Manatee superintendent outlines plans to oversee every school

eearl@bradenton.comJune 12, 2013 

MANATEE -- Superintendent Rick Mills unveiled his plans for the future of Manatee County schools to school administrators Tuesday morning at Braden River High.

Mills said his "theory of action" -- yet to be presented to the school board for approval -- will "virtually cost nothing" even as he creates more oversight for every school in the district.

Mills wants to add instructional leadership teams, professional learning communities and school data teams to every school in the district. The teams would be led by the executive directors of elementary schools, middle schools and high schools and would consist of school personnel, teachers and guidance staff.

These teams will serve as leaders and lines of communication between principals and teachers and staff as a way to establish consistency among schools in Manatee County, Mills said.

Mills said he has not seen uniform instruction in classrooms he visited.

Don Hall, deputy superintendent of operations, said the district will make sure contracted employees are held accountable for school performance.

"They have one year to show that they are capable of doing their job and doing it well," Hall said. "Every year, we have the opportunity to non-renew contracts, but we want to show that we are taking it seriously this year."

Hall went back over the seven new positions Mills added in his reorganization plan, including finance director, budget director, executive director of human resources and chief information officer.

Hall stressed the importance of hiring a chief information officer.

"I am very concerned with what I have seen. We need to look at our operating systems and their efficiency," Hall said. "Technology is not doing everything it can for us. Human resources and payroll are not working."

The executive directors, Hall said, will help staff stay on track and monitor goals.

"When I walk into a class, I want to see consistent things done similarly around the district," deputy superintendent of instruction Diana Greene said. "There has to be some type of structure, and how the teacher does it is up to their own professional expertise."

Mills said schools have been operating with "unlimited autonomy" without clear direction.

"Coordination from one end of the room to the other is not happening," Mills said. "We are a district of schools, but not a school district."

Mills said the next step is to write a district plan and an academic plan in the fall. Each school will also write its own five-year plan with the assistance of Mills and the executive directors.

"They have to be simple, working documents," Mills said. "And there will be no spending money or creating initiatives outside of that. The goal is to create stability for the next five years."

Mills' plan also includes quarterly reviews at the district, department and school levels.

"In Minneapolis, these reviews evolved into celebrations," Mills said. "People felt good around their work because they knew exactly what they were doing and saw results."

Hall said he wants school district employees to be proud of their schools and their school district, rather than apologetic.

"We have to re-brand ourselves," Mills said.

The school data teams, instructional leadership teams and professional learning communities will help identify data the school needs and when. Data teams would have three or four staff members, and the others would have eight to 12 staff members, depending on school size.

Greene said team functions would be slightly different in elementary, middle and high schools.

"We know we will have to invest some money," Greene said. "We are looking for ways to be supportive of this staff. In Marion County, $1,500 was set aside to supplement additional time spent by the leadership teams."

Principals will select staff members who will serve on the teams, Mills said.

"Do not pick favorites, but people who will be candid and frank," he told administrators.

Mills said the district also needs to examine existing policies and bring in a team to update and renew its policies. Mills said he will bring in another outside group to review district policies, starting with the oldest policies and further assess what policies need further review.

Hall and Mills said the district will be in a state of flux for another month.

"Our goal is to have all of the new positions in place by the beginning of next school year," Hall said.

Erica Earl, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081.

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