Central Office Transformation for District-wide Teaching and Learning Improvement

Meredith Honig, Michael Copland, Lydia Rainey, Juli Anna Lorton, Morena Newton
Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy, University of Washington
April 2010

Here’s a surprise: District central offices are often disjointed, bureaucratic entities that operate with limited connection to the schools they oversee. But it doesn’t need to be so, argue these University of Washington authors, especially because a central office that’s tapped into its schools can be a powerful driver of reform. “Central offices and the people who work in them are not simply part of the background noise in school improvement,” the authors explain. This report offers a blueprint of how to “tap in,” using the case studies of three districts that appear to have transformed themselves: Atlanta Public Schools, New York City/Empowerment Schools Organization and Oakland Unified School District. The two main takeaways seem common-sensical: “reculturing” every department of the central office to think and perform in the context of improving student achievement and forming better, deeper relationships with principals. Above all, the emphasis should be on people and relationships, say the authors. “While structural changes [in the central office] can be helpful, a transformational strategy is fundamentally about remaking what people in central offices do—their daily work and relationships with school.” We’d counter that it’d be pretty hard to remake what central offices do—and to have them do it well—without the structural changes to back it up. But this is an interesting new take on district governance to add to the field. Read it here.

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