It’s getting to be that you need a scorecard to identify district administrators by their titles. To keep up with changing needs, many districts are creating new management positions or adding new responsibilities to old ones and then coming up with titles that sometimes only hint at what they are about.
“Traditionally, if you looked at a district’s table of organization, it was pretty standard,” says Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators. “You had a superintendent, and if the district was large enough, you maybe had an assistant superintendent for instruction and another one for business and that was pretty much it. Now you see greater numbers of people in district offices who are there to deal with specialized issues that are creating substantial changes in the way districts go about their business.”
More districts appear to be giving administrators “executive” titles, using a word that traditionally connotes more authority in the workplace hierarchy. The Atlanta (Ga.) Public Schools hired an Atlanta-based search firm, the Royster Group, last spring to find candidates for executive director of instruction (for high schools), a new position. There already is an executive director of operations for high schools, and both positions report to Randy Bynum, associate superintendent of high schools. Bynum says the new position is part of a plan initiated in 2006 by Superintendent Beverly Hall to transform the district’s high schools by creating small schools and learning centers in place of traditional larger high schools. “She wanted to build up the staff to make implementation of the transformation effective,” says Bynum. Among other things, the transformation includes creating small schools, each with its own principal, on each high school’s main campus.
In addition to a master’s degree or higher in curriculum and instruction and at least five years of experience in an administrative or leadership capacity, the new executive must have knowledge or experience in developing instructional platforms for small schools or small learning communities, according to the job description. It says a compensation package for the position “will be developed for the suitable candidate.”
Among other responsibilities listed in the job description, the executive director will provide “instructional guidance and feedback” to principals as well as teachers. Accordingly, Bynum says, the “executive director” title is appropriate instead of “director” because “on the hierarchal chain here, a director does not outrank a principal and an executive director does.”
Other districts are making similar moves. The Board of Education in the San Juan (Calif.) Unified School District last winter approved the new position of executive director for high schools, with responsibilities including supervising and evaluating all high school principals. It was one of five proposed new management positions, while 16 others were designated for elimination in a district reorganization the board undertook in response to California’s budget crisis and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed cuts to public education. In addition, the Los Angeles Unified School District hired both a principal and executive director in May for a new arts high school scheduled to open this fall. While the principal will concentrate on academics, the executive director will focus on outside fund raising and outreach to local arts organizations.
Accountability has been a necessity for districts, and some have created positions to manage it. The St. Mary Parish (La.) School Board did so in 2001 after the Louisiana legislature gave the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education authority in 1997 to create a K12 school accountability system. “My position was created in response to that because the [St. Mary Parish] board felt they needed a comprehensive position to oversee the state’s efforts here,” says Kevin Derise, who filled the position as the district’s accountability manager and was paid $71,000 until he was appointed chief technology officer, with an $81,000 salary, on July 1. The district then appointed Robbi Gouaux, a former assistant principal at the district’s senior high school, as the new accountability manager, at a salary of $69,800.
Derise says his responsibilities included handling all of the district’s testing and assessments. “If it dealt with data, it came through me,” he says. With other accountability requirements prompted by No Child Left Behind and now by federal stimulus funding, there is more emphasis on accountability management in other districts as well, Derise says. “It’s ‘Hey, we’re spending a lot of money, so let’s be sure we’re spending it wisely and it’s doing what it is supposed to do, which is to improve student achievement,’” he explains.
While some districts previously assigned one staff member to handle testing and another to oversee accountability, Derise says the trend now is to put both in the hands of the same person, as St. Mary did with him. A former teacher and guidance counselor in the district, Derise points out that he did graduate work in statistics, so his accountability job was “a perfect fit.”
Language and social integration issues in racially and ethnically diverse districts are largely behind the creation in many such districts of a school community facilitator position, as was the case in the City School District of New Rochelle (N.Y.), which established the position last September. “It had very much to do with the nature of our district,” which is about one-third white, 40 percent Hispanic and 25 percent African-American, says Superintendent Richard Organisciak. “We just didn’t feel that there was an active, involved connection between the district and the community,” he explains.
The New Rochelle district had previously struggled with being sure all families had access to information they could understand about school events and programs, as well as access to someone they could go to with questions or complaints. The district needed an “ombudsman-type” person, a “point person who could field the types of questions and concerns that community members had,” Organisciak says.
To fill that role, New Rochelle hired Camille Edwards-Thomas at a salary close to $70,000. A mother of three children in the district, she has a master’s degree in supervision and administration, has taught in local schools, and has been a member of local community groups. “If somebody has a concern about a particular school situation, or possibly a legal matter of some sort, she’s available to talk with them and offer some direction,” Organisciak says. He adds that she also attends, “to the extent possible,” all school board meetings and every parent-driven or community-sponsored event, like parades and award ceremonies. In effect, she is “a PR person for the district. That’s an added benefit,” he says.
