2003 Executive Educator Archive
The Trouble with Pay for Performance
Merit pay for school administrators? Most educators are either for it or against it—few take a neutral stance. People might accept the theory behind pay for performance, but when it comes to implementing such a plan, a line is usually drawn in the sand. On one side are school board members and superintendents, and on the other are rank-and-file administrators and supervisors.
For school administrators, stress and frustration can spell the end of a career. Burnout is an accumulation of things that start to snowball, leaving you with a growing feeling of helplessness, a fear that the tasks are insurmountable. You believe that no matter what happens, you can't win. Burnout is a growing problem for school-level and central office administrators. Ultimately, it's a problem for school boards, who must fill positions that become empty when a burnout victim leaves to start over—in another district or another career.
Ask school boards what they want in a superintendent, and they’ll inevitably say they’re looking for someone who is good at planning. Our firm helps many school boards in their search for a school leader, and we often hear board members say, “We want a superintendent who can implement our strategic plans and get results.” We seldom hear anyone say, “We want a person who can improvise.” And that’s too bad. Like jazz musicians, the best school leaders can improvise with skill.
Letters You Shouldn’t Send
As readers of the late, great Executive Educator magazine know, Nicolo Machiavelli was my ancestor. But it is not widely known he had principals—and, by extension, other school administrators—in mind when he composed The Prince. “Prince” was originally “Principal,” but it got changed over the years. You know, like Shakespeare. When I was a principal, I knew there were a few bad people out there. I moved swiftly and decisively against those who were not only my enemies but the enemies of the students.