This University of Washington report examines the daily work of central office staff members in three urban districts that shifted their focus from basic services and compliance to improving classroom instruction. The three districts—Atlanta, New York City and Oakland, Calif.—posted student achievement gains that they attributed in part to radically transforming the work of their central office employees. Some of the changes were structural, such as organizing teams of individuals from different departments to serve groups of schools. But researchers found that the districts went beyond formal structures to alter the way that central office staff members interacted with each other and school staff members day to day. Among other changes, central office employees were guided to become experts in the goals of each school's instructional program and to look for innovative ways to work together on meeting each school's specific needs. The report also examines the strategies that each district pursued to transform the work and culture of its central office.

The report is one of four in a series by the University of Washington examining the role of the central office, principals and other school leaders in improving instruction in urban schools.

 Points of Interest

  • Central offices are not simply part of the background noise in school reform. District-wide improvements in teaching won't happen without leadership from central office staff members working in partnership with schools.
    District-wide improvement in teaching calls for central office staff members working in partnership w/ #schools.
  • Restructuring district central offices to better support teaching and learning isn't enough. True reform requires changing what people in central office know and can do.
    Restructuring #district central offices to better support teaching isn't enough; staffers need new skills, too.
  • Everyone in a district central office—directly or indirectly—must focus efforts on strengthening principals’ instructional leadership in order to improve teaching and learning in schools.
    Everyone in a #school district central office has a direct or indirect role in improving teaching and learning.