MacDuffie Adjusts Faculty Positions After Polga’s Resignation

Alison Jackson, Assistant Copy Editor

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On December 20, 2017, most MacDuffie students breathed a sigh of relief; their winter midterms had concluded, and they would finally be able to spend long-awaited time with their friends and families. However, in a turn of events that surprised the community, this date additionally marked the resignation of 14-year MacDuffie faculty member Alun Polga, who had currently been acting as the Dean of Students and teaching AP English 11.

Tasked with selecting replacements for these integral positions, Head of School Steve Griffin collaborated with other MacDuffie faculty and staff to determine which pre-existing faculty members would be available to fill the roles for the time being. Assistant Dean of Boarding and Science Teacher Zachary Hensley was chosen as the Interim Dean of Students, while English Teacher Zachary Del Nero assumed Polga’s AP English teaching position.

Hensley, a member of the MacDuffie community since 2013 who has held numerous positions, believes he was a candidate for the Dean of Students due to his “administrative and leadership experience” as well as his relative availability for the role at the time, as he described his prior commitments as “somewhat easier to backfill than those of a full-time teacher or higher-level administrator.”

In describing the transition process, Griffin noted that additional faculty changes were made as a result of Hensley’s acceptance of the interim position; Residential Assistant Taylor Sherman took over Hensley’s role in the Boarding Department (including his Point Person position), Residential Advisor and Journalism Teacher Jessi Panico was chosen to teach Del Nero’s English 11 class (as a result of his acceptance to teach AP English), and Peace Studies Teacher Greg Vennell was selected to teach Hensley’s sixth grade science class. The latter change was bittersweet for Hensley, who said that having to leave his teaching position was the most difficult part of the transition.

“I really enjoyed teaching them. I knew, though, that I would not be able to serve them well while taking on so many new and complicated responsibilities,” he said in regards to his students.

Despite this aspect, Hensley said that he is “looking forward to being able to contribute positively to the community” while serving as the Interim Dean, and has set many goals that he wishes to accomplish. He said that he strives to maintain consistency and clearly outline what is expected of students, and added that he would like to focus on placing a greater emphasis on the achievements of members of the MacDuffie community—“And not just achievements, but the positive character that students demonstrate,” he stressed

“Part of my adjustment into the role, however, has been scaling back my idealism and matching my aspirations to what can be practically accomplished,” Hensley mentioned. He explained that he prefers to remain “out of the spotlight” for most student-centered projects, as he feels that they are most enjoyable when students take the initiative themselves.

Overall, Hensley felt that the transition was quite efficient “given the circumstances,” a sentiment echoed by Griffin as well as those arguably most affected academically by Polga’s leave: his AP English students. However, for these students, the most logical decisions were not necessarily without their drawbacks, and they experienced inconveniences of their own.

Students from Polga’s AP English class believed that their primary disadvantage regarded their second quarter grades, as Junior and AP English student Olivia Ramirez-Weissbach said, “Our [midterm] exam counted as our quarter grade, which was not preferable for me” (as a result of Polga’s previous process of entering grades at the end of each quarter). Although she concurred with Ramirez-Weissbach, Junior Yun Hallowell noted that the exam was “modified” and “very short” in order to accomodate for a possible discrepancy in material covered, which ultimately benefited the students.

Nevertheless, these students praised the immediate action taken by administration to provide the class with an interim English teacher (Del Nero) rather than a proctor, due to the approaching exam period. Griffin described this act in a chronological fashion, stating, “We covered internally without any acting roles for about a week, and then I appointed acting roles. After Mr. Polga resigned, right at the end of exam period, the acting people were then appointed to interim roles.”

In regards to the aforementioned interim positions, Griffin said that MacDuffie is “currently advertising for the Dean of Students position for 2018-19, both on [MacDuffie’s] website and through NAIS.” As for Polga’s teaching position, Griffin explained that, “teaching and advising roles are determined yearly through consultation with department chairs,” which leaves the future of Polga’s prior duties currently undetermined.