Developing School Leaders


While district superintendents and principals face many challenges from budget cuts to strict regulations that govern school boards, many are creating change within their ranks, and it’s having a ripple effect. One such example is John Deasy, a former superintendent of Prince George’s County, Maryland, who “gained national acclaim for overseeing substantial achievement gains in low-performing schools. Even in a district with a collective bargaining agreement widely judged as restrictive, he shattered notions of what local leaders could do by transferring hundreds of teachers to new schools and initiating a voluntary pay-for-performance system.”

One criticism for the lack of effective leadership falls on graduate programs. In 2006, Public Agenda, a nonprofit, reported that more than 60 percent of principals and superintendents thought “typical leadership programs in graduate schools are out of touch with the realities of what it takes to run today’s school districts” (Johnson, Arumi, & Ott, 2006), and some schools are addressing this issue. Starting in the fall of 2010, Harvard will be offering a new doctoral education program targeted for school reform, and “aimed at attracting top talent to transform the U.S. education system by shaking up the status quo” (MSNBC, Sept. 14, 2009). “Education is getting better, it’s just not getting better fast enough,” said Robert Schwartz, the school’s academic dean. According to the Program for International Student Assessment, American students place near the bottom in academic achievement. In 2006, for instance, 15-year-olds in the U.S. ranked 21st out of 30 countries in math and 25th out of 30 in science.

In my experience, the most successful principals have three main skills which are as central to success in business as they are in education: project management skills, people skills and vision. Principals who have these abilities can transform a dysfunctional school or district, recruit and retain the best and the brightest teachers, set standards which deliver high performance and connect with parents and the community in vital ways.

How can we promote transformative leadership across disciplines?

How can the colleges of Education be more responsive to current needs at all levels?

How can principals learn vital business skills?

Educational Leadership
by Frederick M. Hess

Principals and superintendents frequently lament that their hands are tied by contracts, policies, and regulations—especially when it comes to hiring and firing staff, assigning employees to schools or classrooms, designing programs, or allocating resources. There is something to these complaints, and I believe they are real problems.

But more than one thing can be true at a time. It is also the case that education leadership is marked by a debilitating timidity; reform-minded administrators could make much better use of their existing authority.

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