plenty of new faces in the district, as well as familiar faces in new roles. Topping the list are several new principals and assistant vice principals at Haverhill’s middle schools, including: John Mele, who was promoted to principal at Consentino; Darshan Thakkar and Bryan Oelerich, new assistant principals at Consentino; Timothy Corkery, the new assistant principal at Nettle; Brian Gill, the new assistant principal at Whittier as well as the head administrator in charge of Greenleaf and Walnut Square elementary schools.