Portola Valley schools see leadership shifts


Although there aren't many changes in Portola Valley School District classrooms as the new school year gets rolling, a restructuring of the district's administrative team is likely to have a trickle-down effect on the day-to-day operations of the district's two schools.

Tim Hanretty has begun his tenure as district superintendent, having served as the district's assistant superintendent and chief financial officer until being tapped to replace Anne Campbell. Ms. Campbell will be sworn in as the county's superintendent of schools in January.

Mr. Hanretty's appointment was part of the school district board's streamlining of administrative staff, and included the promotion of Carol Piraino from Corte Madera principal to assistant superintendent for special education and curriculum.

Heading the team at Corte Madera, a grade 4-8 school, is Don Cox, who will serve as interim principal until a search process that begins in early 2011 culminates in the hiring of a permanent principal. Mr. Cox retired from the Palo Alto Unified School District, where he served as principal at Jane Lathrop Stanford (JLS) middle school and Hoover elementary school, according to Mr. Hanretty.

The streamlining of administrative staff approved earlier this year resulted in the layoff of Tom Keating, who had served as director of educational technology. Also, Carolyn Schwartzbord's position as director of special education was eliminated when she left the district for the Ravenswood Elementary School District. The responsibilities of overseeing special education were melded into Ms. Piraino's new position.

Ms. Piraino will also continue to oversee Corte Madera's restructured fourth- and fifth-grade program, which she spearheaded last year when she was the school's principal. Superintendent Hanretty said Ms. Piraino will work on "fine-tuning" the innovative teaching approach, which last year she described as incorporating four different programs designed to play upon teachers' strengths and improve students' learning.

At the K-3 Ormondale School, Principal Jennifer Warren has introduced a character-building program based on concepts found in Carol McCloud's book, "Have You Filled a Bucket Today?"

"This book explains that everyone has an invisible bucket that needs to be filled in order to be mentally and emotionally healthy," Ms. Warren wrote in the district's first Weekly Post of the school year. "While parents and caregivers can fill buckets in a variety of ways, children must also be taught how to fill the buckets of others.

"This book was written to teach young children how to be bucket fillers rather than bucket dippers."

The program, she said, encourages positive behavior, and among its goals is "to establish a framework for more constructive words and actions and less bullying."

Bucking the trend

The Portola Valley district faces the same challenges as other school districts in terms of declining property tax revenue. But in terms of enrollment, it's bucking the trend.

As of last week, enrollment in the two schools totaled 712. Mr. Hanretty said that when enrollment stabilizes, he expects that the combined enrollment figure will show a decline from last year of about 23 students. The decline is largely the result of fewer kindergartners -- 20 fewer of them this year, he said.

That drop means that Ormondale has only three kindergarten sections this year, down from four last year. The decrease was anticipated in a multiyear demographic study done several years ago, Mr. Hanretty said. But because 2010-11 was the last year analyzed in the study, the district will have to conduct a new one this year.

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