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Spokane Public Schools workplace audit finds success amid predictable divide between HQ and staff

Spokane Public Schools is doing a good job of communication and connecting with the community, according to an external audit commissioned by the district.

However, the audit conducted by the National Public School Relations Association did find some problems, namely that there is a “divide” between district administrators and school staff, according to school staff and community members surveyed for the report.

“There appears to be a pronounced divide between the schools and the district office, as well as a divide between most of the district office and the ‘fourth floor,’ ” according to the executive summary of the audit.

That’s a problem often found in large organizations, said district spokesman Kevin Morrison. And it’s not necessarily a surprise to school administrators.

“That has always been there,” Morrison said. “We’ve known about it. (But) this is the first time I think that it’s in black and white to stare at.”

The audit, which was presented to the schools’ board of directors during a special meeting June 28, found the “connection is not as strong as it needs to be” between staff and administrators.

“Staff in the buildings tended to refer to Spokane Public Schools and its leadership as ‘downtown’ in an ‘us vs. them’ manner, and within the district office as ‘us vs. the fourth floor’ executive suite,” the report stated.

Katy Henry, the new president of the Spokane Education Association, said the finding is consistent with what she hears from union members. However, there has been improvement, she said.

“I would say over the last year there has been a bigger effort to have solid input from people actually doing the work before rolling it out,” she said.

Morrison believes the “divide” between staff and administrators can be bridged partially by more frequent school visits. He points to Superintendent Shelley Redinger as a model. He said she visits each school site in the district at least once, if not twice every year.

“More of us who are in the administration building who are directors need to spend more time in our schools,” he said.

In the audit, teachers and community members applaud Redinger for “being active and visible in the community.” And while there is always an element of separation between administration and staff, Henry believes improvement can be made.

“Is it going to be perfect?” she said. “No, it’s never going to be perfect. Especially in an organization as large as ours, but there is always room to get better.”

In addition to addressing the divide between administration and staff, the audit noted that internal communications were often too long and occasionally contradictory. The audit also noted that the district’s website is confusing and overly complex.

Morrison said the district plans to hire a webmaster to simplify the website. Additionally, he said his staff has already started to change the format of internal district communications. Specifically, SPS Weekly News will be shortened and the most important information will be placed at the beginning of the notification.

The audit cost the district $20,750, according to Morrison.

The audit complimented the communication department for its use of social media and video. According to the audit, focus groups “describe Spokane Public Schools as a good district that is well respected, but has hit a few bumps in the road the past few years.”

Contact the writer:

(509) 459-5417

elif@spokesman.com