Edwards-Thomas also helps resolve issues ranging from disagreements among faculty members over district procedures to student disciplinary problems. With faculty, “she gets into the middle of it and tries to bring the parties together. We don’t want it to become a union matter or an administrative matter where we have to step in at a higher level,” Organisciak says. With student issues, “before it gets to the point of a suspension hearing, she tries to work through it with the family,” he adds. “It’s a broad range of things. It’s only a year old and may not be the way to go on some of those issues. Right now it’s an evolving position, and it’s gaining visibility and respect,” he says.
The position of school community facilitator is eight years old in the Newport-Mesa (Calif.) Unified School District and “has been a tremendous asset to the district,” says Susan Astarita, assistant superintendent of elementary education at the district. There initially were 20 facilitators, but budget cuts have dropped the number to 11. Still, in a district with many English language learners and parents who speak only Spanish, “they have become an essential part of how we communicate with our parent community,” Astarita says. “They are our outreach mechanism.”
As in New Rochelle, “one of our main jobs is providing access to information and services to parents who do not speak English,” says Amparo Ames, a former teacher who became one of the first facilitators in the Newport-Mesa district and now coordinates the work of the other 10. All speak both English and Spanish, and a key function they perform is translating or interpreting written and spoken communication from one language to the other. “Any communication that goes to the homes we translate into Spanish,” says Ames, who grew up and was educated in Mexico City. Also, parents know they can write to the superintendent’s office about anything and “there will be someone who will translate their letters,” she says.
“Sometimes it’s challenging,” Ames acknowledges, citing the need to “find the right terminology and vocabulary” to explain health-related issues like swine flu to parents unable to understand English advisories about it.
Newport-Mesa facilitators also counsel parents on resources available to them, from dental care to free tutorial services, and educate them about their rights and responsibilities as parents. “We do everything and anything,” Ames says. For doing it, facilitators earn about $32,000 when they start, advancing to about $35,000 after five or six years, she reports.
In the Smithville (Mo.) R-II School District, a similar position, titled “family resource specialist,” has been created to replace the at-risk coordinator position. But the new family resource specialist, who will start this fall, will have the same basic responsibilities—connecting economically disadvantaged families in the district with support services in the community that they do not know how to access on their own. “It’s something our counselors have been asking for,” says Superintendent George Curry of the Smithville district. Even families that are financially stable sometimes need help in finding specialized resources for children who have autism or mental health issues or otherwise are struggling, and the family resource specialist the district has hired—Kimberly Downs—will help them find what they need, Curry says.
Downs was a part-time human resource specialist in the neighboring Park Hill School District and will work full-time in Smithville for about $49,000 annually, Curry says. “We wanted somebody with good social work credentials who is good at family counseling and getting into their homes and making those connections for them,” he says.
While Downs’ background is in social work, she is not being identified that way in Smithville, because “if I told the community I was hiring a social worker, they might shy away from her. There’s a stigma attached to that,” Curry says. But social work is wrapped into what Downs will do as family resource specialist.
Energy efficiency is another issue that is leading to new job titles in some districts. In the Bridgewater-Raritan (N.J.) Regional School District, Connie Coriell fills the part-time job of energy efficiency coordinator. The district created the position in 2007 when it joined Schools for Energy Efficiency (SEE), a national program to help K12 districts save energy and money.
“SEE delineates that you need a point person in your district to track utility usage and work with students and staff on all energy-related matters. Nobody was doing this in the district before, although buildings and grounds had been concerned about energy efficiency and it was on everyone’s minds,” says Coriell. She oversaw the district’s 2007 energy-efficiency initiative, which reduced energy use by 10 percent, saving more than $300,000 in its first year alone and earning Energy Star certification from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Coriell, a mother of two children in the district, is certified as a teacher but has never taught. She acknowledges that she has no energy experience, with a background instead in marketing and product management. But she says that serves her well for her district job, which is “a lot about communicating, building relationships, tracking projects through schools and staying on top of things.”
Domenech adds that some positions do not call for specialized professional experience and so districts are filling them from within, but district leaders are also going outside to find people with experience in other areas. For example, he says, “if you need a director of communications, you’re looking for someone with that background and experience—someone who writes well, speaks well, and has a track record as a journalist, not as a classroom teacher.”
Traditionally in education, Domenech says, everyone came through the ranks. “You were a teacher, and then you moved out of the classroom and became the assistant superintendent for curriculum or the business person or whatever it was. Now the need for specialized skills is a necessity. You need someone with expertise in a certain area, and it’s often not there for people who have simply been in the classroom.”
Changes in job responsibilities and titles, whatever they are called, Domenech concludes, are one way districts are dealing with “changing times that call for specialized skills.”
Alan Dessoff is a contributing writer for District Administration.