Ah, springtime in Memphis.

Blooming flowers, Beale Street Music Festival and another organization chart for Memphis City Schools.

Yep, there’s yet another one this week following Interim Superintendent Dan Ward’s creation of a new division – the Division of Strategic Planning and Accountability.

New Org Charts Again

From where we sit, there needs to be accountability for the flurry of organization charts that have been adopted by Memphis City Schools. After all, this is the sixth new organizational chart in three and a half year. Both local governments together haven’t had that many in the past 10 years.

Sometimes, it seems that if the city school district is not a high-performing operation, it’s because every one is always adjusting to the latest new structure, reporting roles and new responsibilities.

While this district obsession has always been perplexing, it’s absolutely incredulous that the latest division was created by an interim superintendent whose time at Memphis City Schools is being measured by the handful of weeks he has left.

More Changes Ahead

The fact that a whole division is being added, personnel is being reassigned and policies are being changed now seems a senseless distraction – and needless cost – for the district in light of the fact that a new superintendent will be appointed in a few months, and that person will establish his or her own operational system, programs and policies.

Working at Memphis City Schools is like working at The Vatican — a lot of time is spent interpreting signs. Creation of the new division is seen by some as a sign of the consolidation of power that always seems to be part of the office of chief of staff – even though that also is being filled by someone on an interim basis. Others see it as motivated by the nepotism that seems rampant at the district. Others see it as a needed but strangely timed.

Superintendent Ward explained the creation of this new division this way: “As part of our continuous review and appraisal of MCS operations, we have determined that our accountability and strategic planning functions need to be organized in a more focused manner.”

Ultimate Victim

According to Mr. Ward’s memo about the new division, it will, among other things, “monitor and document performance outcomes.” It seems to us that the problem hasn’t been so much that this responsibility hasn’t been assigned before, but that overall, the administration has not shown a serious commitment to ask the tough questions, to be open and candid with the research and to conduct an honest conversation with the community about the challenges facing Memphis City Schools.

Frequently, it appears that there is no one more victimized by this lack of transparency and accountability than members of the board of commissioners of Memphis City Schools. As part-time elected officials, it’s not their job to figure out what questions they should be asking and what data are critical to their assessment of the district’s performance.

More to the point, board members are often at the mercy of the educators to tell them what’s important and why, and if the administration is less than completely candid, there’s really no way for the board members to know. In the past, it’s no secret that the board was not given complete information or pertinent research by the past administration, sometimes to the point that the inescapable conclusion was that they were being intentionally misled.

Reporting Lines

In this regard, if Memphis City Schools is setting up a new division of accountability, the board of commissioners might want to consider that it should report to them. Without the kind of information that they need to evaluate the results of superintendent’s priorities and program or the kind of questions to ask, commissioners often appear defensive, uninformed or confused.

With a research department whose results are not massaged by the administration to make sure that the data supports their points of view, perhaps we could finally have the serious, in-depth and plain spoken discussion that the state of our public education deserves.