Some problems start at the top.

A common theme in the state’s Phase II report on Davenport Schools is a disorganized central office and muddied chain of command, even as the report praises the district’s “strong leadership” since November.

Two major events happened in November: Former Superintendent Art Tate resigned and TJ Schneckloth was named interim superintendent, and the Phase II audit was ordered by the State Board of Education.

Davenport’s central office has an “uncommon structure,” according to the report, where responsibilities aren’t delegated to either associate superintendent, but rather handled directly by the superintendent.

“This has had a detrimental effect on the ability of the district to communicate effectively among staff and implement procedures or initiatives district-wide," the report said. "Buildings tend to work independently rather than working as a system.”

Tate put that system in place during his tenure, district officials said.

Building principals and central office staff worked directly with the superintendent for program and budget concerns, without a clear chain of command or regard for procedures to ensure district-wide implementation of centrally-made decisions.

According to the comprehensive annual financial report discussed at the Jan. 14 board meeting, in 2017-2018, the following positions reported directly to Tate: chief financial officer, director of exceptional education, director of human resources and equity, director of curriculum and instruction, director of learning information services, director of community relations and partnerships and Associate Superintendents Bill Schneden and Robert Scott.

Security, director of state and federal programs and services and elementary school principals reported to Schneden, while athletics and intermediate and secondary principals reported to Scott.

While concerns about the basic structure of the central office do not culminate into a legal citation, the school improvement team recommended the administrators, including building principals, review the structure and decision-making processes “to determine if these are designed to promote the student outcomes they want to achieve.”

Incoming superintendent Robert Kobylski said the central office structure came up during his interview in February, before the Phase II audit was completed.

“It’s not surprising they noted that as an issue,” he said.

Kobylski said he was doing his own research and had “very definitive ideas” about how to improve the district’s “vertical alignment.”  

“I’m in alignment with the state’s notion: there has to be a clear line of sight throughout the district … and that line of sight has to reach every single employee,” he said.

Another concern — and an actual legal citation — surrounding the central office is the lack of job evaluations for central office administrators and staff. There was “no evidence" administrators were annually evaluated, and “numerous” personnel files lacked current or on-cycle evaluation.

“That’ll be fixed immediately,” Kobylski said. “There’s no reason that should have happened.”

The district has four required corrective actions with two deadlines. By August 2019, the district must establish written evaluation criteria and annually implement evaluation procedures; establish written job descriptions for all supervisory positions; and review all administrative position files to determine the last evaluation. By August 2020, the district must be evaluating administrators on an annual basis.

Building principals are already being evaluated on an annual basis, Schneckloth said, adding that all of the evaluations for administrators in the central office were “started, at least.”

“Right now, we’re working on our national expert to rebuild,” he said. “We’re calling it a report card system that flows from buildings to assistant superintendents to the superintendent on our goals.”

In the meantime, Schneckloth said he was having “pre-meetings” with administrators to talk about the leadership standards from the state and to reflect on what evidence might demonstrate those standards were being met.

“I’m reviewing with each of them whether they’re meeting those goals,” he said.

The district will report to the Board of Education on Thursday, and the board will discuss the report and vote on the recommendations, pending any amendments board members might propose.

“It’s very important everyone understands we’re partnering with the state moving forward,” Kobylski said. “... We’re going to look back on this and realize we became a better district.”