Illinois Superintendents Preparation Academy studies school budgets and cost savings best practices

We have recently completed 3 of the 4 sessions with our Academy Fellows in ISPA.   serving as lead faculty member and coordinating the studies of our Academy Fellows has been very rewarding.  I continue to marvel at the ironies of our work–and the passions exhibited by school leaders ready to step up to bigger challenges for kids and educators.   Two key take-aways from this month’s sessions with our Fellows are as follows:

1.  It appears that school systems across our Nation are beginning to wrestle with ways in which budgets can better serve students and schools. District 300 in Illinois, for example through the leadership of Michael Bregy and his school board are using their Educational Program Review Technique (EPRT) to study with their educational leaders and communities, the ROI (return on investment) of many budget line items to determine how they can work toward their goals for kids and reduce costs. Michael’s presentation to our cohort members was instructive, engaging, and inspiring.

2. Cedric Lewis, CFO for Rockford IL Schools presented to our classes his techniques for supporting his superintendent and school board members in building community support for the tough budget decisions ahead, and how to best protect their classrooms from the imminent and dire cuts to come.

I am struck by how well, we as educators can solve these severe financial circumstances with which we are faced.  At the same time, it is disappointing that in far too many places we do not do a better job of building political will and strong financial navigational practices in less-dire, and good economic times.

When confronted with perpetual financial challenges in the Christina School District (Wilmington, DE) starting with notice a few days before starting my new position that there was a chance the district would not make its summer payroll–it was easy to build political and community support to do what it took to stabilize finances there.  After we solved the immediate crisis and the pressure was then less dire, it was much more difficult to get state leaders and local community members to do what it took to fix the funding formulas and other financial practices to help ensure no other catastrophes would not later emerge.

If we care about our school kids, and we care about our schools, we will learn to effectively navigate finances, and particularly in managing budgets and EXPENDITURES in good-and in bad-times. It takes political will and courageous leadership from superintendents, school boards, and key staff.


Waiting for Superman and the Status Quo

It has been amazing to me how many of my colleagues and friends are conflicted over Waiting for Superman. These colleagues and friends mind you are mostly sincere, smart, and authentic about the work we do and need to do to improve the success rates in all our schools for all kids. Some cannot reconcile their own thoughts and assessments with the messages in the documentary. Others flat-out refuse to see the movie.

While I would agree that the documentary is a bit off-balance. for example, it highlights–too much–the problems with teachers unions. There are problems caused by the unions. They do not even begin to highlight the problems often caused by superintendents and schools boards. These groups, too, are part of the current-day problem. Lets be honest–we are ALL a part of the problem. We can all be part of the solution.

To become real parts of the solutions is to abandon the status quo.   We must finally abandon the adult-interests so that real student needs and interests will be addressed.

I can understand controversy over the viewing of Waiting for Superman. For the life of me I remain puzzled over the desperate grip so many hold to the status quo.

In my work training and developing new superintendent-hopefuls with the Illinois Superintendents Preparation Academy, I do see signs of hope.  I see hope that we can abandon the status quo in order to finally create what works for all kids in every school everyday.

One of my own mentors (Linton Deck) told me many years ago–If you haven’t been fired from one of these jobs you probably haven’t done anything worthwhile for kids. At the time it seemed harsh. Now it seems more true that ever.

Are you breaking ranks from status quo in your work? Kids are relying on it.


Departing Superintendents and Student Achievement

Ron Huberman will depart Chicago Public Schools later this month, Chancellors Rhee and Klein have recently departed DC and NYC.  Pittsburgh lost Superintendent Roosevelt, the Wake County NC school board is closer to announcing finalists for their top educator position.  The list of departing school superintendents goes on and on.  It always will.  It becomes fodder for rumor, power grabbing, and letting-up on the work for kids and supports for teachers.  It becomes a time for relaxed focus.  It must not if kids are really the most important priority of schools and school systems.

When I knew that I would be departing the superintendent position in Duval County FL, I also knew that I could no longer try to finesse resolution to multiple ethical issues on the parts on two of the school board members.  My departure was imminent, despite a very supportive business community, wonderfully supportive parent groups, terrific school principals, and partners in the employee unions and a small supportive minority of the school board for what was right.  They all knew right from wrong and knew my departure would likely facilitate the lack of honor and the corruption to continue.

The most important issue for me during that transition was to ensure that the work for kids, the positive movement on academic and business results of the school district continued, after my departure.  During my final days, I worked behind the scenes to help the school board (yes even those who had become adversarial) position my deputy for interim (and later permanent) succession.  He turned out the be the best choice for continuing our work–especially those positive changes that took the most organizational, and political effort.

This message is not about me, or Duval County, or even Huberman, Rhee, Klein or Wake County.  It is about school principals and their central office supports.  During times of transitions such as these, real leaders help intensify the work for kids, help teachers and all others maintain bright clarity in the work–and resist the urge to spend energy on those dynamics associated with a departure of the person in the top box.

Real leaders have real discipline to focus on what they should and hold others accountable for the same–in times of transition and always.


