Choosing the Perfect Superintendent
The highest-impact, highest-stakes decision that you and your board colleagues make is choosing the CEO. No other district employee is in a better position – in terms of authority, visibility, and access to resources – to impact your district’s affairs. If you choose the wrong superintendent, the consequences are likely to be dire.
Including Students in School Reform
Each year, we rush to implement yet another round of new programs and strategies designed to improve achievement scores on standardized tests. Unfortunately, we are poised to repeat our mistakes unless a key group – perhaps the most important group – is invited to the table: our students.
Is School Board Reform Coming to You?
Why are pundits and think tanks putting school boards in their gun sights? For some, the role and effectiveness of school boards is guilty by association with a system that’s allegedly failed. Thankfully, school board members have a strong foundation upon which to stand. People want local control of their schools.
School Governance Councils
A new and largely parent-led initiative to improve the education of public school children has resulted in the creation of school governance councils, which could help districts as they focus on improving student achievement. The potential downside is they could become another state mandate that will possibly erode local school governance.
Educators who are using the methods of Rachel’s Challenge or the Trevor Romain Co. are fairly confident that episodes of bullying are becoming less frequent on their campuses. The reason: Both programs work to involve everyone in changing the culture – the bullies and their victims, bystanders, parents … and educators.
How's Your School Climate?
Changing school culture is not easy. But education leaders recognize learning cannot happen unless the school climate is marked by trust and respect for differences. Schools everywhere need to be able to tune out the noise and focus on the essential work of educating an increasingly diverse generation of students.
Adults Behaving Badly
While national attention and energy has rightfully focused on the phenomenon of peer-to-peer bullying, what’s missing is a look at the relationships and interactions among adults in the school community. Bullying is on the rise between teachers and students, administrators and teachers, or in some other form involving adults.
The Importance of Teamwork
Many K-12 administrators who make it to the top spot arrive with a defensive attitude toward their school boards. They don’t see them as an asset and partner, but rather as an ever-present threat to executive perogatives. The need for security and control all too often trumps openness and collaboration.
A Superintendent's Legacy
Ken Sorrick had his plan for resurrecting North Palos (Illinois) School District 117 ready when he walked in for his first interview. His goals were to improve the academic achievement of all students and to pass a referendum to provide the financial resources needed to raise achievement. He accomplished both.
Becoming a Better Advocate
Seasoned lobbyists acknowledge that local board members are key to their work. It’s up to individual board members to decide their voices need to be heard. If you don’t speak up, you surrender the policy debate to those voices pushing flawed ideas, adding to the negative perceptions of public education.
Creating Your Own Leadership Roles
The work of governing a public or nonprofit organization is by its very nature of team effort. No school board could possibly govern effectively on its own without a close partnership with its superintendent and senior administrators. Their collaboration and support are essential for effective decision-making.
The Value of Volunteers
School board members can make productive use of volunteers in carrying out the district’s governing mission. Volunteers have a lot to offer in terms of knowledge and expertise, and they easily can be transformed into highly effective advocates and cheerleaders for your district when they have a positive volunteer experience.
Mentoring New Administrators
My excitement about being hired as the superintendent of a suburban school district passed quickly when the school board president told me that I would be responsible for the orientation of five new administrators. Realistically, how much time would I be able to give them?
Time Management for Board Members
New board members often think they can, or should, “do it all.” Working longer—but not necessarily smarter—is one trap new board members can fall into. Keeping an eye on the big picture, veterans say, requires you to embrace the three Ls: leadership, learning, and love (for the children, especially).
How to Avoid Operational Distractions
Boards micromanage. They allow themselves to be distracted by day-to-day operational issues. The irony for these boards—worn down by an endless cycle of meetings, fuzzy goals, and week-to-week crisis management—is that all of their effort counts for little.
Reconciling Competing Values
School boards and other public and nonprofit governing bodies are pretty comfortable dealing with mission and vision. Core values are another matter. Core values are cherished principles and beliefs intended to direct and constrain your district’s planning and operations. Many school boards periodically update their core value statements.
Leadership as Art
We don’t lead the easy way at my school. The process is often a work in progress, as is the product. Collaboration and input are big and important words in our leadership model. With a lot of careful navigating, this ship sails well for us, even if the ride gets bumpy.
