Saturday, November 09, 2019

The Return of Moss Adams to SPS

Who is Moss Adams?  I'll let them tell you:
Moss Adams is a fully integrated professional services firm dedicated to assisting clients with growing, managing, and protecting prosperity.
The district used Moss Adams, oh so many years ago, when the district had a superintendent in the form of Joe Olchefske (who ran this district into debt with a slate Board who rubberstamped what he did.  One good reason to find Board candidates who are independent thinkers but know how to work as a team.  Unbelievably he still touts his work in SPS on his resume.)

I have frequently applauded the work that MA did for SPS because it was so through, so detailed and so focused.  That report went thru every single department, looking for the good, the bad and the ugly including the superintendent.  My favorite line about him was the carefully phrased, "The Superintendent likes good news...."

Sadly, I see the link I had to it is now broken.

I have always felt that report could have been the guiding star for this district to become operationally mature. But, like many expensive reports, it was mostly shelved.

However, back in 2017, then Board President Sue Peters and Vice-President Betty Patu had Moss Adams do a review of Teaching&Learning.  A notation at the bottom says:
This report is intended for the internal use of Seattle Public Schools, and may not be provided to, used, or relied upon by any third parties.
I'm thinking that's a regular piece of attribution that MA does because, of course, anyone could ask for and get a copy of this report as SPS is a public entity.

Its title is:  Efficiency Study: Teaching and Learning Division

The objective of this study is to determine opportunities for improvement in management, organization, and operations of the Seattle Public Schools (the District) Teaching & Learning Division (T&L). The organizational structure and management of T&L functions were assessed for effectiveness and alignment with best practices. This study was conducted between December 2017 and August 2018. The project consisted of six major phases: 1) Project Initiation and Ongoing Management, 2) Fact Finding, 3) Benchmarking, 4) Evaluation of Organization Structure, 5) Analysis, and 6) Reporting.
As you may note from the dates, this was during the tenure of Larry Nyland and just a smidgen of Denise Juneau's administration.
This study was sponsored by the School Board, with an interest in assessing the efficiency of the wide variety of work performed within T&L. T&L is large, with 121 staff and more than 60 programs and services delivered to students, teachers, and principals. The work of T&L requires engagement of multiple, diverse stakeholders, including community organizations, institutional funders, state and federal agencies, families, teachers, principals, and other District functions.

Efficiency studies are typically structured around three themes, and assess efficiency and effectiveness through the following questions:

1. Organization: What are workloads and related staff capacity? Are we organized in the right way? Do we have the right skills, knowledge, and abilities in the organization?

2. Processes: What could we do more efficiently and effectively, and why? Are any processes manual or paper-based?

3. Systems: How effective are the systems that support our work—including human resources, technology, finance, legal, and governance? How do they impact our efficiency?
The District has a “culture of yes,” with staff juggling multiple priorities and struggling to balance workloads. While the District has successfully used SMART goals in recent years, the strategic plan is expiring and there is a new Superintendent, presenting an ideal opportunity to engage in strategic planning. Once a high-level, outcomes-focused strategic plan is in place, department operating plans, a prioritization framework, and performance reporting should follow. Realigning the District’s culture to focus on outcomes and data-driven accountability will significantly improve efficiency at all levels.
As in most public organizations, following the recession, T&L staffing is limited due to budget constraints. Because of staffing limitations, many managers, directors, and executive directors work at the staff level, and are not being engaged at their highest and best use. Within T&L, there are a number of managers with a high number of direct reports or unique functions, while other programs are staffed by only one employee. The District should engage in a facilitated organizational modeling exercise to determine how T&L should best be structured based on strategic goals. 
I wanted to call out that statement in red above because when MA did the report back in 2003, they had a great line which is - sadly - true to this day.  It came at the end of the report and I paraphrase:
If you do not change the culture of a bureaucracy, you will change nothing.
And I very much believe that superintendents come in with change in their hearts but fail to get this crucial issue done.  Or, at least, get people rowing in the same direction.
Now we know that Juneau and staff did create a Strategic Plan.  Did Juneau read this report?  Could be. 
The report included work in benchmarking with 15 other districts. Very thorough. 

