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After release of District's org chart, questions still remain

By Bill Hangley Jr. on Oct 31, 2012 12:26 PM
Photo: from McKinsey.com

Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn will likely handle most of the day-to-day school concerns.

To Lori Shorr, among the most interesting things about the PSD’s long-awaited organizational chart is the expiration date stamped on top: “Through January 2, 2013.”

That reminds Shorr, who is Mayor Nutter’s chief education officer, that when it comes to internal organization, the District remains very much in wait-and-see mode. New Superintendent William Hite is in the midst of what officials call his “90-day review,” after which he is expected to establish specific priorities for his administration, which may include additional internal reorganization.

“If he’s going to do big organizational change, he’s going to do it in January,” Shorr said.


But the new chart is welcome nonetheless, she said – the district had gone “years, literally” without one. “For a while there, nobody knew who was reporting to whom,” Shorr said.

Even an interim chart clarifies some key aspects of the new Hite administration, she said, including the central role of new Deputy Superintendent Paul Kihn. According to the chart, almost all senior administrators handling day-to-day school concerns will report to Kihn’s office, including the chief of student services, the chief of family and community engagement, and the chief academic officer (who is in turn responsible for the assistant superintendents who oversee individual schools).

That means Kihn is quite clearly Hite’s second-in-command, Shorr said. On paper, it’s a role similar to that played by the now-departed Leroy Nunery under former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman. How Kihn will handle the role in practice and how Hite will direct him to manage communication and collaboration among the seven chiefs who answer to him remain to be seen, Shorr said.

Among those watching closely will be Robert McGrogan, head of the principals’ union, Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, Teamsters Local 502. In Hite, McGrogan sees an experienced, savvy public official who has looked comfortable in his new role, communicating effectively in many contexts. But he thinks Kihn faces a steep learning curve when it comes to the complex web of responsibilities and personalities that he must now manage. The new deputy has classroom and administrative experience, but most recently worked as a consultant with McKinsey & Co.

“At meetings I’ve been at, he’ll say, ‘I’m telling you this [proposed idea] right now – what’s your reaction?’” McGrogan said. “That’s not how I operate. We need some time to think things over.”

Among Kihn’s most important responsibilities, McGrogan said, will be ensuring that the assistant superintendents, under the chief academic officer, are effectively and appropriately addressing individual school issues. McGrogan worries about the capacity of those assistants.

“I say this with all due respect, but some of these assistant superintendents are people who don’t have a whole lot of in-school experience,” he said. “I really think that some decisions [affecting individual schools] are being made in haste.”

James “Torch” Lytle, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and former leader of the Trenton school district, agrees that the assistant superintendents will play a critical role that will in turn depend on effective communication between Kihn, the chief academic officer, and the other senior leaders. Hite’s new chart shows the District’s many responsibilities neatly lined up under various chiefs. But on paper, it’s not entirely clear how information and requests from schools will move through those chiefs’ domains, Lytle said.

“It’s schools that matter. And if I’m a principal and I look at this chart, I’m not sure where I fit,” Lytle said.

If, for example, an assistant superintendent (reporting to the chief academic officer) hears complaints about an individual school’s safety issues, how will the information make its way to the Office of School Safety (reporting to the chief of student services)? “The way the chart is set up, it looks very hierarchical – there’s not a lot of cross-wise movement,” Lytle said.

Shorr said she wouldn’t expect to see the solution to that kind of communication question laid out in an organizational chart. It will be up to Hite to instruct his staff in how to facilitate cabinet-level communication and move information through the new structure, she said. “That’s management. This [chart] is about lines of authority,” she said.

And when it comes to Kihn’s role as the linchpin of that management, she agrees that he faces a challenge but has confidence that he can succeed. “I’ve been in meetings with him. I think he shows amazing judgment,” Shorr said.

McGrogan said that he’s prepared for continued changes in the District’s structure and will be watching closely to see what the new year brings.

“It’s like the airplane is in flight and we’re building it,” he said. “We’re also doing this while we’re talking about large numbers of school closures,” he added, which could lead to more changes in central administration.

Lytle said he, too, will be watching to see what develops, particularly in light of the fact that so many senior administrators have left and so many big questions about hiring, budgets and planning remain.

“A real challenge for Hite is, how much institutional knowledge will you really have? Especially after [Chief Academic Officer] Penny Nixon leaves for her sabbatical,” Lytle said. Nixon's leave is scheduled to begin Nov. 1. 

