How our leadership academies are creating better school principals

The city of Syracuse’s public educational system, and its long-term economic health, are nearing a tipping point. According to a recent study by the Century Foundation, Syracuse has the highest rate of extreme poverty concentrated among blacks and Hispanics of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas.

Like many other urban school systems, Syracuse City School District (SCSD), where I serve as chief academic officer, has faced a number of challenges: Retaining teachers past their third year of teaching, too many competing initiatives that were unaligned to larger goals, and—most pressing—low academic performance among disadvantaged students.

A couple years ago, we took a fresh look into what it would take to move the needle on these enormous challenges. The research was clear: the largest non-classroom-based impact on student achievement as well as teacher retention is the effectiveness of building principals. We also recognized that school leadership is quite possibly the most difficult job to do well. We knew we had to make a substantial and systemic investment in our principals if we were going to make progress.…Read More

New book illustrates the 5 most important leadership skills

Leaders aren’t just principals, CEOs, and presidents, a new book asserts, but rather people from all walks of life benefit from leadership skills and training. That’s especially true in education where everyone from parents to teachers to students are often called upon to serve in leadership roles. But what does that entail?

The book, Life Lessons in Leadership: The Way of the Wallaby, uses a literary style similar to Spenser Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese? to illustrate real-world lessons through the stories of engaging fictional characters. Co-authored by ed-tech pro Ann McMullan — formerly the executive director for educational technology at Klein ISD in Texas — and journalist Michael Barrett, the educational and entertaining self-help book teaches essential personal leadership skills through a clever combination of literary text targeted to adult leaders, combined with captivating, childlike stories.

Each of the book’s five short chapters focuses on an essential leadership skill and begins with McMullan’s lessons, written in prose, describing the importance of that skill. As the book flows from one chapter to another, McMullan demonstrates how each leadership skill builds on the others and how all are critical to the success of any leader.…Read More

A one-to-one program done slowly—and right

Superintendent Steven Webb’s successful one-to-one rollout could serve as a roadmap for districts


Dr. Steven Webb’s rise as a visionary leader in K-12 education is as much a credit to his listening skills as it is to his leadership skills. Before the board of Vancouver Public Schools adopted the strategic plan for the district’s digital transformation in 2008, they did extensive public outreach to ensure that every community in the district had an opportunity to be heard. “What’s happening at our district isn’t my vision,” remarks Webb. “It isn’t the board’s vision. It’s the community’s vision for their children.”

It makes sense. If your district’s digital transformation supports a scalable personalized learning initiative, how personalized can it be if it’s a top-down, one-size-fits-all plan that doesn’t take into account the specific needs of the community?

The district collected more than 2,000 separate sets of input from a variety of different engagement strategies, including focus groups with targeted audiences, such as parents and students in unique populations they might not have heard from otherwise.…Read More

Take this self-assessment and discover your tech readiness

Learn how to assess your team’s readiness and make the leap to digital reality

self-assessment-cosnOne of my aspirational resolutions for 2015 is that we can move the conversation in most school districts from the “why” of making a digital leap to the “how.” While some school systems are already powerfully integrating technology into their pedagogy, it is time to scale up the power of digital tools to transform the learning beyond a few showcase classrooms and cutting edge teachers. It’s time for leaders—superintendents, heads of curriculum and technology—to move beyond the rhetoric of the potential of technology and focus on their role in making the change happen.

In particular, leaders need to focus on how we can use digital tools and resources—especially within constrained budgets—that create systemic learning transformation. This requires careful thought, planning, and communication to all stakeholders involved. And, if we have learned anything about successful transitions, there is not one simple or single approach that works everywhere.

Whether your district has taken the “digital leap” or is only in the early planning stages of making technology a key component of learning, your district leadership team must assess and enhance their readiness. With different roles, responsibilities and levels of experience, this type of team assessment takes work and careful thought.…Read More

A college readiness tool that every district should use

The National Student Clearinghouse’s StudentTracker is an invaluable service that can help districts better prepare their students for college success.

college-readinessThe National Student Clearinghouse is a nonprofit organization founded in 1993 by the higher-education community to track students who received loans to help pay for college tuition. Graduate schools provide enrollment information, while the NSC verifies to lenders that students are taking the necessary course work.

Since expanding its services, the NSC currently holds records for more than 137 million students and 3,500 institutions of higher education, covering 98 percent of the current enrollment in both public and private colleges and universities. Today, the NSC continues to provide enrollment, diploma verification, and transcript services to students, lenders, and employers.

I first became aware of the NSC several years ago when Rick Torres, its chief executive officer, approached me about StudentTracker for High Schools, a new service his organization was offering. Through this service, the NSC provides U.S. high schools with the most accurate data regarding their graduates who have enrolled in college.…Read More

Time to focus on the real education problem: Poverty

Closing achievement gaps is only possible by focusing on funding equity, early childhood education, and providing the wraparound programs that will allow high-poverty students to get a high-quality education.

“It’s time to acknowledge that poverty is the biggest culprit hindering our ability to provide the best education for our students,” Domenech writes.

