Since 1999, Joe Pye has been school superintendent of suburban Dorchester District 2, where many people move to take advantage of high-quality schools and reasonably priced homes.
Pye has spent more than three decades as a teacher, principal and district administrator. He said his challenge for the upcoming school year is to keep the focus on student learning while dealing with budget and crowding problems.
Q: What's your main goal for the upcoming school year?
A: My main goal for the school year is to get the entire district focused on the learner. In the past, we've done a lot with teacher training. But are we meeting the needs of our children as best we can? We've provided life preservers for each child, but now we have to teach them to swim. I want them to read, write and do arithmetic well. I want to get everyone to the next level.
Q: How are you planning to achieve that goal?
A: We are going to do what works and be action-oriented. We have to look at everything and only do what works. We need to be more efficient and have the data to back things up. For example, we have people coaching other teachers. That feels good, but does it work? We do a lot of talking in education, but we have to be results-oriented. The question we'll ask ourselves about everything we do is: How did that impact student learning and how do you know that?
Q: How's the budget for the upcoming school year?
A: We did fine because we got the stimulus money. So we've got two years (until the money runs out). When it goes, whole programs will be in jeopardy. That's why it's very important now to demonstrate what's working. If the money goes, I'll have to prove to the board what works and what doesn't.
Q: How crowded will Dorchester District 2 schools be this year?
A: Some of our schools are crowded, but for now, we're stable. We're not putting in any additional trailers this year. The exceptions, however, are Fort Dorchester and Oakbrook elementary schools. I have concerns about those schools. No matter what happens, there's always growth there.
But we're moving on a new elementary school that will help crowding at those schools. I will likely announce a land purchase in the next 45 to 60 days, and the architect is already at work. Our goal is to break ground in January, and the school should be ready in the fall of 2011. We're also adding on 500 seats to Ashley Ridge High School. The high school addition and new elementary school will buy us a little time.
Q: The school board put on hold a referendum to build more new schools. Do you think you'll ask voters to approve new schools in a referendum in the near future?
A: The district had a study done, and even though growth has slowed, we still need new schools. If we see a turnaround in the economy in the next six months, the board will look at a referendum. But it might be a smaller one than we had planned for in the past.
Our building program is killing us. We need new buildings and we have many older buildings — some built in the 1920s and 1950s — that we need to refurbish.
We don't want buildings to impact education. For example, at Oakbrook Elementary School, we don't have room for more trailers, but we don't want to increase class size. We don't want building problems to impact program needs. Another example is that, right now, I couldn't offer all-day pre-kindergarten classes because I just don't have the space.
It would be easy to get diverted from children in this economy, but we can't. We've been prudent for 100 years in this district, and I hope we can plan ahead for the next referendum.
Q: What does the public not know, or what misconceptions does it hold, of Dorchester 2?
A: People don't understand how much is offered here. We operate on $30 million to $40 million less than some other districts our size. When we ask for a referendum for a new building, it's because we really need the building. We need to get that message out to the community more. We've probably lulled people into thinking things are better than they are because we're not whining and crying. People come here for the schools, but then they forget that.