Lytle also noted that there is as yet no chief financial officer to replace Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen, who is due to depart at the end of November.

"With school closings, teacher contract negotiations, charter school expansion  …  and with a sharp decrease in school-level resources, how do you improve student achievement and survive as a district?” asked Lytle. “Even Superman would feel challenged. So my sympathies are with Dr. Hite.”

Comments (30)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 31, 2012 3:02 pm
Khin is also the person who said World Communications Charter school should be renewed for another 5 years despite all of its financial, academic, and internal (nepotism) problems. Not much of a leader... How is he going to look into the face of the "traditional schools" he will propose closing whose evaluations are much better than World Communications?
Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on November 1, 2012 12:30 am
Kihn appears to be working for charters. From " District seeks new index to rate school performance" (Inquirer, Oct. 31, 2012) - The SDP is hiring another set of consultants (with funding from a foundation .... sounds familiar) because charter operators don't agree with the School Performance Index (SPI). Kihn's language appears to assume School District schools will be closed, charters will be opened / expanded or District schools will be given to charters. To make this happen, the SPI will be changed to aid charters. (???) "The scores are one of several factors the School Reform Commission considers when selecting district schools for academic overhaul or closing and whether charter schools should be renewed or allowed to expand. The scores also help parents compare schools. Some charter operators, principals, parents, and teachers have complained about inaccuracies in the school performance index, which has been dubbed the "SPI." Most said their schools deserved higher scores than they had received..." "Kihn told charter school operators in an e-mail Wednesday that the district would hire a firm to redo the index. Lawrence Jones, president of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, said that while charter operators have encouraged the district to make changes to the index, he was surprised by Kihn's e-mail." Charters already have a HUGE advantage over District schools because Corbett and the PA Dept. of Ed. changed how AYP is determined so charters schools have a much easier time making AYP. (This story has been under reported in the Notebook and the Inquirer.) Now, another set of consultants will be hired to further slam District schools. Will there be a School District of Phila. left in 5 years? Ramos, Nutter, Shorr, Nowak, Gordon, Gleason, Gamble, etc. appear determined to destroy it (with the exception of magnet schools and elementary schools in wealthy neighborhoods).
Submitted by Mister Tibbs (not verified) on November 1, 2012 1:01 am
Prediction...in 5 years there will be no School District of Philadelphia. There will be a system of schools in Philadelphia with a menu of options from which to choose. The good news is there will always be students to educate and therefore schools in which to educate them. Not so sure there will be a PFT or pension plan in the very near future. There will be various forms of teachers' organizations and 401K's.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 1, 2012 5:44 am
Sadly, I have to agree with you and I think that the plan to have the School District of Philadelphia disappear has been in effect for some time now.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 1, 2012 8:33 am
They can't afford the up keep of the district. Some teachers are paid waaaaaay to much for the mediocre job they do. You have free lunch, free transportation, free breakfast, free summer school. You can't sustain an entity when everything is FREE. If they did away with all of the entitlements starting now they may be able to salvage some of the district. There is too much support staff because students refuse to listen to the teachers. Parents refuse to discipline their children so we need Noon Times, NTA, and the rest to maintain some sort of law and order in the schools. There are too many school police. The district has failed itself with its inability to reign in its reckless spending.
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on November 1, 2012 8:50 am
Mastery Charter schools have in school psychologists / social workers, at least 10 administrators per building (Assistant Principals for everything), and the students get free lunch, free transportation, etc. This has nothing to do with teachers and teacher salaries. If Philly schools had the same level of funding, support staff and resources in Mastery schools, you'd have different outcomes. At this point, School district schools are being underfunded while charters (thanks to grants, Phila. School Partnership, federal funding policies, etc.) are getting the mother load.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 1, 2012 9:24 am
