Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Stop waiting for Superman?

You don't know if school transformation has taken root until the third principal.

That's one of the intriguing statements Eric Guckian,  executive director of Charlotte's New Leaders office,  tossed out when he filled me in on the group's latest thinking.  He was quoting Jennifer Henry from the national office,  and the comment represents a shift in strategy for a group that was founded to recruit principals for urban schools.

We all know the  "heroic principal"  scenario, which is a staple of the reform movement:  A charismatic leader charges in to turn around a failing school.  Sometimes that person founders quickly and quietly departs.  But sometimes,  when all goes well,  that leader energizes the staff,  inspires the students and creates a  "beat the odds"  school.

Then,  inevitably,  the successful leader is promoted or moves on to a new job outside the system.  And almost as inevitably,  the school slips back toward mediocrity or worse.

That's why Guckian says his group is shifting from what he calls  "the insurgent model"  --  an individual jumping in to shake up the school  --  to an approach based on  "flooding the zone" with a team of like-minded leaders committed to a long-term change. The Emerging Leaders program offers two years of leadership preparation for teachers who may go on to become principal interns,  academic facilitators or informal school leaders,  part of a school team designed to carry on a vision even if the principal departs.  Developing talent from within is now emphasized over finding stars from outside.

"We believe that the unit of change is the school,"  Guckian said.

Principals remain important to New Leaders' work with Project LIFT and other high-poverty Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. But there's a growing acknowledgement that they can't do the work alone,  and that life-changing results don't come quickly.

CMS features prominently in a recent Wallace Foundation report on cultivating the kind of principals that urban schools need.  Much of the report reinforces the notion that there's more to the task than hiring an outstanding individual.  It outlines efforts in CMS and elsewhere to evaluate, coach and support principals.

"In successful schools, leadership and authority don’t reside in any single person or position," the report concludes.  "The most enduring improvements occur through the consistent, shared exercise
of leadership by many in the school community and the district central office."

But the Wallace Foundation report also uses bad information to support the "principal as savior" model,  citing an article that CMS Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark wrote on the CMS strategic staffing plan for the August School Administrator journal  --  a cover story illustrated by an image of principals literally parachuting in to save schools.  The Wallace report quotes Clark on the importance of a great leader,  and sums up strategic staffing: "The results so far: Nearly all 24 of the participating schools have been successfully turned around, with single-year state test scores up as much as 20 points."

It's just not true to say all,  or even most,  strategic staffing schools have been successfully transformed by the principals then-Superintendent Peter Gorman brought in for three-year turnaround efforts.  As I reported in August,  actual results are mixed and often discouraging.  Early gains have  proven tough to sustain,  especially after principals move on.

Three years seemed like a long time to wait when Gorman rolled out strategic staffing.  Now that he has left CMS and most of the original principals have moved on,  it's starting to look like the "three principals" standard might be the real test.


Anonymous said...

"In successful schools, leadership and authority don’t reside in any single person or position," the report concludes. "The most enduring improvements occur through the consistent, shared exercise
of leadership by many in the school community and the district central office."

umm wait. I thought in order for low performing schools to be successful you need unlimited buckets of money, do-gooder philanthropists, TFA teachers with little to no experience and huge bonuses for "quality teachers" who are supposed to swoop in and save the day?

Again with the LIFT comparison. LIFT is an anomaly. Nothing more.

Anonymous said...

Terrific, the old way didn't work so let's change it to acknowledge our program didn't quite provide the "New Leaders?" The "New Leaders" might have saved face had they asked some of the purged former CMS principals around the country why anyone would want to "lead" in this system.

Jeff Wise said...

Sounds like the one-approach-fits-all-schools leadership and staffing idea is not overly effective.

Who would've thought that?

Anonymous said...

How much to we pay new leaders to stick around..I mean, how much could we save by eliminating them?

dsciencegy said...

Many leaders have been and continue to be in every school in the state, teachers. Teachers are expected to "lead" in the classroom. Why not the school as well? Groups of teachers could take the school where it needs to go especially since teachers remain at the school for years. Most "teachers" who become administrators make the change because of money and they could not handle the "leadership" in the classroom (note the word "most", not all). This would never fly because we have too many people making too much money who are not in the classroom.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but it still begins and ends at the home and with the family.

And no amount of money will change that, unless you are willing to take the children away and get them a new family.

And even that might not work.

Maybe it's like that cure for AIDS.

You have to intervene heavily right after birth.

Anonymous said...

What a disgusting comment to mention the AIDS epidemic here or refer to it in that way. Typical republican.

Anonymous said...

The best thing a principal can do to ensure success is to support, back, and help the TEACHERS. It's not rocket science.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Let's take a deep breath before this turns into a Republican/Democrat spitting match. You could argue that 11:31 a.m. is quick to dismiss families who may be trying their best in difficult circumstances. But the AIDS reference is not gratuitous; if you've been reading the latest news about the cured baby, it's a pretty good analogy if you're making a case for rapid and intense intervention.

Matt M said...

How Dare those Republicans cure AIDS!

