School leaders, talking about leadership
Around 250 people gathered Monday night in the swanky Corinthian Room at the Tremont Grand Hotel to hear Andres Alonso, John Deasy and Nancy Grasmick talk about school leadership. The panel was organized by New Leaders for New Schools, a principal training program that's holding its national conference in Baltimore this week (with many of the participants from Baltimore and Prince George's County). A selection of the panelists' comments:
Deasy (the Prince George's superintendent): Called the principalship the "lonliest and most powerful position" in public education. He said great principals are "on the verge of insubordination" and "willing to make public acts of courage" on behalf of kids. Said principals must use the expertise on their faculty to educate themselves and build a team. But, firing ineffective teachers is "exactly part of the job." He asks his principals about their teachers: "Who are the bottom five percent and why are you keeping them? Who are the top five percent and what are you doing to keep them?" Said his job is to get out of the way of principals whose schools are performing well, but to give less autonomy to principals where students are not achieving.
Alonso (the city's new schools CEO): Echoed Deasy's call for insubordination. "It can't be about the rules," he said. "It has to be about pushing through the rules for the benefit of student achievement." Said the principalship is an intellectual, spiritual and emotional enterprise, but "good principals have great common sense... It's easy to see how often people lack common sense." Said school districts often fail principals by leaving them to sink or swim. He supports giving principals the authority to get rid of ineffective teachers -- but not simply to transfer them elsewhere. "The dance of lemons is taking place is many, many urban schools in the country," he said. But once teachers have tenure, it's "extraordinarily difficult" to get rid of them, and where he came from in New York City, the number of teachers denied tenure is "extraordinarily small." Disagreed with Deasy on the autonomy issue, saying that principals should all get autonomy and then be held accountable for the results, once clear metrics are established. In Baltimore, he said, "we will move toward autonomy when we're ready. We're not ready now."
Grasmick (the state superintendent): Said no other position in education is transforming like the principalship, and retaining good principals is one of the biggest problems in education. There must be a recognition that principals don't enter their jobs with all the requisite skills. "We've done a poor job of providing requisite skills for principals in higher education," she said.