School Superintendent Carol R. Johnson proposed a new structure for her executive team Wednesday night that would create small networks of schools, with each overseen by a central office administrator.
The goal of the new structure is to help principals do their jobs better and to provide more targeted support to students and teachers, Johnson said at a Boston School Committee meeting.
“The ability to create a smaller network of schools absolutely will increase communication and support,” she told committee members. “We absolutely think it will create a more mutually accountable system. With fewer schools, [assistant superintendents] can be in the schools more often. . . . It’s a big culture shift for the central office.”
With the change, the Boston School Department is also seeking to counter complaints by some that it is an unresponsive, compliance-driven bureaucracy.
The proposal does not require School Committee approval. For the most part, though, members appeared to like the proposed structure and applauded Johnson for seeking the advice of principals in developing it, from the bottom up.
“This is extraordinary,” said the Rev. Gregory Groover, the committee’s chairman. “I really want to commend the superintendent and her team. This organizational chart is so school-based, and that translates into student-based. This is a new day. It really is.”
The reorganization comes amid a number of high-level departures from School Department headquarters on Court Street. They include Johnson’s most trusted adviser, former deputy superintendent Michael Goar, who previously worked for Johnson when she led the Memphis and Minneapolis school systems.
Johnson announced in July that she would be shaking up her administrative team, after a series of incidents that raised questions about a possible breakdown in communication and oversight up and down the ranks.
But Johnson said that she had been looking to overhaul the executive team months earlier and had surveyed principals in the spring, finding a high-level of frustration toward the central office on Court Street.
Chief among the concerns: Principals often had to talk separately with various Court Street departments to work out a single issue that yielded conflicting information and no resolution.
Under Johnson’s proposal, central office staff from various areas — such as academics, finance, and human resources — would be assigned to a specific network so they can work together to help schools address issues.
An assistant superintendent assigned to each network would be responsible for improving student learning by coaching and evaluating school leaders. Each assistant superintendent would report to a deputy superintendent for academics.
The city’s approximately 80 elementary, middle, and K-8 schools would be divided into six networks, based on geographic location. The high schools would belong to a separate network, as would vocational education.
Johnson said the new structure should not produce any additional costs for the districts because some jobs will be phased out to make way for the new positions.
It remains unclear when the new hiring will begin.
Lynne Mooney Teta, the headmaster of Boston Latin School who sat on a committee that helped developed the proposal, said she was optimistic about the changes.
She said the structure will formalize an informal gathering of high school headmasters who have been working together on a number of issues. That group has included heads of exam schools, pilot high schools, and turnaround schools
“We wanted a structure that would allow us to continue that collaboration and sharing,” Mooney Teta said.