“I love the change in philosophy. Shelley is a breath of fresh air.”
That would be the president of the Spokane Education Association, Jenny Rose, complimenting Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Redinger on her decision to support the school board’s vote to freeze the pay of district administrators for the fourth straight year.
To understand why that’s such a change, we need to travel back to 2010, when administrators landed raises from 3 percent to 18 percent at a time when household incomes were dropping because of the recession. The explanation then was that the principals’ union had negotiated a 3 percent raise, and the district’s philosophy was to bump up their overseers’ pay accordingly.
As Redinger said in Friday’s Spokesman-Review article, “It used to be you moved to the district office for the pay increases. We’ve shifted that. We have changed how the principals operate within the district; they move in and out of the district office to do work.”
Principals now have input on curriculum decisions. And their pay is increasing 1.5 percent without setting off a chain reaction of increases at the central office.
Redinger announced this closer-to-the-students philosophy when she arrived in 2012. She even subs for teachers to show fellow administrators that she meant it when she said she wanted decision-makers to experience teachers’ challenges up close.
When she was hired, Redinger was touted as an energetic change agent, and she’s followed through. She’s thinned the bureaucratic layers, even though a state audit showed the district spent less on administration than comparable districts in the state.
She’s aggressively pursued more choices for district families. The most notable example is her embrace of charter schools after Washington voters gave the go-ahead. Spokane Public Schools was the first – and still only – district to become an authorizer of charters. The district chose PRIDE Prep as the first charter school, and it plans to open in fall 2015 with a nine-hour school day that’s organized unlike any other local school.
Other district changes include an expansion of the science and technology program at North Central High School; an expansion of the popular Montessori program; and a Core Knowledge curriculum at Balboa and Longfellow elementary schools that uses history, geography and other topics to teach basic language and math skills.
The district also has made impressive gains in the graduation rate – from 62 percent in 2007-08 to 79.5 percent for 2012-13. And it’s adopted the more rigorous Common Core standards, which actually could cause the dropout rate to rise initially. But the tradeoff for higher quality is a must in a world that requires higher educational attainment.
The school board could’ve looked at the positive changes and rewarded district leaders with raises. But the reality is administrators already make a comfortable living, and the local tax base is stretched thin.
That acknowledgment from the school board is also a breath of fresh air.