Call Jerry Jordan and tell him to do something about it. He is the most evasive union president I have ever seen. He sends out whiny emails AFTER schools are turned into charters and asks PFT members to join in and fight. Why not do something before. As for charters getting more funding, go through the district website, school by school and look at the outrageous support staff low performing schools have (and they are still low performing). Gear Up, in school psychologist, 7 school police, pregnancy, STD counselors and on and on. AP's for every grade, insane. Please, public schools are not underfunded by any means. I am going to guess you disagree that more parental involvment is needed. Again, call the PFT, tell them to give you your money's worth. The union is a joke.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 1, 2012 2:28 pm
Feel free to quit the Union at anytime. I hear the Non-Unionized charters will be delighted to have you
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 1, 2012 2:02 pm
Let me tell you. I have several friends who have moved on. They could not be happier. They have the same holidays. Are paid the same way for back to school and confrences. Get 45 minutes for lunch. Get a prep. Get paid extra if they coach. If I could I would. This sissified crybaby union nonsense. If you want the money back that once went to public schools instead of charters, grow some ball* and stand up for what you believe in. Charter school teachers are safer, they expel their kids first screw up. Kids are too afraid to act up. Not here......the more times you screw up the better. Don't worry, nothing will happen! Charter school are looking for good teachers. They pay pretty much the same too. Depends on which school you are interested in...................better figure something out. Public schools are a thing of the past. Then what will your union self do??? Remember: It is better to be hated for who you are than loved for who you are not. Kurt Cobain
Submitted by Phantom Poster (not verified) on November 1, 2012 11:15 pm
Were YOU expelled the first time you screwed up?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 2, 2012 7:59 am
your point? please elaborate. PS - I never would allow myself to screw up to the point where I would be expelled. I had too much personal pride, respected my parents, teachers and all those who were invested in my education and help me succeed. So no, I was never ignorant enough to get expelled. Plus my parents would have beaten my *ss!!!!!! So I guess I do believe in one and done. You are old enough to know better by the age of 3 (if you are taught properly).
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 2, 2012 11:51 am
And if they can cut the wages and benefits of public school employees, which is the bottom line purpose of charters, they will reduce charter school wages and benefits by the same amount.. And your willingness to throw away children like the morning trash says all we need to know about your attitude towards education.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 2, 2012 11:27 am
throw away the children. a wee dramatic aren't you. charters have higher graduation rates. students going to college and actually graduating from college and going on to find meaningful careers. The public school is throwing children away. they are giving them free transpasses, breakfast, lunch, summer school, teen elect and the graduation rate is still below 50%. They do everything they can to get them there and they still don't come. Once they are there they aren't interested in learning. Please, get a grip. Public education is a dinosaur. exploring new ways to engage students is not a bad thing. Throwing them out like morning trash. BIG LOL!!!!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 2, 2012 12:15 pm
Charter schools are, by law, supposed to be public education. But they are being operated as private little businesses. There is absolutely no evidence that charter schools do anything better than regular public schools other than exclude students and increase segregation. You have absolutely no credible data to substantiate what you say.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 6, 2012 11:56 am
I don't know where you are getting your information about Mastery. You make it sound like Mastery is rolling in money. Mastery does more with less funding per student. True, each building has at least Ass't Prinicpals but they have no full time janitors, one full time front office worker. It's about being smart with it's money, not having a lot of it.
Submitted by Annonym. (not verified) on November 6, 2012 12:54 pm
So Mastery cuts out the "low cost" workers? I assume the custodial staff and front office staff are overworked?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 1, 2012 6:30 am
Maybe the plan was developed by a district that has failed for about the last 40 years. Maybe after the fourth bail out people realized this couldn't be fixed.
Submitted by Please (not verified) on November 1, 2012 8:15 pm
"Failed for about 40 years"? I am 40-years-old and a product of the School District's public schools. I make very good money and have received a graduate degree from an Ivy League school. The District was very good to me and prepared me for life. My mother had a hand in it, of course. Stop blaming the district as an entity. There are very very good teachers there. It's difficult to educate students when a teacher is overwhelmed with making AYP, having classes with many IEP students, and there is a culture of fear. Your blanket statements are embarrassing.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 1, 2012 7:31 pm
