Looking for long hours, so-so pay, limited opportunities for professional growth and the chance to do good work that goes unrecognized? Then the DCPS central office could be the place for you.
Those are some of the takeaways from a survey of about 500 DCPS staff, conducted in March 2011 but circulated—at least to underlings—only a few weeks ago. It appears that 1200 1st St. N.E. is even more of a turnover machine than the schools, where teacher attrition has been historically high. Seventy percent of those surveyed said they had been there three years or less.
“I see a lot of people leaving, not just from my department, and it scares me to think about the future of our reform,” lamented one official in an appendix of selected comments.
Employees from eight DCPS offices were surveyed: Chancellor, Transformation Management, Family and Parent Engagement, Data and Accountability, Human Capital, Special Education, Chief Academic Officer and Chief Operating Officer.
Asked what they liked most about working for DCPS 136 made “Contribution to the DCPS Mission” their first response. Other first answers included “Working with the schools” (102), “Personal satisfaction from my work (73) “Colleagues” (83) and “Working with the community.” (30).
Staffers said that they believed in the DCPS mission, but felt undervalued by colleagues and supervisors, who often function in silos and don’t encourage collaboration.
“The lack of culture and interoffice camaraderie, while improving, is still upsetting to me. Few offices work together or feel invested in each other’s work,” said one.
Another described a “churn and burn” management ethos: “The organization does not care for its people in a thoughtful way; they feel expendable and my perception is that DCPS central office will take whatever it can from its employees and then ‘understand’ if they need to move on because their merit is not rewarded.”
One message that resonated in the survey was concern about lack of clear policies and focused priorities. “Having too many priorities means having no priorities,” a staffer said. “We need to know what the top 3-5 priorities are and focus on those, which means saying no to a lot of things.”
Whoever conducted the survey (the Powerpoint I saw doesn’t say and DCPS didn’t respond to question asking who did) pointed out that there is nothing wildly unusual about the findings. It placed DCPS in the middle of the pack (56th percentile) compared to job satisfaction at similar organizations, although it’s not clear exactly how that ranking was derived.
In fairness, March 2011 was probably not the most opportune moment for an assessment of morale. The organization was still reeling from Michelle Rhee’s resignation just five months earlier, and there was considerable uncertainty about new Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s willingness to sustain Rhee’s program. He had also not yet named Kaya Henderson as Rhee’s permanent successor.
There were some upbeat appraisals. Asked what was going well, one staffer said: “DCPS central office employees NEVER lose sight of the DCPS mission, despite the political situation and the budgetary [reductions] These are the smartest most motivated individuals I have ever worked with.”
DCPS spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz said the survey results, both positive and negative, were “incredibly helpful.”
“We’re appreciative of the staff who participated and we look forward to continuing to learn how best to support our staff in central office, whose jobs ultimately support our students, our teachers, our schools and our community,” she said.