by Paul D. HoustonTo be proactive and to broaden our leadership agenda, we must
recognize that the first and foremost mission of the public schools is
their civic mission. In these times of making education the foremost
instrument of the global economy while making public schools the
scapegoat for society’s lack of will to tackle the messy issues of race and
class, that mission has gotten lost. What would it take to recapture the
deepest reasons we have public schools? What would it take to confront
the issues of how we keep children whole and how we address the needs
of the whole child in an era in which children are being sliced and diced
into categories on standardized tests? What is the role of local districts,
of local control, when state and federal bureaucracies are making the
decisions and calling the dance? What are the implications of all this
for education and for democracy?
by Paul Kelleher & Rebecca van der BogertWe, the editors of this volume, are both long-time superintendents
of schools who have lived and enacted the role in recent years. Phil
Townsend is a fictional character, but his story is typical of what we
have heard from far too many of our colleagues across the country. We
empathize with those like Phil and agree that what it means to be the
leader of a local school system has changed dramatically and continues
to change in response to the changing times and contexts.
We intend this volume to provide hope that despite the daunting
challenges educational leaders like Phil face today, they have more to
look forward to than retirement.
by Paul Kelleher & Beverly HallOne of the findings that we found fascinating was the variety of sources of energy and the courage that kept our authors going when confronted with obstacles that might be insurmountable to many. As you read Beverly Hall’s story, you will feel the passion that she brings to her superintendency, passion that is fueled by her beliefs—belief in poor children’s ability to learn at high levels and belief in her staff that they can make it happen.
by Allan AlsonIn one of our conversations with Allan Alson, he shared his belief that superintendents need to be politicians before they can be educators. His story illustrates that political and educational leadership are inextricably linked, as he describes his 14-year focus on and commitment to narrowing the achievement gap while working tirelessly with his different constituents to bring them into the process.
by Paul Kelleher & Larry LeverettHearing from our different authors clarified for us that leadership styles are a combination of tacit beliefs, experience, and personal qualities as much as conscious decisions about approaches to work, and are as varied as people are. What emerges as a common factor contributing to success is authenticity—consistency of words with actions—that enables the development of trusting relationships. Larry Leverett tells his story of one leader with one leadership style who moves between two different school districts with very different cultures.
by Linda HansonSuperintendents often mourn the “good old days” when they were educators and did not need to worry about the managerial and political aspects of their districts. Linda Hanson shows how effective a superintendent can be in the role of educator as she and her reading staff help their school board understand the implications of a mandatory graduation test.
by Paul KelleherMost of us at some point in our career have to face the fact that we cannot control everything that happens in our district. As we mentioned in our introduction, we learn that even logical plans implemented skillfully can meet unexpected, uncontrollable obstacles. This can have serious consequences, from the lack of achievement for students to the loss of our jobs. Our anonymous contributor shares his courageous story of holding fast to what is best for children in the face of adversity, and ultimately having to make the decision whether to fight for his job or not. NSSE has never published an anonymous contribution before, but we agreed that “Juan’s” story was too valuable not to share.
by Rebecca van der BogertWe found the enactment of democratic ideals to be a common theme throughout all of our authors’ stories as they describe their work to transform their districts. Becky van der Bogert shares her joys, struggles, and lessons learned that surround a deep commitment to trying to model democratic ideals in her leadership style.
by Becky Blair Hurley When superintendents gather in private conversations, it is likely the question “What’s your board like?” will be raised. Becky Hurley speaks eloquently from a board member’s perspective about the steep learning curve that she experienced and how she developed a productive working relationship with her superintendent and with other board members.
by John R. WiensMost of us started our superintendency committed to keeping our eye on the higher purposes of education, vowing not to get bogged down in the managerial details. John Wiens shares his quest for an intellectual understanding of the role, a meaningful theory of leadership, and the creation of an environment that helped others pursue similar quests.
by Bena KallickBeing a superintendent is much like the new technology you purchase—the
manual is difficult to read and understand, the help line is
difficult to reach, and the consultation charge to learn from experts is
costly. It is a job that requires enormous flexibility, attention to multiple
perspectives, and an internal set of checks and balances to withstand the
pressures of external demands from a public that has, in many ways,
been distracted from the real purpose of a public education system.
by Barry JentzIn this book, school district leaders do an honest and credible job
of describing their struggles with external forces and the surprises,
disappointments, and puzzlements that naturally accompany those
struggles. In some stories, we also see an internal focus, leaders stepping
back to question “the entity”—the mind that engages the world—in an
effort to gain a clearer picture of their own behavior, its consequences,
and its antecedents. In other stories, however, leaders speak as if they
share an unspoken assumption that the superintendent mind is an entity,
stable and nonchanging, at once wise and considerate, if sometimes
frustrated and perplexed. These superintendents reveal little of their