School Leaders: Keeping the Job vs. Doing the Job
Historians are beginning to document the Bush (41) presidency. Many say President George H.W. Bush knew he was headed for a 1-term presidency due to some hard decisions he made in the best interest of our Nation at the expense of successful re-election. That is doing the job, not keeping the job.
My service as school superintendent in Jacksonville, FL (Duval County Public Schools) was shortened when I confronted the dysfunctional and corrupt behavior of two school board members. The school board voted to buy-out the remainder of my contract, and allowed the corruption to continue. The mayor and the business, civic, and philanthropy communities are strong and well-intentioned there, but could not counter-balance the toxic nature of that city’s school board. Part of doing the job in elected and appointed public service is ensuring the taxpayers are well-served, and at-least see that their tax funds and interests are not subject to the corruption of others. Again, doing the job vs. keeping the job.
For school leaders, and especially school superintendents, we must always help them think about the space between keeping the job and doing the job. For those doing what is needed in reform, we must protect them politically and culturally.
In our training of current and aspiring school superintendents as part of the SUPES Academy, we help them think about ways to keep these jobs long enough to do good work for kids and teachers. The more I do this work, the more I come to terms with the fragile state of far too many of our traditionally-operated public schools. The more I do in the charter school world, the more I learn the advantages of well-run charter school organizations. The dynamics of keeping the job vs. doing the job are lessened. The work of supporting teachers is much easier, and the role of families is heightened and enhanced. In a healthy school management organization, the adults-interest political dynamic is less of a burden.
While I do not think we can, should, or will ever convert all our public schools to charters-only, I do think that we must increase the share of charter schools, hold them more closely accountable for results, and lessen the stronghold of the traditional systems which more and more do not serve kids and teachers in the ways they need and deserve. There certainly are a few exceptions, where a well-prepared superintendent and a well-focused school board are in place, but these situations are becoming more rare than ever.