Wichita superintendent Alicia Thompson has announced her second-in-command – the district’s first deputy superintendent in more than a dozen years.
Tiffinie Irving, assistant superintendent for learning services, was selected as deputy superintendent – a new central-office position – and will start her new job Jan. 2, Thompson announced Tuesday.
“A theme that stood out to me from the recent listening sessions was a concern that we lack focus and a cohesive and effective strategy,” Thompson said. “Our system is not aligned to achieve the results we want.
“Dr. Irving’s work will allow us to address those concerns head-on.”
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As deputy superintendent, Irving will oversee elementary and secondary schools, early childhood, special education, English for Speakers of Other Languages, career and technical education programs and “all other aspects of our instructional and academic work,” Thompson said.
Irving’s annual salary will be $159,355, officials said – about $25,000 more than she makes in her current position as assistant superintendent.
Thompson would not say Tuesday whether Irving will hire a replacement to oversee learning services.
“I’m going to allow her an opportunity to assess those particular program structures and … make recommendations to me,” Thompson said.
Irving, 48, started with the district in 1999 as a teacher at Bostic Traditional Magnet Elementary School. She also has served as principal at Bostic, a campus support teacher, executive director of elementary schools and executive director of instructional support.
She was named assistant superintendent of learning services in May 2016.
Thompson announced plans to create the new deputy superintendent position in October, citing a need to “align the system and serve our buildings more effectively.”
Teachers union leaders criticized the move at the time, calling it “a blatant slap in the face to teachers and other employees,” who were deep into negotiations over this year’s teachers contract.
“The district is hemorrhaging teachers and the response is to hire another doctor to give a second opinion?” said Steve Wentz, president of United Teachers of Wichita, in a post on the union’s Facebook page.
On Tuesday, Wentz said he thinks Irving is a “good choice” for the post.
“My point two months ago was that the timing was horrifyingly bad,” Wentz said.
“We have since worked through some of that. … I’m going to trust the superintendent and her leadership, that this is the right move for the district, and we will be watching closely and working with them closely to see that it’s successful.”
Thompson responded to critics, stating in Tuesday’s e-mail to employees that “Wichita is by no means unique in terms of the role a deputy superintendent plays in student success.”
At least seven other Kansas districts have a deputy superintendent, she said in the e-mail: Blue Valley; Garden City; Kansas City, Kan.; Leavenworth; Olathe; Shawnee Mission; and Topeka.
“This key appointment is an important early step in my work to lead the Wichita Public Schools and create a system that supports bright futures for our students.”
Currently there are 14 people on the Wichita district’s central-office leadership team, including four assistant superintendents. In addition, the district has an executive director of secondary schools and executive director of elementary schools.
Thompson said she would oversee the operational side of the district but “continue to be actively engaged in academic work.”
Employees voiced concerns during recent listening sessions that the district lacked focus and organization, she said.
“Sometimes the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing – that’s what I heard,” she said. “You’ve got 17 different departments who are fantastic and doing great work, but we’ve got to bring all of those together under one umbrella to … support the teachers in the buildings better.”
The Wichita district last employed a deputy superintendent about 12 years ago, under former superintendent Winston Brooks. That deputy – Mark Evans – left the district in 2005 to become superintendent in Andover.
Denise Wren, the district’s former chief operating officer, left the district in 2012. After a brief search for a replacement, Allison decided to leave the position vacant, saying he couldn’t find a qualified candidate who would agree to the salary proposed. Wren’s salary was $135,700 a year.