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Palo Alto school district eyes leadership shuffle, new positions

Reorganization includes hiring of general counsel, reviving chief student services officer position

With an eye for more effective, responsive and efficient district operations, the Palo Alto school board is being asked to approve promotions for several existing staff members, as well as create new high-level leadership positions.

Superintendent Max McGee is proposing that the district move five staff members to higher-level director positions: Student Services Coordinator Brenda Carrillo, Director of Secondary Education Katherine Baker, Director of Elementary Education Barbara Harris, IT Manager Ignacio Padilla and Judy Argumedo, who runs the English Language Learners and Voluntary Transfer programs.

Argumedo's title would change to director of equity and academic success; Baker's to chief academic officer for 6-12; and Harris' to chief academic officer for K-5.

McGee is also recommending that Holly Wade, who has served as Palo Alto's director of special education since 2010, be promoted to chief student services officer at the assistant superintendent level, a position that was cut in 2002. She would oversee development, placement, implementation and evaluation of all special-education programs and services as well as guidance programs, nursing services and mental health and wellness efforts, according to a staff report. She would also supervise and evaluate all central attendance staff for enrollment policies and procedures. Wade's salary is currently at $174,675 and if approved, will be increased to $188,471, according to Assistant Superintendent Scott Bowers.

If approved, the district would next year also have three new positions: deputy superintendent, general counsel and chief student services officer. The deputy superintendent position will replace the job soon to be vacated by outgoing Associate Superintendent Charles Young, who is leaving the district July 1 to become superintendent in the Benicia Unified School District.

The board discussed the idea of hiring general counsel to provide internal legal support and advice at its June 9 meeting and was largely supportive.

The general counsel's primary responsibilities would be to advise the district on topics like labor and employment; employee and student discipline; the Brown Act and issues related to the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights; investigate any formal complaints filed by district families and serve as an ombudsman for "informal but potentially serious complaints"; respond to Public Records Act requests; and review and approve work completed for the district by outside legal counsel, according to a staff report.

The report notes that the full-time position would be revenue neutral, as the funds currently spent on legal fees would be shifted to the new position.

McGee is also recommending that the district hire a second district nurse, particularly at the elementary level, to help support District Nurse Linda Lenoir, who currently serves all of the district's schools. Lenoir spoke at a board meeting earlier this year to request additional support to meet an increasing demand for health services.

Two other new positions that could be added during the 2015-16 year are program evaluation coordinator, a person who would work within the district's data department, and equity administrator, a high-level role tasked with making sure a recent set of recommendations from the superintendent's minority achievement and talent development committee regarding the achievement gap are "fulfilled with fidelity," a staff report reads.

The district has yet to decide how to fill the vacancy to be left by the current communications coordinator, Tabitha Kappeler-Hurley, whose recent resignation came two years after the district created her position.

McGee has said that before posting the job opening, his team will consider potential changes to the job responsibilities, such as a greater focus on strategy, social media or other communications tasks.

"Given the conversation at the Board retreat about the importance of communication and some of our more urgent communication needs at the beginning of the school year, we will be seeking to contract with a third party on a part time basis for now and have a larger and deeper conversation regarding a PIO (public information officer) position late in the summer or early in the fall," McGee wrote in his executive summary for the June 23 meeting.

Tuesday's meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave. View the full agenda here.

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