Torch talks about "institutional knowledge" with Penny Nixon leaving, this is the last thing any knew administration wants. Hornbeck, Vallas and Ackerman all ignored those who had institutional knowledge. Each wants a fresh vision and forget the lessons learned from the past. However, they also made the same mistakes. Those with institutional knowledge later fixed for them. The list starts with school budgets, high school admissions, small school initiative, facilities management overhaul, curriculum changes, staffing and more. Many of these turned out to be failed initiatives that the media quickly used to tear them down and the city booted each one of them out. Those who came up through the District are the people that corrected their mistakes. Revised their plans and made it work for kids. Change for the sake of change never works. There are many knowledgable and skilled leaders within the School District that can work with unions, make the needed corrections and even balance the budget. Dr. Hite is very well meaning and wants to do a good job for the children. However he knows, he has one year to plan, year two to implement and year three to show results. By year four or five Philadelphia School District will be conducting a new sup search. Welcome Back Dr. Nixon!
Submitted by Christina Puntel (not verified) on November 1, 2012 8:53 pm
By the time I got over Dr Torch Lytle's well meaning concern about the loss of Ms Nixon to her doctoral studies at Penn, some Anonymous posted a quote calling on all of us to apply to teach at charter schools and quoted Kurt Cobain! WOW. What a long, strange trip it's been. I, for one, know many many many teachers with vital institutional knowledge who might help re-vision with Dr Hite. Teachers hold key understandings about big and little picture "stuff." What would happen if we were asked to sit at the table?
Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on November 1, 2012 9:39 pm
Penny Nixon is not a loss. She propped up too many inept administrators / her friends and orchestrated the cheating that occurred at Wagner and throughout the Northwest Region. As you wrote, Hite needs to listen to teachers - not people who have managed to stay at 440 or in their administrative chubby holes.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 1, 2012 9:05 pm
Not this same song and dance again. We shall see how things turn out. Good luck soon to be Dr Penny Nixon. She will be graduating from University of Penn, an Ivy League school. She will join the wonderful group of exceptional women who have their doctoral degree. Univ of Penn doesn't hand out degrees based on who you know. If I'm not mistaken most of her "girls" have or are working on their doctoral degrees.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 2, 2012 11:59 am
doctor. please. unless you can save a life you are not a doctor. you went to school for a few more years and paid a lot more for that piece of paper.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 2, 2012 4:30 pm
You obviously do not have a doctorate degree. You do much more than attend school an additional few years and pay extra. According to research only 3% of Americans have earned a doctoral degree. If it was only a matter of paying additional monies and staying in school a few additional years more Americans would have one. It is the highest degree and educational honor that can be bestowed upon an individual. No one ever said Penny was going to be a "doctor" but she will have her "doctorate in education" when it's all said and done from an extremely reputable Ivy League school. No one, not even her irrelevant group of haters can argue that point.
Submitted by keith newman (not verified) on November 10, 2012 8:20 am
fat chance that will happen
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on November 1, 2012 9:43 pm
I could not have said if better. The circle of life. We will be waiting for your return; Dr Penny Nixon!!!
Submitted by Poogie (not verified) on November 2, 2012 9:17 pm
They are going to turn the whole Philadelphia Public school system to Charters by January 3, 2013? That is an ambitious goal. Since the district has never honestly met any goal it has set, I guess public school teacher have little to fear.
Submitted by Sir Frederick Mercury (not verified) on November 4, 2012 10:26 am
Announcer: Welcome to “On The Fence,” the weekly television show dedicated to telling all sides of the education story - even those that don't make sense. Once again, welcome our host, Education Grad Student! (Audience applauds) Ed Grad: Thanks, Pedro. It's great to be back. Today's show is sponsored by Mastery Charter Schools, Teach For America, the AKA’s and Romney/Ryan 2012. Tonight's theme is based on a most pressing issue: Institutional Memory or Institutional Alzheimer's? Which is better and which is not? We'll hear from a few guests first, take a few calls, and then close the show with me sharing the correct answer. (Audience applauds) Our first guest tonight is soon-to-be Dr. Penny Nixon! Welcome in. (Audience goes crazy. A hailstorm of miniature copper discs with Abraham Lincoln's head on them descends on the stage.) Ed Grad: Welcome, welcome. Wow! What a show of support. Penny: Thank you, Ed. Maybe we will be in some of the same classes. Ed Grad: Uh, well, I don't go to Penn. Penny: My bad! Ed Grad: OK, let's invite in a real expert on Institutional Memory, Dr. Torch Lytle. Torch, what does institutional memory mean to you? Torch: Listen. We had a guy at Penn, an associate dean, who couldn't remember whether or not if he had a PhD. Nevertheless, we