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Central Office as Central Guide

How Administrators Can Support Innovative School Design

How do you transform a top-down, one-size-fits-all, compliance-driven organization to one that is decentralized and focused on individualized service? For the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) Central Office, that is exactly what they have started to do.

As CMSD shifts from a model where its Central Office controls the majority of school resources to one where principals are in charge of managing their own school resources, the Central Office has started its transformation to ‘Central Service Provider.’ CMSD’s new primary role will revolve around service to schools as principals implement their own unique school visions. Instead of simply telling principals what to do and how to do it, administrators will work directly with principals to find the solutions that best meet the needs of their schools.

This fundamental change in purpose requires a major shift in the culture and mindset of the Central Office. The leadership team in Cleveland has started to tackle this challenge by pushing departments to work together to find integrated solutions, instead of separating work by department. CMSD leaders have provided opportunities for problem-solving across the administration, creating an environment that encourages feedback, suggestions, and shared solutions. By creating this open, collaborative environment within the administration, CMSD has already started shifting the Central Office mindset and preparing staff for their new service-driven roles.

As resources move away from the center directly to principals, the Central Office faces more changes than just a shift in culture. The CMSD leadership team has been hard at work tackling the difficult questions that come with increased principal autonomy, trying to find the right balance of providing flexibility for schools and maintaining oversight and efficiency. As the Central Office continues on this journey, they are not just evolving the culture of their own department, they are shaping and crafting a whole new model for the district.

For more information on how the Central Office can better support schools, including a short spotlight on Baltimore City Schools’ approach to this challenge, visit our School System 20/20 page on School Support.

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