The School Leader is at the crux of any educational system. The failure of the Klein Leadership Academy has shown the difficulty in choosing effective school leaders. Tens of millions of dollars later the Academy has produced a host of principals that have stumbled … of the five high school closings announced last year four had Leadership Academy principals.
I watched a principal walking down the hall with her secretary inspecting teacher bulletin boards, she pointed at “failings” and dictated, “letter of reprimand,” “letter of praise …” The school was in dire straits, low achievement, low morale, quality teachers took Open Market Transfers and fled the school … the principal was baffled … she had done everything the Academy professed.
The Department parachutes principals into schools. The Chancellor has invested school leaders with more authority than any time in the past – statutory authority without the support of teachers is meaningless.
Once upon a time teachers worked their way up through the ranks, eventually becoming an assistant principal, and perhaps a principal. After fifteen or twenty years of experience a principal emerged. Now, some principals come from the “outside” world, with no teaching experience and many others jump from the ranks of teachers to principals. Experience alone is no guarantee of success – a total lack of experience is a guarantor of failure.
Effective principals must build effective teams – the effective principal is a school leader – he/she leads a team of teachers and support staff – they co-plan, they participate in building an effective organization as measured by student achievement.
Peter Senge, a leading management expert , has written extensively on team building. The lessons from the private sector: trust and value your line employees, not just your managers.
While Klein inflates the egos of principals, and unfortunately has doomed too many principals, and schools to failure, however, he may be beginning to understand.
The revised draft of the School Leadership Team guidelines calls for school leaders to build teams of stakeholders at both the school and district level.
In a paid advertisement in local newspapers Randi Weingarten, the teacher union president, calls for the Department to take Leadership Teams seriously.
In the first weeks of school many new principals are stumbling, spending endless hours trying to get their schools off to a good start … dealing with the myriad complexities of schools: the administrative morass, recruiting and supporting teachers, and, oh yes, the kids …
Who supports them? Who guides them? Who chides and encourages? Has this new support model abandoned them?
And, by the way, if your Report Card is a “C” or a “D” or, heaven forbid, an “F” – we publicly execute you as a warning to your colleague principals.
Maybe, just maybe, Klein is beginning to understand that the all powerful tyrannical principal, a la the Leadership Academy model, will destroy school cultures: that great schools are learning organizations that respect and honor teachers, and the great principals are great teachers who happen to lead a school.