Morrison shakes up CMS HR and communication

Morrison shakes up CMS HR and communication

Morrison shakes up CMS HR and communication

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by ANN DOSS HELMS / The Charlotte Observer

WCNC.com

Posted on November 13, 2012 at 10:04 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Superintendent Heath Morrison replaced the leaders of human resources and communications Tuesday after consultants' studies showed problems with both departments.

HR Chief Daniel Habrat will leave Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and be replaced by Kelly Gwaltney, who now leads the district’s east zone. She is a former math teacher and principal of Mallard Creek High. Morrison said she’s the right person to restore confidence in the department and help principals get the teachers they need faster.

LaTarzja Henry, the executive director in charge of communications, will move into a new assistant superintendent’s post overseeing partnerships and community engagement. Kathryn Block, an administrator who came to CMS through a Broad Foundation fellowship for urban administrators, will become chief communication officer, a higher-level post than Henry holds.

The two high-profile changes are part of a bigger administrative shuffle that Morrison says is designed to restore public and employee confidence, make CMS work more quickly and efficiently and break down departmental barriers that hobble improvement. For instance, there will also be a new executive director of data quality, still to be named, and a small “transformation department” to help ensure that technology is put to good use in classrooms.

The cost of the changes is not known yet, Morrison said, but the only position that will require a new budget item is Henry’s new job. The rest will be carved out from existing departments and unfilled jobs, he said.

Little confidence in HR

Morrison, who became superintendent in July, commissioned internal studies and an employee morale survey to help him shape his plans for CMS.

Elizabeth Arons, the consultant who studied human resources, said shortcomings in that department make it hard to get good teachers into classrooms when they are needed. Arons interviewed about 50 administrators and other staff who deal with the department.

“We heard stories of principals putting in a requisition for a new hire that would take weeks, even months, before actions were finalized,” she wrote.

With more than 18,000 employees, CMS is one of the largest employers in the Charlotte region. The education of about 141,000 children and a $1.2 billion budget hangs on the work of those employees.

Habrat was brought in from Wachovia in 2011 and charged with improving the system.

“Almost all of those interviewed outside of HR expressed a lack of confidence in the leadership of the department and the fact that things had not gotten better over the last 18 months, and in some instances, had gotten worse,” the report says.

The department got credit for one of its toughest assignments: Handling layoffs. And many employees gave the department credit for having hard workers with good intentions. But the report calls for major changes in the recruitment and preparation of teachers, with the focus shifting from regulatory compliance to aggressive recruitment of talented candidates.

Negative coverage

Morrison also hired Drive West Communications to study the CMS communications department. Chairman Terry Abbott noted that CMS has a better reputation nationally than locally.

“In various communities inside its borders, CMS suffers from a deep level distrust of its work,” that report says. “CMS employees and community supporters know the district enjoys a generally favorable reputation among education media throughout the country, but they agree almost universally that local media coverage of the school district is very negative.”

Among the issues cited: A communications staff hit by budget cuts and a failure to communicate well about “major district wide initiatives.”

The report says some of the problems come from the failure of other departments to share information with the communications team and CMS employees. Morrison said the rollout of the CMS “bring your own technology” project emerged as an example of the problems, with many schools learning about the effort from the news media. After the announcement, there was confusion about costs and timetables.

“We generated a big idea and went flying out of the gate, and the last people to hear were our employees,” Morrison said.

Abbott’s report also noted that CMS was slow to produce data and analysis about results of 2012 state exams.

The study recommended appointing a new chief communications officer and calls for CMS to “reorganize and appropriately staff” the department. It also calls for CMS to boost its social media presence, relaunch its cable TV station and “significantly increase its production of news and information for the public, especially about issues of district wide importance, including the work of the school board.”

Morrison and the board will discuss the studies at Tuesday’s meeting. They’ll also review an employee morale survey, which was completed by 53 percent of the 17,422 employees invited to participate. The low participation level may indicate low staff engagement levels, the summary notes.

Block, an administrator who worked with the survey, said the employees were more positive about their own schools and departments than the district overall. The survey indicates employees want better communication, feedback and recognition, she said.

Many have voiced appreciation that Morrison is doing the survey, which about 200 employees helped design, she said.

“With Heath’s leadership, I think we are starting to turn the corner,” she said.

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