Special Report
School & District Management

Vickie Murillo: Rebuilding Academics in a Struggling District

By Michelle R. Davis — March 16, 2015 3 min read
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Vickie Murillo, the chief academic and accountability officer for the Kansas City, Mo., schools, finds herself in a critical position only eight months into her new job in a district that lost its accreditation in 2012. After showing moderate gains in student achievement in recent years, the 16,700-student district was granted provisional accreditation in August. To earn full accreditation, the district must continue showing improvement in student achievement. Ms. Murillo’s job as chief academic and accountability officer is vital for achieving that goal. Education Week Contributing Writer Michelle R. Davis recently spoke with Ms. Murillo about the challenges of improving academics in a district that is struggling to build a better future for its students.

How have your past experiences in education prepared you for this challenge?

Everything that I’ve done in my educational career has prepared me for this role. I have a lot of history with the district. I came to the district in 1997 and served as a teacher, principal, and in several areas at the district level. Those experiences have given me the confidence to guide others through challenges they might face. I’ve been able to watch and measure things that did work well and things that did not work well, and to use that background knowledge to make good decisions as we move forward.

What is the role of the chief academic and accountability officer in your district?

My role is a little different because besides being the chief academic officer, my title is also chief accountability officer. In our district, [the superintendent] sets our vision. My role is to drive the educational performance of the district and to provide leadership and vision, and to make strategic decisions for curriculum, instruction, professional development, assessment, and school improvement initiatives.

I primarily hold our district departments that support our academic services accountable, as well as making sure the academic performance of all schools are on point or increasing toward the targets. So I really work around just that academic side, and the accountability piece added to my title is about monitoring and really ensuring that what we say we’re doing, we are doing.

As the district seeks full accreditation, how are you emphasizing student achievement?

We are really focused on student growth in our district and our students moving out of one achievement level to the next. So we’re looking at all students. Before, when we were under AYP status, sometimes we were only looking at students we moved into proficient and advanced [categories]. Really, in the accreditation process, we are looking at growth, progress, and our students moving into higher levels of achievement.

How do you make sure that other departments are on board with the goals and strategies?

We start by setting our expectations for every building. At the beginning of every year, our buildings receive their building-level goals. Then we have to monitor. [But] instead of monitoring that is punitive, our monitoring is so that we can provide the additional support and assistance to those principals, instructional coaches, and classroom teachers so they can move those students ahead.

How do you do that monitoring?

We use a walk-through form [that guides district leaders in evaluating classroom learning, student engagement, and teacher effectiveness as they do on-site observations] that’s aligned to our curriculum framework and our building-level expectations. I have those walk-throughs pulled at the end of each month. We pull that data and we discuss it, and we look at it from several angles: We’re looking at it to see how our teachers are doing with the instructional piece and where they are with the curriculum framework.

Then we also take student data and look at the growth of our students on quarterly assessments and our district-level assessments. We also look at the supplemental programs we use to help our students who are below grade level. We look at the time students are on those supplemental programs by building, by grade level, and their passing rate.

How do you ensure everyone is working together?

The collaboration piece is pretty much a must for this position. It’s like I see all the departments as a big puzzle and pieces. I have to see them as a whole part of the team and not as separate departments that provide only one service. The goal for me is not to allow anyone to chart their own course, but to see how all the pieces come together for success.

Coverage of personalized learning and systems leadership in Education Week and its special reports is supported in part by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the March 18, 2015 edition of Education Week as Q&As: Challenges and Responsibilities for CAOs

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