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Strong Schools Need Strong Leaders

Over the summer, the Wallace Foundation released a new study about the importance of school leadership. 

"In developing a starting point for this six-year study, we claimed, based on a preliminary review of research, that leadership is second only to classroom instruction as an influence on student learning," the authors write. "After six additional years of research, we are even more confident about this claim. To date we have not found a single case of a school improving its student achievement record in the absence of talented leadership."
Not surprisingly, schools are no different than any other organization: Strong leadership is critical to the organization's success.
New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has been saying just this for years. And he has backed up his words with actions -- he has empowered principals to lead their schools and held them accountable for the results. Dozens of principals who have not exercised the leadership necessary to transform their school have been relieved of their duties.
However, there is another side of the equation. Critics of the Chancellor often counter that, although principals are now told they are the "CEOs" of their schools, they do not receive the support and training they need to be successful. Let's remember that the vast majority of school principals begin their careers as teachers and then move into administration and leadership positions, becoming assistant principals and, then, principals. In a nutshell, they are trained as educators, not as leaders.
It's ironic, isn't it? Does any successful private sector company appoint a CEO who hasn't been groomed for the job? And once there, don't CEOs receive ongoing professional development and support?
School leaders are no different: They must be trained to be successful leaders. How to set a vision and strategic plan for their school. How to build morale among teachers, students, parents, and administrative staff in their school communities. How to empower and inspire every employee to perform to the best of his or her ability. This requires up-front training as well as ongoing professional development and coaching.
Increasingly, volunteers from the private sector are providing principals with this type of training and support -- and with great success. There's Jayun Kim, a former investment banker-turned-consultant who has helped principal Talana Bradley develop a seven-year strategic plan for her school -- a plan that is helping realize Bradley's goal of graduating 100 percent of the students in her all-girls school and sending them to college. There's Dave Barger, CEO of JetBlue, who helped his principal Monica George create a "culture of success" at her school. As a result, teacher attrition fell from 25 percent to 3 percent and academic performance skyrocketed. And there's Joe Profeta of EMC, who has invited Principal Mark Ossenheimer of the Urban Assembly School of Wildlife Conservation to his organization's management training lectures. Joe also coaches Mark on topics such as how to deliver bad news to staff and how to have difficult conversations.
Schools need great leadership. Businesses have great leaders. Bringing the two together benefits our students.

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