Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman today announced the findings of an internal capacity review of the Arizona Department of Education (ADE). The review was conducted to better ascertain ADE’s capacity to support schools and deliver a high-quality education to all students.
“I promised during my campaign that under my leadership ADE would be an agency of service and transparent about these findings,” Superintendent Hoffman said. “This capacity review has provided us invaluable information that we will use to develop a strategic plan forward that delivers on that promise.”
The review was conducted by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) over a two-day period in February. During the two days, CCSSO gathered evidence on key aspects of the department’s capacity. The evidence was related to areas including vision and planning, ADE culture and capacity, as well as external relationships and communication. In the process of this review, CCSSO spoke with more than 80 staff members and external stakeholders including Superintendent Hoffman, her leadership team, administrative staff, mid- and upper-level ADE management, public school teachers, district superintendents, political partners and parents.
Among the key findings were that communication is improving, both internally and externally, with ADE employees and stakeholders both pointing to examples of noteworthy progress. Interviewees also praised the new administration’s focus on reaching out and listening to various education stakeholders.
The review also highlighted several areas where more work is needed. Specifically, the improvements in communication are just a start, and more can be done to build on the early work in this area. Additionally, there is a clear need for an overarching vision and strategic plan that unites and focuses the work of the department. This vision and plan would define success and set benchmarks for progress. Additionally, there was broad agreement that this process should heavily involve stakeholders that are served by the department.
In the coming months, the Hoffman administration will work diligently to develop a path forward with the end goal being a department of education that effectively and equitably serves students, schools and communities. The financial audit committee, which continues to meet, will release the findings of that audit at a later date.
Capacity Review Findings
In February 2019, Superintendent Kathy Hoffman invited the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to conduct a capacity review and present the results to the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) leadership team. A capacity review is a rapid, yet thorough, review of the agency’s capacity, or the extent to which a state education agency is set up to deliver on its goals for students. A team from CCSSO interviewed agency staff and a diverse set of stakeholders from around the state to develop a full picture of system activities at all levels. We used this feedback to identify bright spots as well as areas of focus and potential solutions for ADE. The review will serve as a baseline by which progress can be measured over time. As ADE and its partners continue their work, this review will help everyone understand the areas of greatest strength and challenge.
To determine ADE current capacity to achieve its goals for students, CCSSO gathered evidence from key stakeholders. We also looked at data in the public domain, and news and current events.
Throughout our information gathering, consistent bright spots emerged.
Department staff possess the will to deliver on the goals of the department. Staff consistently commended one another for their commitment to the work. ADE employees acknowledge that the agency exists to serve the field. There is a strong foundation to build on due to the dedication of staff.
The leadership team is perceived to be off to a good start and they have generated a great deal of momentum and good will. Both staff and external stakeholders indicated their eagerness to work with Superintendent Hoffman and the new administration at ADE. Interviewees across the spectrum praised the Superintendent’s focus on reaching out and listening to various education stakeholders.
Communication is already improving. Interviewees indicated that ADE has historically been siloed and hard to engage. However, both internal and external stakeholders were able to identify examples of dramatic improvement since January. External representatives pointed out Superintendent Hoffman’s presence at various events in the field since taking office, and ADE staff were happy to be receiving more communication from the leadership team.
Areas of Focus
Focus groups helped to identify various challenges.
Strategic Vision. As is typical for a new administration, there is a sense of purpose, but no clear overarching vision that unites the work of the agency. Beyond campaign priorities, there is little guidance on what the core work is for the agency as a whole. Much of the development of goals and strategies up to this point has been driven at the program level within individual teams. Though this results in some clarity on strategy in those teams, there is no sense of what it all adds up to. The lack of agency-wide vision also means that priorities are often determined in reaction to the legislature. The state’s Every Student Succeeds Act consolidated state plan contains student outcome goals but there is not a sense that those goals are driving the department’s work.
Plan for Implementing the Vision There is not yet a plan guiding the department’s work. Multiple teams within the department are doing duplicative and uncoordinated work, which makes it difficult to provide a consistent customer service experience to the field. For example, in many cases, external stakeholders do not know who to call to resolve an issue, or two people within the agency will give differing answers to the same inquiry. There is no consistent approach to implementation to reach the field at scale; districts are not currently looking to the department to help them in their work.
Internal Focus and Investment. ADE is facing two key infrastructure challenges that must be resolved for operations to improve. First, the agency’s information technology systems are considerably out of date and not able to provide the reliable data needed for staff to do their jobs efficiently and effectively. Second, there needs to be a focus on streamlining the human capital management process, which is overly complex in some respects, vague in others, and time-intensive, presenting major barrier to hiring, onboarding, retaining, and promoting staff at the department.
The capacity review revealed some key areas of work that agency leaders should focus on in the next several months. Get clearer about the vision and make it public. Clarify ADE’s vision for students in Arizona and define what success looks like. Engage stakeholders in the development of this vision to build broad buy-in and to leverage the partnerships needed to advance that vision. Once established, make sure the vision is visible in the agency building for staff and is pervasive in ADE’s communications.
Build a detailed plan. Engage stakeholders in the development and implementation of a clear strategic plan to execute on the vision.
Make it easier to hire, develop, and promote staff. The quality of the ADE staff is a clear strength, but they still face considerable barriers. The agency can reduce these barriers through procedural improvements, such as shortening the time it takes to fill vacancies, creating a universal onboarding and professional development plan, and improving visibility into the requirements for promotion. To the extent possible, repurpose the current employee evaluation tool into something that can drive more meaningful growth discussions.
Build on existing goodwill among stakeholders. Superintendent Hoffman gets high praise for her outreach and availability. Stakeholders are looking to be more deeply engaged, and to be brought into discussions about how the agency’s vision will be implemented and what their role in that implementation might be. Superintendent Hoffman is still very new to office, so laying the groundwork now for meaningful engagement can help build a durable coalition for the future. Build predictable ways to receive feedback from the field and be transparent about how stakeholder feedback will be visibly reflected in the actions and priorities of the department.