I had a half-hour meeting with Dr. Enfield on Friday.
At first I had this long outlined list of topics of concern, but it simply wasn't realistic. Instead, I chose to focus the meeting on a single concern: What is the mission of the academic side of the Central Office?
I'm not usually interested in Mission Statements. In fact, I freakin' hate them because they are useless and typically create unreasonable expectations. Just the same, I think people should know what they are trying to do.
We know the District's mission - to educate Seattle's students. That work is done primarily in the schools. The mission of the schools - to educate students - no different from the District mission. The Central Office has two sides: Operations and Academics. The mission of the Operations side is also clear - to take on all of the non-academic work to free the schools to focus on academics. But what is the mission of the academic side of the Central Office?
What academic tasks are the proper work of the Central Office?
The lack of a clearly defined mission for the Academic side of the Central Office has led to two unacceptable consequences: tasks that the central office should do have been left undone and the central office has squandered resources and irritated colleagues by taking on work they should not be doing.
I suggest that the Central Office has three academic duties:
1. Quality Assurance. Someone needs to follow up on the schools and make sure that they are doing a good job. Someone needs to make sure that they are providing appropriate interventions for students working below grade level. Someone needs to make sure that they are providing appropriate challenge for students working beyond grade level. Someone needs to make sure that they are delivering - at a minimum - the core content in each subject at each grade level. Someone needs to make sure that the teachers understand that the Standards are a floor, not a ceiling. Someone needs to make sure that they are following the IEPs, that they are providing appropriate services to ELL students, that their Advanced Learning program meets the expectations for such programs, and so on. Someone needs to make sure that the schools offer all of the classes and opportunities that they are supposed to offer (music, AP classes, etc.). This work, Academic Assurances, is the District's work. Much of it has not been done. Much of it still is not done.
Along these lines, Dr. Enfield wanted to clarify her "Spectrum is Spectrum is Spectrum" remark, but she didn't really manage it. I will follow up with her.
2. Curricular Support. There is some curricular work that would be more efficiently done centrally and then shared with teachers rather than having each teacher develop their own. This begins with defining the baseline set of knowledge and skills that every student is expected to learn in each subject at each grade ("content" in District jargon). That's a District-level decision. From there it extends to adopting materials that support that content. I am not convinced that it extends, from there, to somehow mandating the use of those materials. It may (or may not) extend to writing pacing guides - it certainly doesn't extend to requiring adherence to pacing guides. I think this work requires a few curriculum area experts to do this work. Not many.
3. Teaching Support. Any support that a teacher needs that cannot be found within their own building is a District level responsibility. This includes facilitating - if not producing - professional development opportunities, coordinating collaboration between and among schools, sharing of best practices, and - on a very limited basis - coaching. The principal's primary duty is to serve as the instructional leader and should be the teacher's primary resource for coaching. However, sometimes the teacher needs expert support in a particular curricular discipline and that expertise can and should be found at the Central Office in the curriculum area experts referenced above. It is important for math teachers to have opportunities to network with other math teachers and language teachers with other language teachers, etc. Again, the curriculum area experts should take on the responsibility for building and maintaining these networks. This networking needs to be both vertical (8th grade teachers talking to 9th grade teachers) and horizontal (8th grade teachers talking to other 8th grade teachers).
I'll say it again. The lack of a clearly defined mission for the Academic side of the Central Office has led to two unacceptable consequences: tasks that the central office should do have been left undone and the central office has squandered resources and irritated colleagues by taking on work they should not be doing. The superintendent should clearly set the Academic duties of the Central Office and then build teams to fulfill those functions while eliminating the departments and dismissing staff members who are doing work outside the limits of that mission.