There are a number of "Observations" and then "Recommendations."  A few key ones:

Challenges exist with balancing priorities, since the District lacks a comprehensive strategic plan that clearly defines priority activities and an implementation plan for accomplishing them.

Develop a long-range, high-level, outcome-based District-wide strategic plan and supporting department plans to focus District efforts and provide the basis for decision-making.

So the Superintendent and staff did create a Strategic Plan.  Is it comprehensive? In a vague way.  And, how all of it was created and how it will be implemented is known only to JSCEE senior staff. 
Key Themes
Across the District, processes include superintendent procedures, department and division practices, and standard operating procedures. Like many other public organizations, many T&L processes are not up to date, and some are not defined. Informal processes that have not been standardized impact efficiency. When processes are not formalized, the District performs the same types of practices in different ways, sometimes with unnecessary steps. For example, performance management, reporting, and communications practices are significant areas with fragmented or undocumented processes that impact T&L’s efficiency. A lack of documentation also impacts the District’s efficiency when onboarding new staff, ensuring compliance, and responding to stakeholder requests for information.

The District should invest in a Project Management Office (PMO) and developing T&L’s continuous improvement function to support workflow definition and process documentation. These functions have existed in the past, and cutting them has impacted the District’s ability to operate efficiently. In addition, stronger document management and data utilization will support better process efficiency. With project management tools and training and a focus on continuous improvement, the District can equip T&L staff to efficiently execute their program goals and strategic objectives.
There is a chart that shows a "Recommendation" column, "Priority", "Effort", "Responsibility" and "Year."  I see that MA says their implementation plan includes "suggested priority (high, medium, low).  There is not one item that is ranked "low."

The District’s operating environment is reactive with inadequate prioritization practices.
Develop an organization-wide prioritization and decision-making framework centered around the District’s strategic goals. 
Yup, still reactive after all these years.  Or rather, it feels like Juneau's administration is creating circumstances they know are likely to cause school communities to react.  And then they will be able to say, "Sorry, just enacting the Strategic Plan."  (Look to hear that a lot over the next four years.)
According to Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 28A.150.230, school district Boards of Directors have responsibility for setting policies ensuring quality in the content and extent of its education programs. In most districts, the Board sets policy direction and delegates the authority to operate the policies to the Superintendent. However, this approach is not currently utilized by Seattle’s School Board. Instead, the Board operates at more of a tactical level than a strategic level. Many decisions go through Board processes, no matter their size. This culture is typical of organizations with high elected official and staff turnover, and creates a perception of mistrust between the staff and Board.
The District embraces innovation by exploring opportunities and saying yes to new ideas. Under current practice, Board requests and special projects can be generated at the request of one member, rather than requests approved by a majority of the Board. Individual issues may become resolutions or amendments without an assessment of resource impacts. This approach results in resource and efficiency impacts, as Board initiatives that inevitably arise over the course of a year create additional resource requirements without requisite reprioritization and can become unfunded mandates to departments. Additionally, this can result in redundancies, frustration, and tension among central office staff.
Clearly, tension between the role of Board members and JSCEE staff. I will say, on the amendments, that staff often does NOT get information in time for Board members to review before a vote and then some Board members then feel they need to put in an amendment that either defines costs or staves off unintended consequences.
In addition, The Board should set clear guidelines that require initiatives to be approved by a majority vote. In a limited public resource environment, not every idea can be pursued. Under this mode, an initiative can only be approved by a majority vote, and the vote can occur only after there has been an exploration into the full costs and benefits.

