The leadership provided by the board/superintendent team (each working within their respective roles) can bring long and short-range strategic plans to life, enhance the focus and motivation of the administration and staff, and provide an emphasis on student achievement.
Often when we think of leadership, the term charisma or the image of a legendary hero comes to mind, so it is important to demystify the concept of leadership by looking at its three major components and recognizing that it is within grasp.
1. Vision. In planning strategically for both immediate and long-range improvement, vision is a source from which goals and objectives are derived. It is in the synthesis and formulation of a student achievement vision that leadership plays its most important role. Together, the board and superintendent have the task of creating a district student achievement vision based upon feedback from their community-engagement efforts, data about the school system, forecasts of future challenges and alternatives available within the community. To do this, the team members must not only call upon planning processes and models, but also upon their own expertise, insights, and instincts. Leadership is not just responding to pubic opinion or data; it is analyzing and interpreting it and bringing past experiences and acquired knowledge to bear. Applying leadership to information means looking at a variety of data but using common sense and experience to understand it. It is important to remember that statistics often are but numerical representations of people–students, their parents, teachers and other employees. However, their mind-sets, thoughts and emotions, and individual goals may or may not be reflected in those data. The role of the board and superintendent team is to integrate their knowledge of the people with in the community into their understanding of the data and to articulate a vision for the district that represents what and how students within that school system are to learn.
2. Beliefs and Communication. Leaders believe in the district's vision. The board and superintendent team that believes students can succeed, that students and learning come first, and that the contributions of staff members are critical to the success of schools, will be more effective than a team that articulates these ideas in its vision but does not truly believe them. Leaders also communicate their beliefs. The effectiveness of communication is enhanced if beliefs are expressed in terms that connect with the aspirations of others and the message is concise and consistent. For these reasons, good leaders are often good storytellers. They use stories to illustrate the ideas they are trying to communicate. Communication also means listening. Listening not only adds to the perception and understanding of leaders, it is a highly effective way of communicating to others that the listener believes that they have value. Why trust or believe in someone who will not listen or appears not to care?
3. Leading by Example. Leadership does not follow automatically from a position of authority. Leaders who do not have some degree of authenticity may soon find their effectiveness diminished. Authenticity can include a variety of traits–honesty, integrity, the ability to stand up to controversy, and the ability to serve as a role model to others. The list of traits is not as important as the implications of authenticity. Authenticity implies leading by example. A board and superintendent team that promotes continual learning for staff should apply the same standards to themselves.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of leadership elements, but merely to outline the major components of leadership. This section was also included to remind us that leadership is not only about intellectual activities. Leadership is an intensely human activity, closely linked to people's expectations and hopes.
The public has every right to have high expectations for its schools and to hold the school board and superintendent accountable for student achievement. However, the public should realize that there are no quick fixes and should ask to see proof of systemic and systematic efforts to improve performance. It is the job of the board/superintendent team to systematically identify areas needing improvement, to develop strategies for bring about improved performance and building support for those solutions within the community and school system.
The Key Work of School Leaders
The strategic planning and leadership elements discussed above in many ways are reflected in the National School Boards Association's Key Work of School Boards. Keeping in mind the respective roles of the board and superintendent, the Key Work of School Boards can easily be expanded to the key work of the board and superintendent team.
The eight key areas that guide the leadership team in focusing on higher student achievement are the following:
- Vision–the ultimate goal that student achievement is the top priority not only in the school district but also in the community.
- Standards–what students are expected to know and be able to do at critical points in their school careers. Some districts set their own standards; some districts operate with only state standards.
- Assessment–ongoing measures to gauge student progress toward standards.
- Accountability–examining, reporting, and analyzing responsibility for progress toward standards.
- Alignment–coordinating all resources to ensure student achievement.
- Climate–the quality of relationships and attitudes among staff, students, and parents regarding the operation of the school and its programs.
- Collaboration–building support with all stakeholders, with special emphasis on business and political leaders in the community, so that high levels of student achievement are commonly understood and become a community-wide priority.
- Continuous improvement–using data to assess progress toward standards and to make necessary changes in the instructional program and school operations to help students meet standards.
The Board's Role in Planning for Student Achievement: An Overview
The board that is focused on raising student achievement concentrates principally on the following actions:
- Embracing both privately and publicly a united belief that all children can learn and achieve at higher levels.
- Ensuring involvement of a broad base of stakeholders in creating the vision for the community's schools and supporting the vision both publicly and through board decisions.
- Committing to training so that all board members have a better understanding of both the importance and the operations of the eight key areas critical to improving student achievement.
- Approving comprehensive plans developed by the system's administrative staff to move the students in the district to higher achievement levels.
- Adopting policies needed to support improvement initiatives.
- Allocating funding for and alignment of the resources needed to advance student achievement. These resources include, but are not limited to, school facilities, technology, staffing, staff development, instructional materials, and assessment instruments.
- Monitoring progress toward district goals and supporting the superintendent in efforts to make changes aimed at improved system performance.
- Ensuring clear, concise, and easily understood communications about all facets of the district's emphasis on higher student achievement.
- Serving as the advocate for building community support for student achievement as a priority with a variety of groups, including public officials, parents, media, and business and community leaders.
As lay people, board members rely on the superintendent to present information on student achievement and its complexities in language that is understandable to them and to the public. The superintendent's information is crucial in building trust among the leadership team and with the community–a trust that is necessary to make progress for all students.
A good school board does not run the district; rather, it ensures that the district is run well.
The Superintendent's Role in Planning for Student Achievement: An Overview
The superintendent, as the chief executive officer, assumes responsibilities that are much more specific than those of the board. The superintendent's professional training and experience are prerequisites for leading and ensuring effective management of the school district, often the biggest employer with the largest budget in a community.
The superintendent, as part of the team, is expected to direct the following areas of responsibility:
- Leading strategic planning initiatives, collaborative efforts with the community, change initiatives, and training for the board on various aspects of improving student achievement.
- Modeling, through words and actions, support for district initiatives related to raising student achievement and expecting the same behavior from staff and board.
- Implementing board decisions, such as those related to policies, budget, communications, and personnel allocations.
- Developing plans in all areas related to student achievement, including budget, staffing, alignment of resources, assessment, staff development, and communication.
- Informing the board, staff and community of recommendations, action, progress, adjustments, and challenges related to curriculum, instruction, assessment, standards, and other components of student achievement.
- Recommending actions to the board based on best practices, data, staff and community input, board policy, available resources, and compliance with current law.
- Monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of programs, staff; budget, standards, policy; communications, and other appropriate areas.
- Advocating to all stakeholders the importance of student achievement as the community's number one priority.
- Ensuring that change initiatives on raising student achievement are occurring at all levels throughout the district.
- Analyzing the need for new initiatives and changes to existing initiatives based on data from program evaluations and student assessments.