Huberman’s performance SWAT team

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Newly-installed Schools Chief Ron Huberman—championed by Mayor Richard Daley for his managerial deftness—has assembled a small, elite team to hammer out “performance management” in the district’s Central Offices.

The effort puts administrators on the hot seat, where they must establish new ways to measure their own success.

“It’s a very formulaic process,” says Sarah Kremsner, who heads up the effort and has worked with Huberman in a variety of top jobs controlled by City Hall. “Ron has taken it with him wherever he has gone.”

Newly-installed Schools Chief Ron Huberman—championed by Mayor Richard Daley for his managerial deftness—has assembled a small, elite team to hammer out “performance management” in the district’s Central Offices.

The effort puts administrators on the hot seat, where they must establish new ways to measure their own success.

“It’s a very formulaic process,” says Sarah Kremsner, who heads up the effort and has worked with Huberman in a variety of top jobs controlled by City Hall. “Ron has taken it with him wherever he has gone.”

Those familiar with the process say department heads endure grueling sessions to mete out operational goals and find ways to articulate the “brutal facts.” The set-up has the potential to pit the performance team against departmental leaders, and Kremsner says it requires members of her team to use a tactful approach to ensure both sides work together.

“You have to be a critical friend to folks,” she says. “In the end, [department leaders] have to own these metrics.”

The push for a “data-driven culture” has already put four departments—human resources, procurement, facilities and the office that oversees tutoring and after-school programs— through the grist mill, forcing them to look closely at their work and bottom line results. Each crafted detailed performance metrics for departmental goals that impact student learning. For example, the human resources department will, among other measures, keep close tabs on the number of candidates who apply for open jobs, the amount of time it takes to process applications and the success rate for paying employees on time.

The office is currently working with nearly a dozen departments, and hopes to complete the process for a new department each week. Kremsner says the team is starting to think about how to evaluate educational services that are less tangible and more difficult to quantify. “How do you measure the effectiveness of a social worker?” she asks, hypothetically.

Kremsner’s team steps up the focus on data-driven decision making and performance, but it’s not entirely new. Under former CEO Arne Duncan, district strategists and researchers forged ahead on many of the same fronts, particularly in schools and area offices. What’s left is central office, and Kremsner says the goal is to push the envelope and find ways to expand and improve data-management, including the newly revamped “dashboard” computer system that gives administrators easy access to student data in the oft-maligned IMPACT system.

The performance management team, a temporary unit that falls under the CEO’s office, will eventually grow to around 10 of the “best and brightest” administrators. Peter Goddard, former director of CPS’s Office of Research, Evaluation and Accountability, is one of them, but Kremsner declined to name who else staffs the influential group until next year’s budget is finalized.

It’s unclear how long the performance management team will operate, but their goal is to put systems in place so they are no longer needed.

“It’s very labor intensive on the front end,” she says. “We know we’ve been successful when we no longer have a job.”