“Learning Leadership” column, November/December 2013 edition of eSchool News—Many Americans believe public schools are failing our students. Public officials, the media, and investors seeking to cash in on the billions of dollars supporting education by privatizing schools often reinforce this opinion. This opinion is wrong.

Substantial evidence illustrates public schools are doing better than ever. The dropout rate is at an all-time low. Conversely, the high school graduation rate is the highest it’s been in decades.

Unfortunately, we have dysfunctional schools where students’ needs are going unmet. These schools are capturing the public eye, causing observers to ask, “How could they exist in the richest and most powerful country in the world?” The predominant populations attending these schools are children of poverty, and in most cases, ethnic minorities. This isn’t an educational problem. It’s a problem within our society.…Read More

Why we need a new education law—and why ed tech should play a role

The reauthorization effort will re-establish a democratic process that will allow those in the field to weigh in with suggestions that might put us back on the road to true education reform.

“Learning Leadership” column, July/August 2013 edition of eSchool NewsThe reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act has eluded Congress for too long. Without Congressional action, the current administration has seized the moment and used regulatory fiat to implement its policies. But many of us feel that the policies being implemented lack counsel from the educators in the trenches.

The voices of teachers, principals, superintendents, and board members go unheeded, and we are on the verge of causing serious harm to an educational system weighed down by federal rules and regulations. The reauthorization effort will re-establish a democratic process that will allow those in the field once again to weigh in with suggestions that might put us back on the road to true education reform.

Unfortunately, bipartisan conversations are not happening, and we have been subject to both parties in both chambers creating their own bills [see story]. Nevertheless, superintendents are encouraged by the fact that there is more agreement than disagreement. For example, the 2011 bill that emerged from the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee shifted responsibility for educational accountability from the federal government back to the state and local levels. A similar approach can be seen in the bill crafted by House Republicans.…Read More

Why our current obsession with high-stakes testing is wrong

“We have seen how an increasingly test-obsessed public has led our school systems to narrow their curricula, diminishing attention to many of our important public education goals to devote inordinate attention to test preparation,” Domenech writes.

“Learning Leadership” column, June 2013 edition of eSchool News—The members of AASA, The School Superintendents Association, are committed to guaranteeing to every American child a public education that develops his or her achievement in each of the areas that traditionally have been goals of American schools. First and foremost, our schools should promote good citizenship, including the habit and practice of participation in civic life by voting—as well as by contributing to community well-being in voluntary association with fellow citizens.

High achievement includes the organizational and collaborative skills needed to participate effectively in our democracy and practice in the nonviolent resolution of conflict. It depends on familiarity with public issues, a commitment to address them with reason and from consideration of evidence, and the ability to learn from our community’s, nation’s, and world’s historical experience. It includes commitment to our shared public values, such as equal opportunity, respect for others, fairness, compassion, and Americans’ guaranteed constitutional rights.

Productivity is another goal. This includes the ability to contribute to one’s own and to the community’s economic well-being. High achievement includes the ability to think creatively and work collaboratively from a foundation of academic mastery. It includes the appropriate use of technology, as well as self-discipline, responsibility, punctuality, and other work habits appropriate to occupational success.…Read More

Three key takeaways from this year’s National Conference on Education

We were exposed to three great presenters who challenged us to consider the value of great leadership in our schools, valid and reliable assessments of our students and teachers, and the creative and entrepreneurial elements of our public education system.

Learning Leadership column, April 2013 edition of eSchool NewsThis year’s National Conference on Education, from the American Association of School Administrators (AASA), was held in Los Angeles in February. More than 2,500 superintendents and other K-12 administrators attended the event. The general sessions featured three notable presenters who focused on the transformational theme that prevailed throughout the conference.

Leadership in our schools is recognized as essential to high-quality education. Best-selling author Jim Collins has focused on the world of business in “Good to Great” and “Great by Choice”—but prior to his session at the conference, we spent an hour on the phone going over the issues affecting education today. His remarks zeroed in on leadership at the school level, particularly the role of the K-12 principal. His thinking is that the theories he advances in his books apply to school leaders as much as they do to the titans of industry [see story here].

Superintendents will agree with Collins that the right principal can make all the difference in turning around a troubled school or maintaining a high level of performance in an already successful program. Collins spoke about an Arizona study that focused on two schools with similar demographics, but one school excelled academically while the other one did not. The study revealed that the difference was not extraneous variables such as funding, parental involvement, or class size. The difference was the principal.…Read More

Coming soon: A national superintendent certification program

Managing the enterprise can be a challenge to a superintendent who has no business experience.

Learning Leadership column, Feb. 2013 edition of eSchool News—The American Association of School Administrators is about to reinvent itself.

Founded in 1865, the year when the Civil War came to an end and Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, it is one of the oldest education associations in our nation. In 2015, we will be celebrating our 15oth anniversary.

AASA enjoys a proud heritage, but recent surveys of our members indicate that the association has to refocus in order to better serve our 21st-century system leaders. To begin with, the association’s name does not clearly define whom it is intended to serve.…Read More