“The Best Leader is the Best Server,” Do We Trust Principals and Teachers, Together, To Create Good Schools? Comparing the Brian Kelleher and the Joel Klein Models.

Next month the Department will publicly release Report Card scores for each and every school. The Chancellor avers that schools that receive a grade of “C,” “D” and “F” are in danger of having the principal removed or the school closed. Simple arithmetic: hundreds and hundreds of schools will require new principals: is the Department cloning principals in the caverns of Tweed?

In addition Klein and company lobby for merit pay for teachers and going ahead with the plan to pay kids for reading books, doing homework and doing well on tests.

Over the last few days I worked with a staff in preparing for a school opening.

The dedication of school staffs: principals and teachers is incredible.

Two days of meeting with colleagues and preparing for the opening of school, including dragging furniture, digging through mountains of books in damp and murky closets and the basement. The new principal (he had worked as an Assistant Principal – not the Leadership Academy) consulted with the staff over a range of issues-collected email addresses, worked on Saturday and Sunday – and kept the staff up to date by email.

No one mentioned School Report Cards grades or merit pay. They pitched in, together, to assure a smooth opening, in a school with a struggling student body.

How will a poor score on a School Report Card impact a school?

It will be depressing, anxiety producing and totally counter productive. Tweed, Klein, his acolytes and consultants seem to feel that teachers can “turn it on.” That teachers and principals, when faced with punitive results can do better. There is the assumption that teachers and principals, without some threat, don’t work up to their ability.

The threat of principal removal or school closing will drive out teachers, discourage competent principals and chase away parents. Rather than create better schools Klein will create two classes of schools: “successful” schools and a class of schools that will continue to fail – with revolving door teachers and principals: a perfect example of unintended consequences.

How will merit pay impact effectiveness of schools?

Schools are synergistic organizations. Principals, teachers, school staffs working together to produce an effective school. Differentiated staffing is a sensible and effective model.

The NYC teachers union supported a model called Lead Teacher: a teacher, selected through a careful vetting process teaches half a program and works with newer teachers, the other half, modeling effective practice, coaching and helping colleagues with lessons and materials. The Department finally agreed to include Lead Teachers in the Contract – a few years later: less than ten percent of schools have Lead Teachers – even though the Department pays for the additional salary! 

Klein discourages collegial models: he encourages the “carrot/stick” Leadership Academy Model that pits principals against teachers.

Some years ago a superintendent created a program: teachers, in a simple application could apply for a grant, a few thousand dollars, for a classroom project. He created a range of curriculum committees that worked after school on materials/ideas for use of classroom teachers. Scores of teachers applied and participated: it was a type of “merit” pay that empowered teachers.

Herb Kelleher, the founder and retired CEO of Southwest Airline was asked about the success of his airline when other airlines are struggling:

We’re not looking for blind obedience. We’re looking for people who on their own initiative want to be doing what they’re doing because they consider it to be a worthy objective. I have always believed that the best leader is the best server. And if you’re a servant, by definition you’re not controlling.

In an organization like ours, you’re also likely to be a step behind the employees. The fact that I cannot possibly know everything that goes on in our operation — and don’t pretend to — is a source of competitive advantage. The freedom, informality, and interplay that people enjoy allows them to act in the best interests of the company.

Compare with the Klein Culture: fear, distrust, intimidation and endless self-aggrandizement – draw your own conclusions.


One response to ““The Best Leader is the Best Server,” Do We Trust Principals and Teachers, Together, To Create Good Schools? Comparing the Brian Kelleher and the Joel Klein Models.

  1. I’ve always said that Klein brought the best of 19th Century management practices to bear on the system. That may explain his track record as a manager at Bertelsmann. The real question is not why Kelleher was successful and Klein is on his thrid attempt to reorganize the system in five years. The question is why Bloomberg tolerates this kind of managment.


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