Making School Reform Work
School renewal is a building-by-building proposition. Any school staff can be its own turnaround specialist, and any school board can help with its school improvement plan. It is a matter of dedicating the entire school staff to the needs of the students who walk in every morning.
Small District Transformation
A Dairy Queen. A restaurant. A convenience store with gas pumps. That’s about it for downtown Skidmore, Texas, home of the Skidmore-Tynan Independent School District. But in its most recent assessment, the Texas Education Agency rated the high school “exemplary,” and that kind of success extends throughout the district.
Mapping Suburban School Reform
Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools long had a reputation as a top-tier system, but district leaders knew they had problems ahead. Demographic shifts showed the district’s population was rapidly changing. By 1999, the minority and low-income population comprised nearly half of the student body, resulting in a growing achievement gap.
Meeting the Urban School Challenge
How did Cincinnati raise the achievement of its poorest, most disadvantaged children – and do it for two years? Several elements contributed: a reform-minded superintendent, a steadfast school board, principals and teachers who believed the reform effort was real, a central office “shepherd” – and some federal stimulus dollars helped as well.
The Work of School Boards
School reform is possible. Low-performing schools can turn around. Student academic performance can improve, no matter what obstacles exist to learning. And local school leaders can make all of this happen. The decisions of local school leaders are ultimately what push forward student reform and raise student academic achievement.
The Perfect Board Retreat
Following four golden rules ensures a handsome payoff for your district from your retreat: involve the board in the retreat design; employ a professional facilitator; use break-out groups to generate content, promote feelings of ownership, and generate active participation; and avoid reaching a premature formal consensus or making final decisions.
Students' View of School
Success in school is not just about academics; it’s also about students connecting with one another and their teachers. School engagement is key to a student’s academic success. A new tool called Kids with Cameras can help you discover what and who connects your students to their schools.
Humanizing Human Resources
Whether you are in a large district, in which the human resources department is comprised of many individuals serving specific functions, or in a small one, in which the superintendent is the human resources department, employees seek personal, timely, and accurate information. And it’s your job to provide it to them.
School Leadership Team Bonding
A school board president and superintendent do not automatically become a cohesive leadership team. It’s an arranged marriage that has little to do with either party’s preferences. This column focuses on what the board president can expect the superintendent to do to ensure the working relationship is healthy and productive.
Education Groups Meet at Labor Summit
The 150 districts that attended the Department of Labor’s two-day Conference on Labor-Management Collaboration were the leaders of what will become a nationwide effort to strengthen schools and raise student achievement. Tackling controversial issues such as tenure and teacher compensation is not easy, and school districts must have community support.
Teacher Unions Under Fire
Across the nation, unions confront challenges to long-established policies on tenure, seniority, and teacher evaluations – challenges that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. In many cases, school boards are likely shedding few tears for the unions’ discomfort. Many will be thrilled if lawmakers overhaul tenure rules.
How to Manage Principals
If we are serious about supporting those who can have a fundamental impact on student achievement, then the school district systems must be aligned to nurture principal success. That alignment is demonstrated through written policies and procedures that require supervisors of principals to make the task a high priority.
School Leaders Best Practices
Award-winning superintendents’ best practices can be categorized into five strategies: 1) leading to transform schools; 2) building community; 3) responding to changing times; 4) understanding school reform; and, 5) acting on three basic beliefs: student learning results in successful schools, people are more important than programs, and “we” is more important than “me.”
Superintendent Evaluations Gone Bad
When asked about not getting results from many of his experiments, Thomas Edison replied, “Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won’t work!” In developing our superintendent evaluation tool, we are in the same position as Edison. Here is our Top 10 list of what doesn’t work.
The Board and Superintendent Team
Good communication is key to keeping a school district’s leadership team moving in the same direction – and feeling good about working together. Good results happen when the leadership team is reasonable in its expectations and respectful in its disagreements.
What's the Future of NCLB?
Many of the new GOP members of Congress will take a skeptical view of heavy-handed intervention from the Department of Education. That could help school districts that feel burdened by mandates attached to NCLB and school improvement funding. But the biggest issue will be how to handle the federal budget.
School Leadership Literature
Batting around ideas for this month’s column, I decided to write about an aspect of school governance that is critical but often undervalued: the responsibility of board members to educate themselves not just on their governing responsibilities, but more broadly about issues in the field of public education.