Hinojosa followup: A solution to DISD’s biggest problem

There’s something fundamentally wrong with a job description that requires one person to be both a right-brain and a left-brain genius. That person may, indeed, exist. But if that person really is out there, he or she is by definition way too smart to take a job as DISD superintendent.

Talk about a dumb career move: Who in their right mind would want a job that is a guaranteed political minefield, one that will assuredly result in you being called a racist and an idiot, even if you’re being paid $300,000 a year? The job expectancy is only around three years, so about the time you’re getting settled and have surrounded yourself with people you can trust, you’ll be shown the door for some perceived failing that will likely damage your future career prospects and might not even involve what you’re best at doing.

That’s the situation we’re in right now with the job description for DISD superintendent. The single person running the district is equally responsible for everything financial and everything academic.

And I submit to you that’s a big, big mistake. I said yesterday I would provide a blueprint for future DISD success, and here it is: We need to break the superintendent’s position into two separate jobs staffed by two separate people. That’s right — we need an academic superintendent and a financial superintendent, and both should be independent of each other and report directly to the school board.

Take current DISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa, for example. Here’s a guy who is considered, even by many of his critics, an accomplished educator who understands how to help DISD’s income-challenged students. So what turns out to be his biggest Achilles’ heel? His hire of a financial guy who knew a lot about corporate finance but apparently very little about state and federal educational funding.

The finance guy made some miscalculations, and all of a sudden DISD was short about $64 million in 2008. And who took the blame from which he’ll never recover, at least around here? Naturally it was Hinojosa, since he’s in charge of the district. Never mind that he has never claimed to be a numbers guy; that responsibility simply comes with the current job description.

Now suppose the financial guy had been hired directly by the school board, and suppose he or she reported directly to the board, and suppose his or her job revolved solely around giving DISD’s academic administrators a budget and making sure the promised funding materialized to meet that budget.

And suppose Hinojosa’s sole job was to stay within that budget while boosting the district’s academic credentials.

Now we’ve set up the person in each position to stand on his or her own merits while not being held responsible for the other’s shortcomings. Isn’t that what good management is all about — putting people in a position to succeed?

And here’s the other beautiful part of that plan: Suddenly, the school board is responsible for hiring and/or firing the person for each position independently, so we as stakeholders know exactly who to hold accountable for what.

Had those job descriptions been in place in 2008, it’s likely that Hinojosa would still be a relatively popular guy among parents and staff today, since the financial shortfall wouldn’t have been his fault. Instead, we’d be assessing whether his inability to lower DISD’s drop-out rate during the past five years outweighs his achievement of boosting test-passage from 49 percent to 64 percent.

The only drawback: This plan will cost DISD a few hundred thousand dollars more to split the superintendent’s job into two high-paying positions. But that’s a small price to pay for continuity and, ultimately, holding people accountable for jobs they’re capable of performing rather than tasks they simply aren’t equipped to do.

 


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  • Rick,
    I just found your reply. The dropout rate numbers are tremendously important. That is why they must be accurate and not as vulnerable to manipulation by any “coding clerk” as they are. Raw enrollment counts and graduation counts take much more work to falsify and such falsification efforts are relatively easy to uncover. Using raw enrollment counts the percentage of 9th grade enrollment relfected in the graduation numbers will pass 50% for the first time in well over 20 years in 2011. Since 9th grade enrollment is only 11% more than 8th grade enrollment was we are slowly eliminating that 9th grade bulge that was the inflator behind graduation rates calculated based on full 9th grade enrollment. There were times it was almost 40%! I project that the DISD graduaduation rate will be going up 10% or more within the next 5 years. Since once we pass 50% that will be a 10% gain within the past 10 years, we are making much more that a “slight” improvement. Sunset High School, who has gotten the majority of School Archive Project students since 2005, has gone from an 8 year (2000-2007) graduation rate average of 34% to one of 60% for the Class of 2010. I also project another 10% gain to 70% within 5 years. Do you really think those are “slight” changes? I welcome you to find errors in my calculations. The future of Dallas is improving every year with more students graduating.

  • Bill, I think the single most-difficult aspect of student achievement to measure is the drop-out rate. And I’m not one of those people who thinks that the number has much meaning, anyway. DISD is doing all it can to keep kids in school, but in an urban environment like ours, too many kids will always be dropping out, and too many people will use those numbers for political gain. The numbers you cite show improvement, but they’re still awfully high. The bigger argument than whether the number is improving slightly or going the other way slightly is how much impact DISD really can have on it.

  • Rick,
    It appears that you do not think dropout rates in DISD have gone down during the time of Dr. Hinojosa. That would mean that you find fault with the hundreds of pieces of information that went into the graph tracking four different dropout rate indicators that can be found at http://www.studentmotivation.org/DallasISD.htm#graph

    This graph tracks these four measurements for the past 10 years and indicate significant improvements since 2005. Where do you find errors?