The best administrators I’ve seen in my career all have a burning desire to succeed, and they relish a new challenge. The need for a strong and motivated leader is nowhere more evident than in a Title 1 school.
Often, district administrators do a disservice by placing the newest teachers and leaders in a Title 1 school to gain experience before moving them to other schools in a district. This can create a revolving door mentality, where people just “do their time” before moving somewhere else in the school system.
While there is a need for strong, stable leadership at all levels of school administration, many times “stable” becomes “complacent.” Some school leaders can get so ingrained in a position that they are blind to the external and internal factors that impact a school community.
This stagnation is just as detrimental to a school as the revolving door mentality, and both lead to a dip in performance and school morale.
Put staff where they have greatest impact
Recently I decided to readjust the school leadership in Anderson School District Five, located in upstate South Carolina. Like many districts across the nation, we are a somewhat fractured district where many of our schools serve students in great poverty, and others serve a more affluent population.
Nine of our 23 schools will have a new principal next year, including four of our Title 1 elementary schools. While this may look like an example of the revolving door method previously mentioned, it is in fact a coordinated effort to put people in the place where they can have the greatest impact.
For example, our most experienced principal will be leaving his current role to take on the challenge of leading the second-highest poverty primary school in the state of South Carolina. A veteran educator with a wealth of leadership experience, his interpersonal skills are critical for the success of our neediest school.
We have also created a new role for one of our most successful Title 1 principals: director of elementary instructional support.
This role will allow her to visit all of the Title I elementaries in our district and supplement the efforts of each leadership team when it comes to professional development and the strategic use of data to improve instruction. She will lead a small team of veteran educators whose sole goal is to help teachers help students.
In addition to moving principals, I also decided to move many of our assistant principals. I believe that good assistant principals aspire to be principals one day, and the best way to develop their talents is to provide them with varying experiences under multiple leadership styles.
I am impressed by those who show a desire to learn and develop their leadership styles in a variety of different schools, and who have the desire to chase opportunity, even if that opportunity is outside of our district.
Two administrators hired during our reorganization were former employees who took an opportunity outside our district in the past, gained experience, and returned ready to lead in a challenging environment.
The driving force
Any time an adjustment of this magnitude is made there will be critics, but school leaders are doing a disservice to their students if they don’t take any and all actions to improve instruction. Effective leadership is not mandating sweeping changes, but encouraging others to step beyond their comfort zone and accept challenges.
Sometimes the role of a superintendent is convincing your school leadership that they are capable of extraordinary feats, and to help them become the driving force needed for school improvement. I encourage all educational leaders to look at the strengths and weaknesses of your building leadership.
While making these types of decisions is not easy, we all have a duty to improve our schools each and every day.
Thomas A. Wilson is superintendent of Anderson School District Five in South Carolina.