District To Shake Up, Smooth Out Schools -- Federal Way Chief Divvying Up Power

FEDERAL WAY - Federal Way teachers and administrators are taking a positive, if restrained, view of an impending organizational shake-up that the superintendent says will give more power to individual schools, cut bureaucracy and improve student performance.

"It isn't something that raises your eyebrows as being unique," said Donn Fountain, an assistant superintendent. "It's a very sensible approach. And I think it takes away some of the partitioning the previous approach fostered."

Superintendent Tom Vander Ark told district principals and administrators Tuesday that he's restructuring assignments for top administrators so that more-traditional divisions, such as between elementary and secondary education, are superseded by a coordinated approach at all grade levels. He's also cutting the chain of command so that more managers will report directly to him.

In a main feature of the plan, to go into effect Feb. 1, the 20,000-student district will be divided into three service areas: east, west and central, with three assistant superintendents in charge of all schools in their area.

Tom Murphy, who's in charge of secondary education, now will be in charge of kindergarten-through-12th-grade programs in the west area. Sandra McCord, who now heads elementary education, will oversee the district's central area; Sherrelle Walker, who now administers educational support services, will supervise the east area.

The multilevel approach, Vander Ark said, will provide students better transitions as they go from elementary school to junior high to high school and enhance a feeling of community schools.

"It makes a lot of sense, when you think of one administrator looking at a whole program for a child," said Danny Leaverton, president of the Federal Way Education Association.

Vander Ark, a former business executive who became superintendent four months ago, devised the plan with ideas from district staff members. Leaverton said teachers were encouraged, but she said it will take time to see whether the reorganization fosters better schools.

She said Vander Ark's plan to add emphasis to technology in the schools, signaled by his making the district technology director a member of his management team, is being applauded.

"To a person, we are universally glad to see an emphasis on technology," Leaverton said. "It's so needed."

The plan also intends to bring improvements to academic instruction, vocational education and district planning. Each assistant superintendent has been assigned to focus efforts on one of those areas.

In keeping with the idea of neighborhood schools, principals will be expected to communicate more directly with their communities, sending out parent notices and news releases, and relying less on the district's communications director.

Elementary- and secondary-school principals still will meet among themselves to discuss issues, Vander Ark said, but less frequently.

Another change will do away with the superintendent's cabinets, which included principals rotating as members, in favor of an expanded district management team with all members permanent.

The reorganization will not affect staffing levels.