In a major revamp of top leadership in the Fort Worth school district, Superintendent Kent Scribner is eliminating 10 high-level executive positions as part of an “educational redesign” meant to push resources to struggling schools.
Some of the targeted positions are filled by employees who are expected to retire in coming months. One example is Michael Sorum, deputy superintendent of leadership, learning and student support services, who has announced that he will retire in May. At least two positions unfilled for two years will remain so, Scribner said. Other central office administrators will be distributed to support campuses, and an undetermined number could face layoffs at the end of this school year, Scribner said.
The administrative redo could generate as much as $1.3 million for struggling schools, he said.
All told, Scribner inherited a team of 20 administrators, including the district’s attorney, chief finance officer and executive director of athletics. He has created new titles for his 10-member leadership team, including chiefs of district elementary education, secondary education, planning and policy, and equity and excellence.
In addition to the administrative redo, the new superintendent has pledged to inject considerable money and resources — instructional leadership, tutoring support and other benefits — to struggling campuses. Scribner has been calling the revamp “a cultural transformation”; on Tuesday, he described it as a “cradle-to-career” operation aimed at boosting student progress. “We are talking about redirecting our existing resources to those students who need it the most.”
For weeks, Scribner, whose hire became official Oct. 15, has been dropping hints about the changes. On Dec. 8, he told a packed boardroom of parents, teachers and students that he wanted to “flatten the organization and push resources from the central office out to the schools.”
“We have some high level, executive-level positions that we are going to be eliminating,” Scribner said at the time, “two or three layers between me and the principals … I’m going to eliminate the highest of those layers.”
At issue is how to move the needle at some of the lowest-performing public schools in Texas. Twenty-one Fort Worth schools, including O.D. Wyatt High School, are on the watch list for “improvement required” under the state accountability system.
For many years, the 86,000-student district has been a low performer even among the state’s largest urban school districts. The way to change that, Scribner says, is to shift resources to areas of greatest need.
“I truly believe that FWISD is people-rich but systems-poor,” he said. “My job is to build an effective and efficient organization whose central focus is on teaching and learning.”
On Tuesday, Scribner said he was pleased that “positive trends” have occurred throughout the district but cautioned that it hadn’t happened for every student. He described “persistent inequities,” particularly among schools with high percentages of African-American students and limited-English learners. The district is made up of about 63 percent Hispanic, 23 percent African-American and 11 percent Anglo students, he said.
Steven Poole, executive director of the United Educators Association, said he liked the idea of an leaner organization. For years, the district has had a reputation of being “bloated,” Poole said.
“It’s time,” Poole said. “It’s needed.”
Board members unanimously approved an item for the redesign, which could include a reduction in force for the 2016-17 school year.
“I’m really encouraged,” Trustee Norman Robbins said. “I think it will make a tremendous impact. We’ve talked about it for a long, long, long time.”
“It’s something that we’ve waited for for a number of years,” said Trustee Christene Moss, who made the motion. “I’m sure [our staff] want to see the change also.”
Trustee Ann Sutherland cautioned Scribner to make sure teachers buy in to his plan.
Last November, Scribner met with Moss to visit three of the district’s lowest-performing elementary schools, which feed into Dunbar High. Also on hand was Sherry Breed, the district’s chief of leadership, learning and student support services, and a few other district leaders.
Scribner expects to boost instructional staffing to support and mentor teachers at those three schools. The staff also would provide opportunities for student tutoring, and principals would be supported with additional professional development.
“We cannot move this district forward if teachers are not at the center of our work,” Scribner said.
Part of the “cultural transformation” of the district will hinge on a school basic: a focus on homework.
That means “that we assign homework, that [students] complete homework,” Scribner said. “And that we check homework the next day.”
Poole, who represents district teachers who are members of UEA, said that his members support the idea of shifting more resources to schools that need them.
“Any resources that can be allocated back to the schools will be greatly appreciated,” he said.