Getting Work Done
Like many mission-driven organizations, staff report difficulty prioritizing tasks and effectively communicating trade-offs. This challenge exists, in part, due to the District’s culture of “yes” and corresponding reactive operating practices, as noted previously. Many staff report that they prioritize their efforts based on immediate need or who is the most persistent in requesting a task. However, this prioritization method does not put District goals or student achievement at the forefront of administrators’ efforts. As staff struggle to balance an expanding list of new and pending projects, the District should develop and utilize a prioritization framework to provide guidance and enable consistent decisions that align with the District’s strategic goals. A decision matrix or other objective tool can be particularly useful to balance needs because the task of setting priorities can be influenced by, and result in, emotional responses in any organization. Using a decision framework improves efficiency by moving decision-making out of a culture of consensus.
That framework they speak of would be good for everyone, both at JSCEE and outside of it, to know and understand. We know the district has a commitment to using a racial equity lens but surely - given the number and types of needs and their costs - there is some kind of extended framework that the Strategic Plan is using. If I missed this, please let me know.

That last sentence? I think compromise and consensus are worthy goals when setting priorities but, taking emotion out of decision-making, is also important. I know that is a challenge because the raison d'etre for the district and its school communities is children. 

The District’s siloed, reactive operating environment impedes efficient operations.

Do you know how many decades people, both within JSCEE and without, have said operations are siloed? No argument there.
Take measures to break down operating silos by leveraging cross-departmental collaboration, establishing clear and aligned collaboration strategies, and cascading messaging. 

The District struggles to sustain changes effectively and inspire staff to adopt new systems, processes, and programs.

Dedicate adequate resources to implement and maintain new programs and initiatives to help ensure changes are fully adopted.
No overall formal budget policy exists to guide spending at the central office related to overhead and administration, including sub-functions such as T&L. Many T&L positions are partially or wholly funded by grants, levies, and non-baseline funding sources.
The siloed nature of District operations and the associated lack of communication results in departments pursuing their own priorities, with limited regard for the needs or ongoing projects of other departments. Program staff reported being unaware of who made decisions regarding their programs. In addition, principals reported that alignment among central office staff is critical to delivering programs and services to buildings.
Establish a budget policy related to central office spending levels and baseline funding. 
Many positions in T&L, especially with the Curriculum, Assessment, and Instruction division, are funded partially or wholly from external sources, including grant and levies. The lack of consistent funding for these positions contributes to the Division’s inability to develop long-term plans and retain staff. Many managers reported that planning was by nature reactive, as they felt they needed to wait to plan for the next school year until they knew funding for positions and program delivery was secured, which could be

The District has made progress in implementing the MTSS framework, but further progress toward meeting student needs is contingent upon comprehensive support collaboration.

To further advance MTSS, elevate MTSS leadership and consolidate supporting functions together under a comprehensive support program. 

The District is characterized by high turnover, resulting in a systematic loss of talent and organization investment.   
Develop a long-term workforce plan for T&L, including an ongoing emphasis on streamlining the hiring process and staff development opportunities.  

The District utilizes an industry standard process for executive compensation setting, but has not yet published the procedures. 
Formalize the processes related to senior and executive-level position hiring and compensation setting as a Superintendent procedure, and acquire education-sector specific compensation data to support data-driven decisions.

The District relies on in-person meetings to communicate throughout the organization, which impacts productivity.
 Revise meeting practices to ensure meetings are productive, meaningful, and relevant.

Customer service requests flow continuously into the District via multiple channels.
Establish a central office intake capability to record, track, and manage customer service requests and corresponding information, and consider leveraging a shared services team within T&L to manage customer communications. 

The District employs a central Ombudsperson position reporting directly to the Deputy Superintendent who operates with minimal support.
Increase the level of support provided to the Ombudsperson function, including systems and processes, and consider moving the function under the District’s Legal Department.
In the District’s 2018 family survey, 29 percent of respondents reported that the District’s central office is responsive to the input and concerns of families. Similarly, 34 percent felt that they receive effective service and support when calling or visiting the District administration or central office. These numbers are nearly identical to the 2016 family survey. Low customer service ratings are partially the result of fragmented, decentralized requests and responses at the central office.

