The Metro Nashville Public Schools’ plan to deliver on promises to decentralize management and hand more power to school leaders begins with staff changes and doubling the number of principals who mentor their peers.
That was the plan Director of Schools Jesse Register unveiled at the district’s central office Tuesday, adding he wants to reduce bureaucracy by “outsourcing” district staff into schools so far without layoffs.
“This will drive performance up across our district,” said Register. “It’s time to pick up speed.”
Register has promised changes to the school district for months, including the emergence of his “lead principals” program in August .
The changes are something of a melting pot of ideas  the district has gotten from a report compiled by Tribal Group after working with dozens of the district’s struggling schools, the Nashville Chamber of Commerce’s annual report card  and other practices used across the country, said Register.
Now, nine principals work double duty by managing their own school while working with and evaluating principals in a handful of schools either in their cluster, in their same grade range or in schools with similar challenges. Register also wants to double the number of lead principals to 18 for next school year, covering every high school.
All middle schools will be covered by the 2014 school year, and all elementary schools will be folded in by the 2015 school year with 30 total lead principals, according to Register’s plan.
The job includes no extra pay, according to Register, and guidelines on how to keep lead principals accountable for their progress are vague. He said all lead principals will be expected to keep their own schools improving or will no longer be a lead principal.
Metro Councilwoman Emily Evans was critical of the plan, saying she’s worried about how to keep lead principals accountable.
“If you are putting somebody in charge of something, you have to be able to tell them what you expect of them, you have to be able to measure what you expect of them and then you have to hold them accountable once they’ve performed. Either they did it or they didn’t do it,” she said. “And if you don’t have that, you don’t really have much because they won’t know what to do and you won’t know how to hold them responsible for what they’re doing.”
While Register said he will be asking principals with solid track records to apply for a lead principal role, he said tapping charter school principals to evaluate traditional school leaders may leave them judging different standards.
Register also announced a new leadership team that includes the creation of a chief academic officer, which will be filled by Jay Steele. Other appointments include Fred Carr as chief operating officer, Chris Henson as chief financial officer, Tony Majors as chief support services officer, Meredith Libbey as special assistant to the director for communications and Susan Thompson as chief human capital officer.
He added the overall size of central office staff would be reduced but said he would take the rest of the budget year to decide how to “deploy” those employees elsewhere into schools to help leaders on the ground.