Wake County Superintendent Tony Tata found himself being challenged Saturday by the new school board members on his idea of giving school autonomy based on student achievement.
Tata supports using what's called "managed performance empowerment," a hybrid between giving principals no control and total control over how they run their schools. It's part of his draft strategic plan that he's hoping the board will adopt.
"Called Managed Performance Empowerment (MPE), the theory of action grants flexibility and decision-making authority to schools based on successful performance," says Tata's draft strategic plan. "From a school support perspective, we will measure our school performance based first and foremost on student achievement and place schools along a continuum of performance to best target our support and resources as a district.
At one end of the MPE continuum will be a change in the current governance structure so that school-based management and decision making is diminished and district control, monitoring and oversight of instructional practice is increased to better support our low-performing schools.
At the other end of the continuum will be empowerment and high degrees of flexibility to our high-performing schools. This will encourage all schools to assume full ownership for student performance, exhibit better decision-making at all levels, establish more innovative and flexible approaches for resolving problems and challenges, and ultimately to continuously improve within a strong, performance-oriented culture."
Tata called the Renaissance Schools an example of having "heavy intervention" into schools with low academic achievement. He talked about how the principals and staff changed and are receiving performance pay and bonuses.
"It lets the thoroughbreds run and pull along those who need some more training," Tata said.
New school board member Jim Martin said he "has major problems" with the Renaissance Model. Martin said he doesn't believe in the strategy of firing and rehiring staff.
Martin also said that performance pay "needs a lot of discussion."
Martin said that "putting out fires policy-making is a bad policy.”
Martin said you need to create stronger levels of autonomy for teachers and principals to let them "be the professionals they need to be." He said they should "treat problems when they happen."
Tata said he would contend that MPE does that.
New board member Christine Kushner said that certain things are "non-negotiable at the schools." But she questioned how they could attract a principal to a low-performing school "if we’re going to tell you what to do."
Kushner said they don't want to take away from the ability for principals to be innovative.
Tata said he "actually thinks we’re saying the same thing." He said he "doesn’t pretend to tell principals what to do."
Tata then contrasted the Renaissance Schools with Green Hope High, which has the highest graduation rate for a school of its size in the state. He said that MPE allows you to provide more autonomy.
At a school like Green Hope, Tata said there are some things they may not need to intervene in.
Tata said they're not micromanaging but will provide more guidance and resources to ferret out gaps that schools have.
Martin responded that performance is affected by school composition, saying that that the Renaissance Schools and Green Hope are "dealing with two different constituencies."
"Some low-performing schools are working tirelessly and quite frankly need the autonomy," Martin said.
As for Green Hope, Martin said that if you took the same teachers and principal and "put them in a different location, you’d get a different result."
Tata said that if you ask the principals of the Renaissance Schools they'd say "they have a tremendous amount of autonomy."
As for the strategic plan itself, Martin said he disagreed with the statement that it was "70 percent there." He said it "needs major discussion."
Martin said that the draft plan was too generic. He suggested revising it by coming up with the top five things that they want to do and see how they could accomplish it in the plan.
Wake needs to complete the strategic plan because it's one of the required action steps from AdvancED.