AISD Staff Shake-Up
One day into the new superintendent's tenure, things already look different
New Austin Independent School District Super-intendent Meria Carstarphen only took the district's reins on July 1, but she has already started to make her mark, with the approval of a new district organizational plan that changes the structure of the administration's upper levels. The plan, Assistant Super-intendent Michael Houser said, "is pretty reflective of the way she wants to work."
The district's board of trustees approved the new structure at its final meeting of the academic year on June 22. (Carstarphen was absent, finishing her tenure as superintendent of Saint Paul Public Schools in Minnesota.) This first round of restructuring (the district will be looking at more in upcoming months) directly tackled the senior cabinet. Under retired Superintendent Pat Forgione, there have been three "superofficers": The chief academic officer handled education, the chief financial officer oversaw finance and operations, and one of the three assistant superintendents dealt with human resources. In reality, Houser said: "We've had a lot of people involved in cabinet. Up to 20 or 22 people in there for meetings on a Monday morning."
The new Carstarphen plan expands the number of senior posts but cuts the number of people stuck in those organizational meetings. The resulting organizational chart owes much in both structure and titles to the one at her old job in St. Paul. Eight senior staff – including her chief of staff and the general counsel – plus her special assistant will report directly to her. The old structure reflected Forgione's management style, but, Houser said, "I think that [Carstarphen] feels more comfortable with a team of eight."
The three biggest offices see the biggest changes, as each gets its responsibilities split in two and restructured. Board of trustees President Mark Williams said this will make officers closer to their departments and more directly accountable to Carstarphen. The change is not driven just by her arrival but by timing – the district has reached a critical mass that requires a broader senior cabinet. "Yes, there's new leadership," said Williams, "but it's also the scale of the district, the demographics, the accountability system we face."
On the facilities-management side, a number of responsibilities will be transferred from the chief financial officer to the new chief operations officer – a major change. Former CFO Larry Throm viewed unifying the two tasks as pivotal for oversight. Yet with finance handling an $800 million budget, Houser said, Carstarphen "wanted full focus there," and with the chief operations officer, she wanted "a more definitive line for facilities and technology."
Education provision gets a similar shake-up. Previously, the chief academic officer dealt with both curriculum and school management. Now, the CAO maintains strategic control of districtwide issues such as curriculum, while the new chief schools officer will work directly with individual campuses. Education Austin President Louis Malfaro argues that this marks a critical shift in the district's educational thinking. "For years," he said, "the district has been dominated by the curriculum people, who think, 'If we just come up with enough scripts and enough practice tests, then we'll be OK.'" Having a cabinet member highlighting individual campuses and programs, he said, will break that "one-size-fits-all" philosophy. But what has Malfaro most enthused is the splitting of the human resources development and information systems role between two new offices. The chief performance officer will work on accountability and performance metrics, while the chief human capital officer will concentrate on human resources and educator quality issues. "Hallelujah," he said. "We finally are acknowledging that teacher quality is the main driver to student success."
These new positions will be filled over the summer, with salaries in the $155,000 to $185,000 range, and there will be an additional associate superintendent of central elementary schools ($135,000 to $145,000) and an executive director for educator quality ($105,000 to $115,000). When filled, they will allow the phasing out of 10 positions, trigger re-evaluation of two more, and cause others to be realigned. However, the board drew the line at getting rid of the assistant superintendent of diversity and intercultural relations. Board members argued that it was supposed to be a senior cabinet-level position, reporting directly to the superintendent and implementing the findings of the city of Austin's Hispanic and African American Quality of Life initiatives. Instead, under the old structure, it was located two levels below the superintendent in educational support services; the draft plan eliminated the position and folded its role into professional development. Neither proposal satisfied the board, which wanted the position to be given a higher profile rather than eliminated. "The fact that it's embedded somewhere rather than highlighted somewhere ... concerns me," said District 2 trustee Sam Guzman.
The next stage of restructuring will involve appraising the rest of the district's 485 administrators to continue the structural streamlining. Williams concluded: "If the superintendent is the change agent, then the district can only move as fast as the superintendent. Her philosophy is that we as a district have to move faster."