Kent Scribner has been talking about ways to involve the community in improving academic achievement since before he arrived from Arizona four months ago to take over as Fort Worth’s new school superintendent.
Nearly 3 ½ hours into the school board meeting on Feb. 9, Scribner delivered phase one of his plan to a dwindling crowd of students, parents and educators who had addressed a number of issues earlier in the evening, from bullying to employee pay.
After outlining a “cradle to career” community partnership approach to preparing students for the future, Scribner announced plans to cut 10 top administrative positions and redirect the $1.3 million savings to low-performing schools.
One major impact will be the transfer of 70 district-level teacher support professionals to school campuses, mostly to the 21 academically low-performing schools, he said. For example, a math specialist, currently based at the district, will be assigned to a school where math scores are low to assist the teachers there.
Scribner’s plan to replace the 20-member cabinet that he inherited with a 10-member leadership team was approved unanimously by the 9-member board. Those in the eliminated positions can apply for other jobs within the district.
Most of the trustees were enthusiastic about the plan, although a few voiced concerns about how it would affect employees and others.
“I got a text from a teacher who worried that nothing was said about teachers,” said Trustee Ann Sutherland.
“Seventy people in this [administration] building will be working in the schools,” Scribner responded.
Trustee Tobi Jackson asked what will happen if the plans don’t work.
“We’re talking about positions tonight, not people. I’ll come back with that later,” Scribner said. “I’ll expect each chief to look at his own area. We need to act quickly and you can count on me to act efficiently.”
District spokesman Clint Bond said that eliminating three deputy superintendent positions – two of which have been vacant for a year or two – will cut the layers between the superintendent and principals from four to three.
The third position, deputy superintendent of leadership, learning and student support services, will be vacated when Michael Sorum retires in August, Bond said. The whole plan will be implemented at the end of the school year.
In addition, four assistant superintendent and three director positions will be eliminated. The legal counsel, athletic executive director and chief of leadership learning and student support services positions will remain but will report to new chiefs under the new structure, Bond said.
Replacing the 20-member cabinet will be 10 “chiefs” – in five existing areas and five new or revamped areas, Scribner said.
The existing leadership team will include chiefs of technology, operations, finance and human capital management (personnel) and the senior communications officer.
The new positions will be chief of elementary schools, chief of secondary schools, chief academic officer, chief of equity and excellence, and chief of policy and planning.
The academic chiefs are fairly self-explanatory although each will include new areas – athletics will be under the secondary chief; adult education under elementary; and separate sections under chief academic officer for special populations, intervention coordinator, system accountability and success.
Bond said internal and external candidates may be considered for those positions, which replace some being eliminated.
The new positions include policy and planning and equity and excellence. Policy and planning will include strategic planning, general counsel, professional standards, and employee and other advisory groups.
But the equity and excellence chief may be of most interest to the community, which will be brought into Scribner’s plan to involve businesses, faith-based groups, higher education, nonprofits and families to have a “collective impact” on the education of students.
Several community leaders weighed in on the superintendent’s plan.
“Business, city and faith leaders alike, have an opportunity to support Dr. Scribner and the direction that FWISD is moving,” said Mayor Betsy Price in a statement. “Let’s remember that we must support our local schools and its leadership. Not only am I supportive of Dr. Scribner’s vision and willingness to reshape FWISD from the top down, but I look forward to rolling up my sleeves to serve as a partner whenever possible.”
John Hernandez, president of the Fort Worth Hispanic Chamber of Commerce echoed his approval of Scribner’s plan.
“I completely support Dr. Scribner’s efforts in drawing attention to the lower-performing schools and like that he’s taking a business approach that should yield results fairly quickly. The reorganization plan is a positive change, and emphasizes the importance in finding ways to save and improve where needed.”
Steven Poole, executive director of United Educators Association, said he is encouraged by Scribner’s plans including the reduction in top administration and returning content experts to the schools.
“Central administration has grown too big,” said Poole, whose group represents thousands of North Texas educators. “Any time they can redirect resources from central administration back to the classroom is a good thing.”
He said he hopes that after Scribner names people to the new positions in the restructured leadership team, he will fulfill his promise for Phase 2, to look through each area to see if more duplication can be removed.
Poole said the 70 education specialists who now travel throughout the district to help teachers communicate different subjects to their students will be more effective when they are assigned to specific schools.
“They’re truly content experts there as resources for teachers,” he said. “They’re housed at central administration but they’re not administrators. There won’t be a huge change in their roles and responsibilities.
“The big difference is they’ll be at one school instead of multiple schools. They’ll be more hands on with the teachers and become part of the school culture.”
Poole said he also was impressed that Scribner was able to identify so quickly the areas the district needs to focus on _ early childhood, elementary reading, middle school math and college readiness.
“It’s good that he was able to spell that out that clearly,” he said. “Fort Worth has been a leader in early childhood but the state still doesn’t fund full-day prekindergarten. The big thing for Fort Worth is expanding quality pre-K, which is an indicator for future success.”
Several of the projects Scribner outlined are already underway or recently initiated by the district, school trustees and others will fall under a new executive director of collective impact.
Others will be recruited to lend their expertise to Scribner’s focus on four priorities – kindergarten readiness, early grade reading, middle grade math and high school graduation and career and college readiness, he said.
Cynthia Miller, vice-president of workforce development and education for the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, said Scribner’s plans mesh nicely with the Strategic Pathways to Student Success project the chamber has been leading for the last year or two.
“We’re serving as the backbone to help students prepare for college and careers,” Miller said. “I really like the fact that Dr. Scribner is going more into the schools. We can help with stakeholder engagement.
“Partnerships with business and education can be accelerated. Collective impact directed to a couple of outcomes takes it to a whole new level.”
Luther Perry, a retired law enforcement officer who founded Umoja, a community group that has been working with at-risk students for more than 20 years, is taking a wait-and-see attitude about Scribner’s plans.
Perry said many of the ideas being espoused by Scribner were discussed several years ago when 300 individuals and community groups came together and formed a strategic plan along the same lines.
“I want to see how it’s going to be done,” he said. “It’s going to take local businesses, churches and nonprofits to come together and figure this thing out – how to get the kids back on track.
“I’m optimistic but it’s not going to change overnight.”
Scribner was hired as superintendent in September and began work October. He was previously superintendent of Phoenix Union High School District in Arizona.