hired him. We for forgot to check if his credentials were in order. This was a lack of institutional memory. Now, if you were to ask me one positive thing Penny has contributed to the School District, I have no memory. On the other hand, She did a great job helping Dr. Ackerman give Audenreid to Kenny Gamble. Her implementation of the 7-step lesson plan was unsurpassed. As for the scurrilous allegations about cheating under watch both at a school and in a region she supervised, the Notebook has not undertaken an investigation; therefore they are not true. In short, she is very good at doing bad things. We at Penn are serving the public by giving Penny a PhD so that institutional memory will be both maintained and forgotten. Ed Grad: I agree. Penny, what will be the topic of your thesis? Penny: Oh, I forgot that you are not at Penn. Quite naturally, I will engage in an in inquiry into my years at Gillespie, Wagner, the Northwest Region and 440. The subject of my inquiry will be what made me the great educator that I am so that future educators can learn to be as great as I. Ed Grad: Wonderful. My own work centers on how not being a teacher actually makes you more qualified to analyze successful teaching and learning. Who will help you with your thesis? Penny: My interpretive community will include Linda, Kayla and Maya. They already know that I am extraordinary, but their affirmation will make my data much more reliable and triangulated. Ed Grad: Excellent. There is nothing like reliable research. Let's take a call. Rich, how are you? Rich Migliore: Hi, Ed. Your show is my favorite moment of the week. I have read your postings in great detail and notice that you are worried that my good friend, Scott, doesn't have his children say the Pledge of Allegiance. What is your position on the Pledge? Ed Grad: Rich, I'm on the fence. While I don’t necessarily like pledges, I agree that if you can recite the pledge from memory then is it is serves as another form of assessment. If the child cannot remember the Pledge everyday then this will likely further tax special ed teachers. At Mastery there was one student who made farting noises while the rest of the kids were reciting the pledge. This behavior would never happen at a Catholic school. Rich: Great point! Ed Grad: Let's go back to our guests. Penny, I would like to tell you what I think about you. Penny: Please do. I respect your opinion, Ed, because unlike most who post anonymously on the Notebook, you use your first, middle and last names. Ed Grad: Just keepin’ it real. You have been both the best and worst superintendent of all time. You are the best because you are far less gauche than Dr. Ackerman, what with those awful flowers on her suit and reading that terrible poem about the diamonds in her thighs. On the other hand, you are the worst because of your friends. For example, how could you endorse a charlatan like Dr. Wayman who received her high school diploma from the University of Auschwitz? Penny: I beg your pardon. From what I’ve heard, Auschwitz is one of Germany's greatest institutions of higher learning. That said, I take your point. As the Ancient Egyptians said, “Clothes make the man.” Ed Grad: We are about out of time. So back to our question of the day: Institutional Memory or Institutional Alzheimer's? Which is better and which is not? The correct answer is “I’m on the fence!” Both are important. It is important that we remember that being a Doctor makes you great at your job. I need only mention Dr. Ackerman, Dr. Nunnery, Dr. Hite and Dr. J. When Penny Nixon becomes Dr. Penny Nixon there will be no doubt – even if she was destructive force in the past, she will do a great job in the future. Vallas was not a Dr. Did he do a great job? I think not. On the other hand, it is sometimes better to forget. There is nothing good to remember about the Ackerman years. Racists and sexists who were living in the past when local gal Connie Clayton ruled the roost targeted her. On the other hand, she handled racial tensions at South Philly High about as well as Bush handled Katrina. We must admit that her fiscal approach was quite visionary. She made herself quite wealthy, while flushing millions in taxpayer dollars down the toilet. And no one cared more about the kids than her. That’s all for today. Thanks to our guests and sponsors. Join us next week when we talk about the cheating scandal. Did it happen or did it not. If there was cheating, was it a good thing or a bad thing? Our guests will be two Anonymous Notebook posters: One teacher who cheated and regrets and another teacher from Wagner who followed the rules, but after getting an Unsatisfactory Rating wishes (s)he had toed the party line. Good-bye and good luck.
Submitted by Annonym (not verified) on November 5, 2012 2:41 am
I'm sure this made some people's "mercury" rise, Mr. Mercury. Good use of sarcasm and irony. Could be used for test prep! While a few of your comments are "below the belt," I appreciate the time you took to write and post. The Notebook's coverage of what happened at Wagner in 2012 deserves more coverage. Shaking up the "powers that be" in the School District / Charter District / Phila. Partnership District appears to not be the goal of Dr. Hite. We'll have to rely on the Notebook and bloggers to do it.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on November 5, 2012 10:46 am
Great Points, Fred!

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