The District manages regulatory compliance on a program-by-program basis, increasing the risk of non-compliance and potential loss of funding.
Establish a centralized regulatory compliance function for the District.

The District has historically under-resourced instructional materials investment, resulting in a backlog of curricula that require updating.
Develop an instructional materials management plan to provide structure and ensure quality control of designed, selected, and implemented curriculum including internal consistency and required resources. 

Two Specific Program areas referenced in the report

The Advanced Learning group has historically focused on assessment with minimal central guidance on curriculum, program management, or school support. 

Would you look at that; "minimal" anything for this program.
Principals reported receiving no guidance or support for advanced or highly capable learners and have a strong desire for curriculum and professional development support. Recently, the District has initiated a transformation in the program’s focus to begin addressing school support for instructional services. 
Continue expanding the focus of the Advanced Learning Program from assessment to program delivery by providing professional development and corresponding materials to support learning opportunities for highly capable students.

State law defines highly capable students as students scoring above the 98th percentile on a qualifying exam. However, the District defines advanced learners as students above the 87th percentile on a qualifying exam. 
Based on a review of other districts’ advanced learning programs, this criteria may be too low to accurately identify students who would benefit from unique advanced learning programs. For example, in Colorado, gifted education is defined as students in the 95th percentile and above. “Talent pools” are formed for students scoring below the 95th percentile who demonstrate advanced ability in a particular area, but do not meet the criteria for gifted education.
A 2017 program review of Advanced Learning provided three recommendations to help promote future student success:
  • Make equity-focused changes to testing policies
  • Provide better in-school access to advanced learning opportunities 
  • Encourage more advanced learning referrals
These recommendations are based on feedback from principals and families, and should be incorporated into the District’s advanced learning plan. As these changes take effect, the Advanced Learning Program Manager should develop a program plan to identify how the program will change. The plan should identify short and long-term vision and goals, clearly articulate planned service offerings, and include reporting and communication standards.

Special Education and ELL programs are primarily supported by local levy funding, which will not be allowable under the new state education funding law in 2019-2020. This presents a significant risk to the District’s progress in meeting critical student needs.
Conduct program reviews, including scenario analysis, to plan for future service delivery and funding options
Also on Sped, under Commendations, there was this:
Special Education program improvements: In recent years, Special Education has been a major improvement area, implementing changes including organization structure, professional development, and job descriptions.
Which is good but how much of that work has gone into any given service or classroom?

On Instructional Materials
The C&I division currently lacks capacity to research, approve, and effectively implement new instructional materials. Staff primarily act as resources to teachers and principals in delivering instructional materials, which can vary from the District’s standard, outdated materials to building- and classroom-specific. Principals reported that the lack of common and current instructional materials is viewed as an opportunity by experienced, strong teachers to customize instructional materials to their students, while teachers in need of development often feel lost. 
The District has historically under-resourced investment in instructional materials, resulting in a backlog of required curricular updates. 
In 2016-17, the District adopted English and Language Arts instructional materials at a cost of $5.6 million. This adoption was led by two C&I employees and impacts six grade levels, 72 schools, 1,300 teachers, and approximately 25,000 students. 
The District also approved $7 million in 2018-19 for additional instructional materials updates, with a plan to update instructional materials based on a rolling schedule. 
To direct future investment in instructional materials, the C&I Chief developed a five-year, high level curricular implementation plan that prioritizes materials requiring updates to comply with new graduation requirements. This new investment represents a significant expansion of C&I’s workload. 
Additionally, the budgeted amounts only pertain to the purchase of instructional materials and are not inclusive of implementation costs, including personnel and training.
The last several pages of the report is information from other districts on how their Board members view their work as well as sample rubrics for funding priorities.


Carol Simmons said...

Thank you Melissa.

Many items of interest in the M.A, report.

Anonymous said...

Oh boy it's TIERS 2.0 for SPED.

Not again