3.28 GPA On 4-point Scale Still Leaves HISD Administration Room For Improvement

August 29, 2008

The Houston Independent School District’s central administration received a grade-point average of 3.28 on a 4-point scale in customer service in a new survey of school principals.

The new survey of 246 school principals in Texas’ largest school district shows that overall the central administration and regional offices get good marks for the work they do in support of schools, but some principals called for more answered phones and e-mails and better manners.

Out of 67 administrative departments, the generalists in the Human Resources department who help schools with staffing matters finished with the highest overall rating, a 3.75. The HISD Press Office was second with a 3.70 rating, and the Office of Federal and State Compliance was third at 3.65.

Rounding out the top 10 were Professional Standards (3.65), Research (3.65), Regional Offices (3.62), Professional Development (3.59), Student Assessment – Test Materials Center (3.53), and Help Desk (technology) 3.52, the Equal Employment Opportunity office (3.48) and the School Based Budgeting office (3.48).

Principals were asked to rate departments on a four-point scale – 4 for excellent, 3 for good, 2 for fair and 1 for poor – in responsiveness by e-mail or telephone, courtesy and professionalism, quality of knowledge and overall.

No HISD department was rated as poor. Of the 67 departments, 59 received ratings of good. Only six departments scored less than a 3 – Out of District Travel – Trip Bookings (2.98), Special Education (2.95), Transportation Services (2.94), Out of District Travel – Reimbursements (2.78), Construction/Bond Services (2.75) and Associate Teachers – Substitutes (2.71).

“Almost all the central and regional administrative offices rated earned good customer service marks, and we’re very pleased with that,” HISD Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra said. “Our number one job every day at the central and regional offices is to serve the needs of the schools, to do whatever we need to do to support schools in helping children to stay safe and to learn. That almost every department gets a good rating from principals is a good sign.”

This is the second straight year that HISD has surveyed its principals to learn what school leaders think about the service they receive from central and regional offices. This year the grading scale was changed from the 5-point scale used last year, so the district cannot directly compare departments’ satisfaction numbers from last year to this year.

Under the leadership of new Athletics Director Daryl Wade, the Athletics Department made a big jump this year, improving from a ranking of 59th in customer service in 2007 to 25th. The Customer Service office in the Department of Human Resources jumped 23 spots, from 49th last year to a ranking of 26th this year, and Curriculum and Instructional Development was up 17 spots to number 19.

Another department that improved its ranking this year is the Chancery student information system, the big technological program that keeps track of all HISD’s student information. HISD installed the new system in 2006, and during the first year the district experienced problems fine-tuning the new system to HISD schools and getting report cards and other critical reports out on time. But over the last year, HISD became more successful in using the system, and under the leadership of Chief Financial Officer Melinda Garrett, the Chancery department’s ranking in customer service this year improved eight spots to 53rd.

Other departments slipped in customer service rankings. The HISD Police Department fell 16 spots from fifth to 21st in the rankings, and food services fell 14 spots from 43rd to 57th.

The survey included an opportunity for principals to make open-ended remarks about service. Many principals had positive things to say about service, and some were critical.
The Curriculum and Instructional Development Department is “responsive, knowledgeable, friendly,” one principal wrote. Another said the department is a “great team. Very responsive. Trustworthy.” But another principal said “You can never reach anyone in the Early Childhood department. Phone calls go unanswered all the time.”

The Professional Development department “really wants to help schools, tries to uncover needs and is responsive to schools’ needs,” one principal wrote, reflecting the comments of many. But another principal was critical of the cost of the department’s services.

Principals were more critical of the special education, transportation and food service departments. One said special education is “rife with incompetence.” Another wrote that “students are habitually late causing missed instruction,” because of late school buses. And of food services, another principal complained of “poor quality of food; poor service; poor nutrition selection.”

The transportation department took a step this year toward improving the arrival times of school buses, equipping every bus with a GPS tracking system. And also this year the food services department opens a new central food processing facility in an effort guarantee the quality of meals throughout the district.

“Overall these marks are good, and I’m proud that our employees are working hard to provide good customer service to schools,” Saavedra said. “We need to continue to improve, though, and our departments are all enacting plans to keep customer service in the forefront.”

Participation in the survey by principals increased 11 percent this year.

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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