Monday, May 20, 2013

Keys to Effective District Leadership...and the Consequences and Ramifications of Poor Leadership

Former Intrim Hoboken Superintendent
of Schools- Mr. Peter Carter (2009-2011)

I recently came across a very thoughtful piece on what it takes to be a thoughtful and effective educational leader in a school district-- essentially, what makes a good superintendent? The four characteristics are 1) Make the Rounds, Open, Relaxed Conversation, Town Hall Accessibility, and Establish a Satellite Office. And, as I reflected on these characteristics I could not help but be reminded of the former interim Superintendent of the Hoboken Schools, Mr. Peter Carter who said at his initial meeting with the faculty of the Hoboken School District in September 2009 where he stated (paraphrasing)... "When you see me, don't talk to me" Safe to say, Mr. Carter probably had different characteristics as a school leader that differed significantly from these 4 characteristics and characteristics I tried to establish in the district (see below). One of Mr. Carter's characteristics may have led to a recent settlement by the School Board and one of its former principals (Dr. Lorraine Cella) on harassment issues. ( note: After having her school named "Second Most Improved High School in the State of New Jersey" by New Jersey Monthly and being recognized in successive years by US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT as a Bronze Medal Award Winner, Dr. Cella was informed she would likely not be retained for the 2010-2011 school year). 

Peter Carter, of course, was the unanimous selection of the Kids First Board Majority of the Hoboken Board of Education and he served as superintendent from September 2009 to the Spring of 2011- a period where the Hoboken School District experienced the beginning of its well documented decline in state rankings, school violence, student population decline, increase in "school choice" students from Jersey City, the elimination of Adult Education resident at Hoboken High School (adults now need to travel to all parts of Hudson County), drop in ranking in NJ Monthly and US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT, and increase in per pupil spending....culminating in the district being designated as a "district in need of improvement" by the New Jersey Department of Education in November of 2011. Leadership does matter.  -Dr. Petrosino 
The key to building relationships that will strengthen an educational leader's vision is being highly accessible and spending quality time talking and listening to teachers and support staff. This might seem like old news to veteran educators, but with email and social networking as the prevailing ways of communication, it is worth reminding leaders that there is no substitute for pressing the flesh.

Here are my four suggestions toward becoming a more effective leader.

1. Make the Rounds

Be a presence in schools each day. I make a point to start my morning in the hallways and then conduct my walks before the day gets ahead of me. Start the day in the office, and you're likely to end the day in the office (save for that weekly administration team meeting). An educational leader's work clock runs at least seven hours. How much time can one possibly spend in meetings and doing office paperwork? Just by cutting one to two hours out of my office day to spend a few minutes in each classroom and hallway of my small school district, I’ve learned more about the little (but often very important) things going on than I would have learned from email, phone calls or hearsay. Besides learning about the evolving culture of my schools, walking the hallways every day and being highly accessible has been key to showing everyone that I care about the school district at every level.

2. Open, Relaxed Conversation

Invite a school leader's cabinet to an early takeout dinner once per month. A conglomeration of parents and teachers sitting around Chinese food can lead to the same open, relaxed conversations we might have on the town soccer fields. A wonderful way to learn about what's really happening in the local community is to break bread (or egg rolls) in a casual setting on a regular basis.

3. Town Hall Accessibility

Hold vision town halls during which you share your short-, mid- and long-term goals in a conversation-style gathering. The meeting could be held in a classroom to set the context. You want to make it absolutely clear that your vision is all about children.

4. Establish a Satellite Office

I have a second, smaller office in another school district location. I took this cue from another American president, Woodrow Wilson, who heavily promoted a change in the way government operated by making frequent visits to Capitol Hill. He set up shop in the building's President's Room as often as three times per week to help him complete his work in the presence Congressional legislators. Wilson used the power of personality to engage the people on whom he depended to enact his proposals, and his satellite White House allowed for this engagement to happen naturally.

When I was the Assistant Superintendent of Schools in Hoboken I began nearly everyday at one of the 6 schools in the district. Often I was at the Wallace School yard, sometimes I was at Connors, other times at Hoboken High School. The idea was simply to be around and accessible. I would often talk to parents, teachers, administrators and sometimes students. I would also make it a point to visit at least 1 school a day. This was part of the way I tried to MAKE THE ROUNDS. As anyone who worked with me knows, I always tried to create an OPEN, RELAXED CONVERSATION and atmosphere. Whether it was with the Curriculum Committee, or my leadership cabinet, or meetings with parents and people from the community. To complement this relaxed atmosphere, I tried to have TOWN HALL ACCESSIBILITY. In part this was accomplished daily by my blog which gave a detailed account of what was going on in the district on a weekly and often a daily timeline. In addition, I would make numerous updates to the public at Board of Education meetings and I held a dozen "open forums" with parents and the community on issues related around curriculum, assessment, and special programs in the district. Finally, I made a SATELLITE OFFICE in Brandt School which served as a place for the district to do professional development, meet with parents, work on curriculum, and generally engage in the work of the district in a relaxed and less formal atmosphere. 

No comments: