Herron shakes up WJCC leadership

With barely four months at the helm, Superintendent Olwen Herron has taken a red pen to the division's organization chart. Through two promotions and a new hire, she'll have two assistant superintendents and a chief of staff going into the next school year.

Her latest major change — adding the chief of staff — was approved at Tuesday's Williamsburg-James City County School Board meeting.

By choosing not to replace three positions — including her former deputy superintendent role — the new hires fit into her existing 2018 budget.

After her Feb. 7 hiring, Herron committed to "increase organizational effectiveness and efficiency" in her transition plan — with a line item that included hiring new leaders for the "executive team."

"It's a best practice to let the superintendent hire and make administrative decisions without interference from the board … as long as the decisions that the superintendent makes are in line with budget we adopted," School Board Chairwoman Kyra Cook said. "Any new superintendent should be able to put the structure in place to do what she needs to fulfill her vision."

By Virginia law, board members make the final decision on all personnel actions, Cook said.

On May 2, the board members approved Herron's request to promote Warhill High School principal Jeffery Carroll and Director of Accountability and Special Programs Scott Thorpe each to assistant superintendent. On Tuesday, they approved Herron's appointment of Corey Murphy, a high school principal in South Carolina, as chief of staff.

The math

"The most important thing for me was to create a structure that I think will work and support schools, but also didn't cost any more money. We didn't add a position. We brought some down, we brought some up and we changed things around," Herron said. "It was two internal positions that made it possible to create the chief of staff."

According to school division documents, $363,500 was budgeted to pay salaries for a deputy superintendent, a director of accountability and coordinator of career and technical education. Instead of filling those already-empty roles, Herron eliminated them.

Salaries for the three new positions come to about $9,500 less than what Herron budgeted.

According to employment contracts obtained by the Gazette via the Freedom of Information Act, Carroll will be paid $119,800, Murphy will be paid $118,000, and Thorpe will be paid $116,200 starting July 1. They also will be eligible for gas reimbursement and a company phone, Betsy Overkamp-Smith said.

Changing roles

The responsibilities of those eliminated roles will be absorbed into the new ones, Herron said.

The organizational structure Herron inherited had four directors and all secondary principals reporting to the superintendent. The other five directors and all elementary principals answered to the deputy superintendent.

As part of her transition plan, Herron met with employees about what they'd like to change. That's what led her to add two assistant superintendents, she said.

"I interviewed focus groups of principals at each level, I interviewed every senior staff member, every director, every supervisor, and the same theme came across time and time again that schools need a direct line of support, they need guidance, they need someone they can go to, someone that is their immediate supervisor," Herron said.

Next year, the seven middle and high school principals and the director of student services will report to Carroll. He'll also oversee career and college readiness.

Thorpe's direct reports will include the nine elementary school principals and the director of school performance. He will also retain many of his former responsibilities as director of accountability.

Murphy will take on many of the non-instructional deputy superintendent responsibilities, Herron said. He will also take over the public relations department.

"It's a new position for the division, so right now my primary responsibly is to lead strategic planning, to formulate where we are and how to move forward," Murphy said.

Herron said that leaves her the business side — with the leaders of finance, technology, operations and human resources reporting to her. The assistant superintendents and chief of staff also will answer directly to her.

How others do it

The other half of Williamsburg's section of the Peninsula is taken up by York County, whose schools are similar to W-JCC in a number of ways.

W-JCC has 11,607 students in 16 schools; York County has 12,542 across 19 schools —10 elementary, four middle and four high schools, and one charter school in 2016-17 — according to the division's website.

York County School Division's central office organization is set up much like a business.

Five senior administrators report directly to Superintendent Victor Shandor: chief academic officer, chief financial officer, chief operations officer, chief human resources officer and the coordinator for community and public relations.

Chief Academic Officer Stephanie Guy oversees much of the same people Herron's two assistant superintendents do, according to the York County organization chart on its website. She is in charge of a director of elementary instruction and one of secondary instruction. Like Carroll and Thorpe, they then oversee all the school principals.

To the north, another similarly sized school division in Fauquier County has a set-up with much more direct superintendent oversight. In 2016-17, it had 11,267 students in 19 schools — 11 elementary, five middle and three high schools — according to its website.

There, seven department heads and all principals report to Superintendent David Jeck, including an associate superintendent for instruction and two assistant superintendents.

Since Herron took over following former Superintendent Steve Constantino's resignation last August, all eight departments and 16 principals answered to her directly. Part of the reorganization was to reduce the number who report to her, she said.

She said Murphy's appointment was the last in the shake-up.

"This is the team in place now for next year," Herron said. "There are no more changes."

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

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