Anonymous said...

Definition of insanity is to repeat an action over and over again and expect a different result. Want to make a school better? Then digest this quote "consequences dictate behavior". If consequences are harsh enough then bad behavior will lessen. Classroom management will improve and the teacher/students who are interested in making the school better will be able too.

As long as we go soft on discipline and allow grown men and women into schools (there are 20 year old's in our schools who are not classified as EC) expect to have more and more problems.

Missouri said...

Go back and look at these big turnarounds like Joe Clark and others. Two things have to happen. One, ineffective teachers are either dismissed or rejuvenated. But two, more importantly, the deadweight students are dismissed and the learning environment is greatly improved for those students who desire an education.

But one previous poster is correct. We must turn this school system over on its head. All other school personnel must understand their mission is to ensure the teacher is successful. As we all understand, the effective teacher is the answer. Gorman threw a wet blanket on that that CMS has not recovered from. Morrison has thrown most of the teachers under the bus again because of their skin color to pander to the NAACP.

Anonymous said...

the effective teacher is the answer

The vast majority of teachers are effective.

Ineffective parents produce ineffective students. That's where we are today and government is trying to take over being the parent.

Anonymous said...

Government is trying to punish teachers for the lack of parenting by PARENTS.

Ettolrahc said...

When they start trying to get you to help them decide just how much of the lake to drain so everyone can swim, be very wary.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:11pm

Sorry. I'm not a Republican.

I voted for Obama his first term.

But not the second, so I guess I'm a slow-learning Independent.

But I keep up with current affairs...

Missouri said...

1:30, most teachers are effective. But they are swimming against the current. More teachers could be effective and the effective teachers could be super if we could get the feds out of society. You do that by fully auditing the FRL applications so the feds cut you off, then you can work to get the finances back in balance and do locally provide FRL to those that truly qualify. But more importantly, you also relieve yourself of the financial burden of spending 2 dollars for every 1 dollar you get from the feds for compliance. This cuts back the ivory tower and Heath's slush fund that he keeps funding consultants, etc. to build his marketability for his next job.

Anonymous said...

We need a dose of "cultural competency'.

Anonymous said...


The problem with public education is not funding nor is it teachers.

It is bad policy, self-aggrandizing educrats, continued enabling of bad parenting by government and placating certain segments of society and groups.

That's it in a nutshell and is indisputable.

Shamash said...

Went to their website.

Read a little of their stuff.

Saw this:

"Adult leadership: Motivating a team to believe in college success for all students ... BS, BS, BS"



And just plain wrong again.

A LOT of these kids are NOT college material no matter what you "motivate" a team to "believe".

(Not even a really bad college or one of those strictly-in-it-for-the-money matchbook-cover colleges.)

Many of the students aren't really high school material, either.

Anyone who thinks so is seriously deluded.

But this sounds perfect for "leaders" at CMS.

WHEN AND WHERE did we EVER get the idea that all kids should go to college?

Can someone explain that to me?

Are the colleges THAT dumbed-down today?

Anonymous said...

Cultural Competency

By Morrison and consultants definition the African could not teach the Jew with results beacause of the years of enslavement (Old Testament).


Jim said...

Virtually anyone can facilitate the learning of someone who is hungry for education. . .no one can inject learning into someone who has contempt for education.

Anonymous said...

Shazam! 8:10.
You've just described the new NC legislature(plus the old one and the previous ones) By the way, for the soon to be poster, there is no union in NC.

Anonymous said...

Approximately 30% of college students drop out by the end of their freshman year. 50% never finish.

I believe UNC-Wilmington has the highest drop out rate in the UNC system.

This being said, I'm glad to live in a country where everyone has a shot at a college degree. On average, college graduates make more money and have more career opportunities then non-college graduates - even those with liberal arts degrees similar to our
fine Governor. And the last time I checked, Catawba College isn't exactly ranked in the same category as Yale.


Anonymous said...


UNC-CH $22,340

Catawba College $36,230

Anonymous said...

Suburb school spending $4000 PP

Westside school spending $12000 PP

Doesnt mean a damn thing and doesnt produce better results

Anonymous said...

What we actually have is cultural complacency.

Anonymous said...

6:46: You have hit the nail on the head!

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:46

Well, we need to be careful.

China is on a comeback.

They want to be the largest economy in the world, as they once were.

Anonymous said...


Cultural Complacency. I like it.

When I first moved to Charlotte over 20 years ago, I thought the city was a cultural wasteland. I really did. However, I think it would be hard for anyone to dispute the phenomenal strides our city has made in promoting the arts and other cultural venues over the past two decades. The amount of things to do and see in Charlotte of real educational value is really quite astounding especially when you consider the lack of things that were initially here. I'm still not sure where the NASCAR Hall of Fame fits in but I know Elon University ($37,000) offers a 3 credit course on the subject. This is why I think CMS should prioritize student access to all of Charlotte's cultural offerings (museums, libraries, performing arts, etc.) over the hiring of a California race expert with a questionable agenda.

ART for Cultural Competency.