OGDEN — Superintendent Brad Smith is reorganizing the Ogden School District, turning it on its side in hopes of giving students a better kindergarten-through-graduation educational flow.
“The primary change is a shift from a horizontal orientation to a vertical one,” said Smith, whose reorganization is supported by the Ogden School Board. “Responsibilities will completely shift.”
At present, the district has one executive director over elementary schools, a second over secondary schools and a third over curriculum and professional development.
The new organization will feature two executive directors who oversee the district’s two large high schools, Ben Lomond High and Ogden High, with each taking responsibility for all the junior highs and elementary schools that feed into their assigned high schools.
George Washington High School, the district’s smaller alternative high school, will be overseen by the person hired as executive director for the Ben Lomond High group, which has one fewer feeder school.
The Ogden School District has been troubled by low student scores on standardized state tests, and by a recent poor assessment of its curriculum, which found the district was teaching a year below grade level.
The goal of reorganizing is to make the same executive director responsible and accountable for each individual student who ages and passes through different grades and schools. Under the former plan, students became the responsibility of different district officials as they advanced.
In addition, the Ogden School District will hire for three newly created positions: assistant superintendent, coordinator of assessment and data, and coordinator of curriculum and professional development. Smith said the three new positions will be paid in part with money saved by several positions that weren’t filled at the beginning of the school year.
The Ogden School District has made major changes in the past nine months. In July 2011, the school board told teachers they had to sign new, non-negotiated contracts or face losing their jobs. Teachers rallied in protest, gaining significant support from educators around the state and from members of other unions. In the end, all but one OSD teacher signed the new contract.
The following month, the district announced it would appoint Smith, a four-year school board member with no experience or formal training in educational administration, as its new superintendant.
Smith said the hiring of an assistant superintendent — a position that exists in many school districts — will allow him to hand off more trivial daily duties to focus on the district’s efforts to increase student grades and success rates. The coordinator of assessment and data will work closely with principals and teachers to interpret test data and determine which teaching strategies need to change.
The coordinator of curriculum and professional development will focus heavily on changes needed for the district to meet core education requirements that are anticipated in the near future.
Smith calls the new vertical organizational system a zone model, but said the Ogden School District used a similar system years ago and called it a cone model. Informally, district employees even referred to cone coordinators as “coneheads.”
“There’s nothing new under the sun in education,” Smith said. “What drove me to this was the discussion that came from the honors curriculum. The kids who were successful in calculus were the ones that did well in algebra, in eighth grade. That was the big predictor. And the students who did well in algebra were the ones with a strong understanding of fractions, from the fourth-grade curriculum. From elementary school to junior high to high school, flow was really important, and we had no one person responsible for all that until we got to the level of superintendent.
“What we wanted was someone to set the focus, bottom to top, whether it’s in math curriculum or other areas of study. We wanted someone in place to support what we want to have happening.”
With regard to the current reorganization, Smith said district officials have been supportive.
“There are no naysayers,” Smith said. “They are high-quality people who have taken what could be a really risky situation, with me being superintendent, saying, ‘You know what, we need to do things differently.’ They are secure enough in their own professionalism that they can sit back and say, ‘We need to evaluate. Let’s talk about it. If we really meant what we’ve said about student achievement, what would we do?’ I think this is something we would do.”