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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 5, 2008

As new head of instruction at GCSD
Singleton looks to strike a balance

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — Demian Singleton started his career as a research scientist and, now an educator, he said the scientific process still shapes his thinking.

“You’re looking for outcomes,” said Singleton. “You look at a project and ask, is it reflective of your initial thoughts and ideas?”

Singleton, currently the math and science supervisor at Farnsworth Middle School, has been hired as the district’s assistant superintendent for instruction. He’ll replace Nancy Andress when she retires in August and will earn $115,000 in his new post.

Singleton was chosen from a pool of 26 applicants, said Superintendent John McGuire. “He has a vision of excellence for our program coupled with a nice leadership capability,” said McGuire. “He understands how to work with people ... encouraging them in the process. “Singleton’s vision, said McGuire, is not individual but instead involves bringing people to consensus.

Singleton has worked with Andress whom, McGuire said, has “created a culture of professionalism for the district.”

At 38, Singleton is a busy man. He is married to a Shaker High School teacher, Jennifer; they are raising two children — 3-year-old Andrew and 8-year-old Jessica, a third-grader at Guilderland Elementary School.

At the same time, Singleton is working on a doctoral degree in educational leadership at Sage Graduate School.

“The research road”

Singleton was born in Poughkeepsie and raised in New Paltz.

“I come from a long line of educators,” he said.

His father teaches English on the college level and his mother is a social worker. His sister, who lives in Los Angeles, is also a social worker.

His early life was not idyllic. “My parents got divorced; I moved around,” he said. “In hindsight, I would have preferred more things in my control...We survive and move on...live and learn.”

After high school, where math was his favorite subject, Singleton went to the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse to earn a bachelor of science degree in environmental biology and microbiology.

“I wanted to go down the research road,” he said. Although he was accepted to graduate programs, he got a job instead at Albany Medical Center as a biomedical research technician, studying the response of certain human cells to chemicals.

During his two-and-a-half years at AMC, Singleton worked on a master’s degree in science education and did informal teaching. He taught procedures such as chemo taxis, which he described as “the reaction of cells to conditions we placed them in.”

Teaching and leading

Although he enjoyed his work as a researcher, Singleton said, “I missed human interaction.”

Singleton did his student teaching at Bethlehem Middle School and Guilderland High School, and was hooked.

“I loved it,” he said. “I loved actually having students I could work with and see the learning cycle go from start to finish.”

His first teaching job, for the 1995-96 school year, was a temporary post, teaching biology for a year at South Colonie. Then he was hired to teach seventh-grade science at Farnsworth Middle School, where he has been ever since.

Singleton had expected he’d be a high-school science teacher but found teaching middle-school students “enlightening and refreshing,” he said.

“It’s always challenging,” he said. “No two days are ever the same.”

Singleton enjoys the “energetic, upbeat” atmosphere in middle school, he said. “Kids are curious and think at a higher level,” he said, while still maintaining their enthusiasm.

He taught until 2004, when he became the school’s math and science supervisor. “Guilderland promotes a lot of leadership,” said Singleton. “I still think of myself as a teacher, working with other teachers to promote their growth.”

He also likes shaping curriculum, determining, he said, “what students learn and how.”

Inquiry and service

Under his leadership, Farnsworth was recently one of nine schools nation-wide named a finalist for the Intel Schools of Distinction Awards in the Science Excellence category, for which it received a $2,500 grant. The winner will be announced on June 15 and will receive an additional $7,500 of grant funding and $150,000 of materials and supplies.

In applying to Intel, Singleton said, he highlighted “first and foremost, the overall philosophy we subscribe to — inquiry.”

He explained, “Science is not just disseminating knowledge to students. It’s something they have to experience...We balance the State Education Department requirements with an inquiry-based program.”

The Intel application also emphasized community service projects through which students learn about science. These projects include tending to the school’s organic garden and raising butterflies that thrive in native habitat.

One of the things he’s proudest of in his leadership at the middle school is the “shift in how we offer math and science enrichment,” said Singleton. Previously, the enrichment programs targeted gifted and talented students.

“I’ve pushed to shift towards enrichment for all students, regardless of ability levels,” he said, “providing opportunities so they can develop and demonstrate their abilities.”

The enrichment programs “expose students to authentic math and science applications,” said Singleton. “Confidence and skill levels have grown astronomically.”

Singleton is also proud of the way new federal and state requirements have been met without sacrificing the program. He spoke of the “plethora of testing” and the required shifts in curriculum to “meet accountability measures” and concluded, “We’ve done it and still maintained integrity...We’re not a test-prep program.” Rather, he said, students learn through problem-solving.

One of the challenges Guilderland faces, said Singleton, is in sustaining leadership. He referred to the turnover in the last few years, particularly at the high school.

Referring to himself, and to Altamont Elementary teacher Allan Lockwood who has just been named Guilderland Elementary principal and to Farnsworth house principal, Chris Sanita, who has been named Pine Bush Elementary principal, Singleton said, “We moved up the ranks...It shows you can have successful vertical movement...That should be imbedded in how we operate as a district.”

Looking for balance

Singleton said he applied for the assistant superintendent’s post because of his “interest in curriculum as a whole.” He explained, “Now, I’m limited to math and science. I want to look at literacy skills, too...This gives me an opportunity to interact with all aspects of curriculum and instruction.”

Referring to controversy in recent years, particularly with some parents’ complaints about how reading is taught, Singleton said, “I firmly believe you have to listen to people.”

He went on, “I believe strongly in supporting evidence and reason for change. We have many measures of our success.” He said he respected the data as much as opinions and personal preferences. “Those things will balance out...so everyone embraces the outcome,” he said.

Singleton said of Andress, “Nancy at certain times has taken some heat. Ultimately, her goal and ideally of the school community is to get a product we will collectively support.”

Asked if there is a conflict between preserving rich curriculum and having students perform well on required tests, Singleton said, “I think there is a conflict in time...It boils down to how much time is allotted to test-based activities” like preparation and scoring.

“It can very easily consume a curriculum,” he said. “You run the risk then of sacrificing authentic learning,” which may not show up in test results.

Guilderland has emphasized creative learning, said Singleton. “You have to find that balance,” he said. “Test scores may be a little lower, but is it worth it?”

He went on, “We’ve done a lot of work articulating the vertical and horizontal with curriculum mapping,” which he described as “a constant work in progress.”

Singleton concluded, “We will be looking for that balance constantly. I don’t know if any school has found the perfect formula.”

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