A call for accountability in Alonso's new central reorganization plan
Baltimore city school board members have requested a full presentation on how schools will benefit from city schools CEO Andres Alonso's recent central reorganization plan, which will expand the number of staff in school "network" teams and add 15 new administrators.
In Alonso's most recent central office shakeup, he eliminated 89 filled positions in order to triple the number of staff in 'networks--teams of staff Alonso created in 2009 to support principals by serving as liaisons to the central office. The district also will hire 15 new executive directors to fill $125,000 grant-funded positions. They will evaluate principals, and coach them through reforms.
School board members voiced the concern that, while the reorganization is tied to the next year's budget that was adopted last week, they needed more explanation about how the central changes will help schools.
"When you look at the changes that are proposed, they're supposed to have the greatest import at the schools... we can't articulate it to our constituents," said school board Commissioner Maxine Wood, who requested a full presentation.
Commissioner David Stone said during reorg discussions that he would like to see the district evaluate how effective the networks have been. He also said that if network staff--who currently make between $75,000 and $118,000--are considered an important part of schools' success, they should also be among the school leaders who are held accountable for student achievement.
City schools spokesman Michael Sarbanes said that, "the network ought to be making the schools succeed," and that their "evaluations will be tied to student outcomes, the same way [achievement] is tied to everything else." He said the district was in the process of figuring out the best way to do such an evaluation.
City schools CEO Andres Alonso said that the networks, "have touched everything," citing examples like dropout prevention initiatives, schools' budget processes, and compliance for students with disabilities.
"They have been all hands on deck for every initiative in the past two years," Alonso said. "We cannot possibly move forward with our new initiatives without increased support from the networks and the increased support and accountability that will come with the executive directors.
He pointed to a survey the district conducted, where the majority of principals (added: appeared to be a mixed bag, vets and new) surveyed said that their networks met or exceeded their expectations. The district compiled excerpts of surveys taken in 2009 and 2010, where the principals who responded said that they had a lot of interaction with network staff, though mostly in meetings.
But, more importantly, the survey said that, "the biggest need expressed by principals was for more direct attention to classroom instruction."
In the new, 8-person-networks, there will be specialists in the following areas: data, family and community engagement, special education, human capital, and operations (facilities). There will also be a student support liaison and two academic liaisons.
While the teams will be led by experienced principals, school officials said, they will include specialists from different fields and from outside the system. The two on each team who work in academic support roles will be from educational background.
At least one principal, who said they generally found their network team useful, sent me a one-word response when I asked how they felt about the expansion: "OVERKILL," they wrote.
Urban education experts lauded the board for asking tough questions about the expansion of school networks, particularly because similar structures in other districts, like New York City, have been criticized for being ineffective.
Jessica Shiller, education policy director for Advocates for Children and Youth, said that in her research as a teacher, researcher and higher ed professor of urban education in New York City she found that networks failed at providing the support they were designed for. She said their effectiveness varied depending on who staffed them and whether principals had the wherewithal to figure out who did what.
“The schools I was doing research in, they weren’t getting the support they were needed,"Shiller said. “The networks are well-intentioned, but it was like giving somebody a piece of furniture that they had to put together with no instruction manual, calling the support line, and no one answers the phone."
Shiller also said she advocated holding networks accountable for student achievement. “Accountability measures don’t allow you to count for support that the principals receive or not," she said. "If anyone is going to be accountable, let’s hold the networks accountable. Because it's not fair.”
Alonso said that student achievement has continued to rise in districts (Added:Boston, Charlotte and Atlanta) that have similar structures, and that the district is attempting to shape and implement its own best practices.
"What we know is that central offices are notoriously inefficient across the country," Alonso said. "And the districts that are showing improvement...tend to organize their work around integrated supports, with lots of attention to supporting schools."
"We are having our stab at it," he said.