Monmouth County

Superintendents' Roundtable

  • More recently, research has emphasized the importance of school leadership in improving outcomes for a school and its students. But make no mistake: this is not the school leader as drill sergeant, or the charismatic leader whose skill-set is impossible to replicate. Instead, it is a school leader who is capable of transforming a school environment so that its students and teachers can flourish.

    It is important to keep in mind that while school leadership is essential, consistent, strong leadership at the district level must not be overlooked. While principals create conditions that encourage great teaching, superintendents can create conditions that allow principals to become even better leaders.

    In this way, superintendents can lay the groundwork for successful school leaders by setting a clear direction and tone, investing in professional development, setting up mentors for new principals, giving principals the authority to make key decisions and elevating the importance of academic achievement – sometimes even going so far as to making it a part of a principal’s evaluation. And while many states have adopted standards for principals, Delaware is leading the charge by working on statewide evaluation systems for its principals.

    One significant shift from the previous way of doing things is that principals, particularly at the elementary school level, are expected to be instructional leaders – meaning they must be skilled at making all of their teachers better educators. And while the concept has been around for quite some time, it’s now a key element of the job description.

    But how can one person have such a huge impact?

    A 2009 study by New Leaders for New Schools found that more than half of a school’s impact on student gains can be attributed to both principal and teacher effectiveness – with principals accounting for 25 percent and teachers 33 percent of the effect.

    The report noted that schools making significant progress are often led by a principal whose role has been radically re-imagined. Not only is the principal attuned to classroom learning, but he or she is also able to create a climate of hard work and success while managing the vital human-capital pipeline.

    Getting from here to there isn’t about magic or one-size-fits-all solutions. According to Michael Fullan, author of Leading in a Culture of Change, leadership can take on many different forms in school turnarounds. While some leaders opt for transformational leadership or turning good organizations into great ones, other personalities are better suited for distributive leadership, or the sharing of responsibility among a few people such as an assistant principal or outstanding teacher.

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