SCHENECTADY — The Capital Region BOCES recommended a series of sweeping organizational changes for the Schenectady City School District following a months-long study of district operations and staff concerns.
The report, commissioned by the school board in the fall and planned to be released in full Friday, in part found that “an ongoing culture of mistrust and fear” among employees has pervaded the district for years, according to a presentation of the report at Wednesday’s school board meeting.
The recommendations outlined at Wednesday’s board meeting included: creating new assistant superintendent positions; prioritizing curriculum — such as lessons, assignments, readings; establishing clear reporting procedures and responsibility; improving employee orientation, separation, and training, and; strengthening the facilities and technology department staffing.
The report emphasized that staff feel the district has too many different priorities, diverting attention and focus from key priorities — like academics.
“We have lots of priorities, there are too many priorities, but our main priority, our main focus needs to be on academics,” interim Superintendent Aaron Bochniak said Wednesday.
A round of deep layoffs earlier this year and key administrative vacancies gives the district an opportunity to incorporate some of the changes to administrative structure just as a new superintendent is expected to take charge heading into next school year.
The proposed new assistant superintendent positions would be responsible for major areas in the district, including curriculum and overall operations. The proposed positions – assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, assistant superintendent of operations, and assistant superintendent for planning and accountability – would create clear areas of responsibility among the top district officials who answer directly to the superintendent.
The recommendations also look to address a “deep fear and trust issue” among staff that dates to the leadership of former Superintendent Larry Spring, who resigned nearly a year ago, and in some cases longer than that. The proposal aims to foster better relations between administrators and employees and clarify how employees can report complaints or other concerns. When analyzing the district, BOCES employees interviewed around 150 district employees and reviewed scores of documents.
“There is a deep fear and trust issue, it’s longstanding, you can feel it when you are in the room,” said Shannon Tahoe, who helped conduct interviews for the BOCES report. (Tahoe previously served as interim state education commissioner.)
“I can say it is something that’s really controlling all of what is going on in the district,” Tahoe said of the pervasive staff mistrust. “They are afraid to make decisions, they fear there will be retribution … they feel they have to bring it to the highest level before a decision can be made.”
The proposal calls for strengthening the district’s human resources department, establishing employee relations and internal communications positions and implementing an intranet — an internal staff network to house documents, communications and other resources for employees.
Other recommendations call for clarifying responsibilities and ensuring clear communications about expectations.
“There is confusion about who do I go to for what,” Bochniak said.
The BOCES team also highlighted how devoted district staff is to the city’s students and recommended empowering teachers with regular training and then allowing them to implement new curriculum and other initiatives.
“Even when they are talking about problems, you have lots of folks come to Schenectady and are incredibly committed to the district and stay for a long time,” Capital Region BOCES District Superintendent Anita Murphy said.
Bochniak said he had already started to implement some of the recommendations and planned to establish a timeline for continuing to implement the recommendations over time. Murphy said there was no reason to wait until a new superintendent joined the district to begin instituting some of the key changes.
“Even if you decide to do every one of these, it’s going to take time,” Murphy said.
Wednesday’s presentation was effectively an executive summary of the report and its recommendations. Bochniak said the final report would be released Friday and district officials did not make it available for review Thursday. District spokesperson Karen Corona said the report would be released Friday to give board members and staff a chance to review it prior to its public release.