Special Report
School & District Management

Vickie Murillo: Rebuilding Academics in a Struggling District

By Michelle R. Davis — March 16, 2015 3 min read

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

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
The Social-Emotional Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on American Schoolchildren
Hear new findings from an analysis of our 300 million student survey responses along with district leaders on new trends in student SEL.
Content provided by Panorama

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion One Simple Way for Principals to Boost Students’ Unfinished Learning
Instruction improves when teachers remain in their current grades, write researchers Heather C. Hill and Susanna Loeb.
5 min read
Conceptual illustration of people running around a career track.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty Images
School & District Management Opinion How Did Ed. Leaders Decide Whether to Reopen Schools In Person Last Fall?
As school leaders face tough reopening decisions amid Delta variant concerns, we must understand how those decisions were made last year.
Douglas N. Harris & Katharine O. Strunk
4 min read
Protesters rally outside the San Diego Unified School District headquarters demanding that schools reopen for in-person learning and that voters oust some of the sitting school board members on Oct. 27, 2020 in San Diego.
Protesters rally outside the San Diego Unified School District headquarters demanding that schools reopen for in-person learning and that voters oust some of the sitting school board members on Oct. 27, 2020 in San Diego.
Sam Hodgson/The San Diego Union-Tribune via TNS
School & District Management Opinion Schools Faced a Massive Systems Failure During the Pandemic. How Do We Fix It?
Education leaders can (and must) find common purpose in the face of COVID-19, writes one superintendent.
Laura Kagy
2 min read
Hands hold up gears together.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty Images
School & District Management A View From the Hot Seat: How One District Leader Is Confronting COVID-19's Latest Twists
An assistant superintendent in Texas talks about how to keep the pandemic in check for the new school year even as the Delta variant spreads.
9 min read
Jeanie Johnson, assistant superintendent for administration, is a kind of the air traffic controller in Midway ISD, absorbing the glut of information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Texas education Agency, Tex. Gov. Greg Abbott, Waco-McLennan County, Public Health District and others, to help the Waco School District devise safety protocols and plans for students. She’s doing so amid rapidly changing and sometimes conflicting guidance. She talks about what she learned over the last year and that’s helping the school district prepare for the second COVID-19 school year.
Jeanie Johnson, assistant superintendent for administrative services, helps lead the COVID-19 response for the Midway Independent School District in Texas.
Eric Guel for Education Week