President’s Corner

Reorganizing Your Central Office

by Benjamin O. Canada

School districts throughout the country are under pressure to create leaner central administrative functions to shift more funds into student education. While I strongly believe that a central operation is necessary to bring guidance, oversight and consistency to a district's educational activities, I also believe that districts need to organize in a manner that keeps the focus on improving student achievement.

Too often I see central administrative functions that are insular, slow to respond to the changing needs of the community and focused more on gathering data than on making the best use of it.

So how does a district reorganize to become leaner, faster and more effective? I have two strategies.

*Start by asking questions.

Remember the 1960s saying, "Question authority?" Well, that's exactly what you have to do to reorganize effectively. For every single central administrative function in your district, ask: Does this function help raise student achievement? How? How can it do a better job? What hinders its abilities to be effective?

If it doesn't help raise student achievement, what does it do for students? Who or what does this function support? Does it serve a purpose that can be handled elsewhere? Does it make things happen faster and more efficiently or does it get in the way of the students and employees it is supposed to support?

What information does this function gather? Why? Who uses the information this function produces? What's the information used for? Is this information duplicated elsewhere? Why? How can the information gathering and disseminating be streamlined?

How much does this function cost? Can it be done elsewhere more inexpensively or effectively? Is this function even needed?

These are hard questions to ask, but the answers you gather will help lay the foundation for a cleaner, more efficient and effective central administration. Once you have the answers, you can determine how to distribute limited resources.

* Involve community members.

This evaluation and decision-making process also offers you an excellent opportunity to involve your community in setting district priorities. Consider bringing in outside groups-either local business professionals on a volunteer basis or as paid consultants who can take a fresh, unbiased and outside-of-the-box look at your district.

For example, perhaps several functions that serve different groups of students can be merged to provide one-stop-shopping for parents. Do you really need a separate department for each classification of student or would students be better off with one department that can provide a complete evaluation and assignment process with just a single visit? And are all those divisions within finance or human resources still needed? When were they last evaluated for effectiveness?

Do you continually monitor the purpose and functions of your central administration departments or have they been allowed to grow without regular reviews? Outside analyses by community experts can go a long way to reducing unneeded or outdated functions that are taking resources from student achievement. Bringing in local experts also can help your efforts to educate them about the issues you face.

The world changes at a faster pace every day. You must be willing to change with it or you will not be able to serve your students as well as they deserve.

In Farewell

As this is my final President's Corner, I'd like to close with a word about another impending change: the transfer of AASA's leadership. I have enjoyed greatly the opportunity to be AASA's president this past year, and I hope I have been able to bring as much to you as AASA has brought to me.

This is an outstanding organization that provides valuable support to school districts throughout the country. It has been an honor to serve as your president. I look forward to the opportunity to continue working with all of you in the years ahead.

Ben Canada is president of AASA.