Report says Providence Schools Central Office should be transformed

Providence Schools' Central Office Must Be Transformed, According to Independent Analysis

Mayor Elorza, School Board see findings as a ‘call to action;' pledge to create a central office that supports schools, engages families, helps raise academic achievement

– The Providence School Department must transform the way its central office is staffed and works before the school district can rapidly increase student achievement, according to an independent analysis.

The report, Providence Public Schools: An Assessment of the Need for District Transformation to Accelerate Student Achievement, paints a sobering picture of a central office unable to meet the goals of the school district and lacking key capacities in project management, talent management, data analysis and policy analysis.

“These findings are a call to action,” said Mayor Jorge Elorza, who called for the audit as one of his first acts in office. “Providence Schools must have a central administration designed to support our schools and engage our community, so we can raise academic achievement across the district. Our children and families deserve a school department that just works, and frankly, our future depends on it.”

As it currently operates, the school department's central administration does not adequately meet the needs of families and schools, according to the study conducted by public education consultant Mass Insight Education. Obsolete systems hamper the effectiveness of staff; workflows are not designed with end users in mind. Too often, systems have developed through inertia rather than strategic planning. 

Although the size of the central office is comparable with that of similar school districts, staffing within the office is a holdover from old ways of doing business and has not been updated to account for new technologies, changing student and family needs, and new goals for the district. 

The ratio of clerical staff to professional staff is higher than the ratio in most comparable districts, creating a perception that the central office is bloated. Supervisors are routinely pulled away from their work supporting school principals to respond to operational issues because there is a lack of appropriate staff. Too often, clerical staff answering the telephone cannot properly assist parents and school personnel who call seeking information or assistance.

And the school department's central administration is not designed to support the School Board and Elorza administration's goal to empower schools with increased autonomy. The central office must be transformed to function as a ‘service center' for principals leading each school, according to the study.

“This study shows that the word 'bloated' doesn't belong in front of the word bureaucracy when it comes to PPSD. The report explains that we are surprisingly lean in central office, while at the same time being inappropriately staffed for our mission. I am pleased that this report charts the path forward to building on the good work my team and I have accomplished over the past four years,” said Superintendent Dr. Susan Lusi.

Mass Insight recommends that Providence Schools take the following steps to transform its central administration:

•         Redesign business processes to increase efficiency

•         Revise the central office's organizational structure to enhance productivity and customer service in support of students, families and schools

•         Develop career ladders for placing qualified staff into clearly defined, redesigned roles; and reallocate positions not aligned with the new design 

•         Align the central office with district goals

•         Make data driven decision-making ubiquitous and incorporate performance management metrics for continuous improvement

The leadership of the Providence School Board said they stand with Mayor Elorza in their commitment to transforming the school department's central office to better serve students and families.

“The School Board has been committed to giving decision making to those who work closest with our children. To do this successfully, we need a central administration that will help navigate schools with this newfound control and flexibility while maintaining a high level of accountability and transparency,” said School Board President Keith Oliveira.

The report presents a vision for a transformed central administration: clerical staff would find themselves performing work aligned to clear goals, reducing stress and improving outcomes. School personnel would experience a central office focused on finding effective solutions to their challenges. Families and community members would experience improved customer service, with less runaround when they need answers.

The magnitude of the changes called for in central administration will require significant investments in change management, as well as policy and collective bargaining agreement changes, according to Mass Insight.  Ultimately, Mass Insight concludes that Providence Schools cannot fulfill its obligations to students, families, and citizens without pursuing a transformational approach to its central office. 

The Elorza administration and the School Board will review the report and devise a strategy in the coming months to better align central administration with the needs of students and families. 

(release from City of Providence)