Judgment day for Madera Unified School District with agency report

The organizational structure of Madera Unified School District, after being scrutinized by a national research agency, has been found wanting.

An evaluation report, which has been three months in the making, was released by Madera Unified school trustees last week. WestEd, a nonprofit educational service organization with 17 offices nationwide, from Washington to California had been requested by the district to conduct the independent review.

The review team had been asked to provide an objective analysis of the district’s administrative organizational structure.

While the report acknowledged some areas of strength, the bulk of the assessment identified weaknesses in the district’s ability to implement “its vision for providing high quality instruction and pupil support.”

WestEd based its analysis on interviews, focus groups, and “a desk audit of published material and data.”

WestEd commended the district for its “strong sense of community, focus on improving student achievement, facilities master planning, fiscal stability, and emerging use of data-driven decision making. At the same time it highlighted the need for improvement in four areas: 1) culture and leadership, 2) administrative effectiveness and efficiency, 3) interdepartmental efficiency, and 4) structure and staffing. Culture and leadership

According to the report, MUSD’s “lack of vision and clear understanding of goals and shared accountability has contributed to uncertainty and distrust across the organization.”

The report also pointed a finger at the relationship between the superintendent and the school board. Evaluators found “The tension between the board and superintendent has contributed to a suboptimal approach to policy and management decisions by the district leadership.”

The following quotes from interviewees were used to support WestEd’s findings.

“... Inconsistent leadership due to turnover; with our fifth [superintendent] in the past six to seven years; politically it has been a roller coaster.”

“They don’t know their role as board members. They micromanage.”

“The tension between the board and the leadership needs to change.” Administrative effectiveness and efficiency

The report asserted that “uncoordinated actions and a lack of shared approach to operational processes inhibit effective administrative operations.”

It read that while the staff value open and strong communication, “a lack of trust is a commonly cited barrier to having crucial conversations.”

One district respondent wrote, “We used to have a clear path for responses. Now, you ask one person, and the answer is yes and the next department says no, and they are of equal value.”

Another wrote, “There are a lot of single focuses. Everyone wants to meet the needs, but all are not looking through the same lens.” Interdepartment efficiency

WestEd found that “inter-departmental coordination and collaboration processes ... are lacking, while internal department functions are reported to be well-coordinated.”

One participant in a focus group commented, “Each department has their own projects and own timelines. We rely on relationships to hear what other teams are doing. There is no system.”

Another wrote, “There is good communication within a division but not across divisions.” Structure and staffing

The report suggested that the district might do well to focus more on the implementation of the organizational structure rather that the organizational structure itself.

In the words of one interviewee, “There is a tendency in the district to think that more staff is better. With the amount of directors, it is hard to see how the functions are linked.”

Another observed “There are so many superiors and the hierarchy between them isn’t clear. I would love to see the org[anizational] chart and wrap my head around it.”

The WestEd report concluded with a number of recommendations, but emphasized that a “shift in culture as well as in the approach to the way tasks are accomplished” within MUSD will be necessary in order for the district to “truly realize the benefits of the recommendations and options of this report.”