Interesting Developments at Estill Middle School

This week, Brenda Tanner and I are leading Power of Teaching work with a new cohort in Hampton County School District 2.  Estill Middle School staff members are hosting at their school.  In a previous blog entry, I mentioned the tremendous academic progress that this school district made last school year.  Estill Middle School was the outlier–with no real gains in their academic progress last year.  Under a new principal, Dr.  Spauve, the school has re-energized, re-focused, and re-doubled efforts to make up for lost time last year.  As I mentioned to colleagues here, the stakes are very high.  For every child in America–especially if he or she is from a poverty background, a year of little-to-no progress has devastating effects on his or her future.   I look forward to our continued work together in Estill and to their progress this school year.

“Culture of Poverty” and America’s Schools

After a viewing of “Waiting for Superman” with our firm’s senior vice president, Dr. Lloyd Martin and our colleague Melissa Megliola Zaikos who leads the Autonomous Schools for Chicago Public, I am even more mindful of the effects of poverty on educating our youth. The “Superman” movie certainly highlights some of the key issues. Even though imbalanced on a few key points, the documentary goes far in making us think. I hope it will go as far in causing us to act.

For me, however, I am now wondering whether too many of us remain focused on the ill-effects of poverty on a child’s education or START focusing on how our educational system might be CAUSING poverty to repeat itself.

Think about it: some say poverty wreaks havoc on our schools. Others say our work in schools causes poverty to survive. Those already squarely in a thought-camp on this issue can reinforce their side; however, we must become better focused every day on how our work in education can solve the ill-effects of poverty. In-fact it could be the only cure there is. Effective teaching and rigorous schooling create the solutions.


Instructional Leaders are Leaders of Instructors

After enjoying a snack or a meal on an airline, did you ever neatly tuck the stray plastic and torn packaging into a container or tight bundle to help make the retrieval of the trash easier for the flight attendant?  I’d bet you have.  Did you ever neatly fold a newspaper you’ve bought and read and take pleasure in leaving it on a Starbucks table or other public place for another person to read?  I’d bet you have.  Did you ever stop and happily allow another driver to take a parking space or have the right-of-way, even when the “right” was yours first?  I know you have!

These behaviors, and the attitudes that drive them, are of the genre we must contemplate when we carry out our roles as leaders of teachers.  For our book Power of Teaching—the Science of the Art, David Sundstrom and I studied the power of each teacher’s artistry in the work we lead on behalf of children.  In-fact, it is only through teachers’ artistry that we can effectively serve children in our roles as Instructional Leaders.  As we each reflect on the tenets of Servant Leadership, we should cement the notion that each and every move we make as Instructional Leaders, we really do impact the work of teachers—to the good, the no-so good, or to the detriment of their work.  We either create improvements for teachers to better leverage their individual artistry for their students, or we further erode the supports that teachers need to accelerate achievement.  If we value the importance a random flight attendant (see above) and we value any anonymous citizen who might want to read the newspaper we purchased and already read (see above) and we value another car driver’s convenience (see above) we surely, and above all the rest, value our teachers and what we do (constructively) for them.

For those of us charged with impacting the work in America’s classrooms, we should strongly connects the principles of Servant Leadership Jim Autry’s notion of Compassionate Confrontation to the work in our respective roles as supporting cast to the real stars in our profession—the teachers.

Joseph Wise

We must Shift from Teacher Quality to Teaching Quality

Thanks to Education Week ( our piece focusing on the shift we must make to improve our supports to teachers was published earlier this week.  This has allowed a lively debate on the importance of better balancing the HOW of teaching with the WHAT in teaching.  Excerpts from the published version of EdWeek follows:

We must Shift from Teacher Quality to Teaching Quality

By Joseph Wise

Remarkable transformations in preK-12 education have occurred over the past 30 years; some have actually enriched schools and school systems by implementing systemic efficiencies.  Others have served to heighten awareness of all that effective teaching actually entails.  But many have been devastating. They have weakened the work being done in preK-12 classrooms, and set in motion certain practices and protocols that frankly undermine daily instruction.

Over a period of decades—decades of hard work and even greater posturing that ultimately resulted in No Child Left Behind—we have blurred an essential component of our work—Accountability.

Accountability, at its essence, is not a goal; it is the acceptance of responsibility for all that we do in our classrooms, day in and day out. Accountability, when embraced for what it is, turns out to be not some sort of punitive “gotcha;” instead it is what drives commitment to continuous examination, reflection and improvement.

Despite the upside of Accountability, we have failed to manage its unforeseen downside: a tendency to look back at regimented instruction with a sanitized fondness.  It seems we have, in our profession, lost the will to acknowledge and leverage the multiple ways in which children learn—or to recognize the multiple ways children fail to learn when ineffective teaching is all that a classroom provides.  We have, perhaps, become a nation of educators focusing wholly on the what of teaching—without effectively confronting the far messier (but pivotal) how of teaching.

No doubt content—the what in teaching—is essential.  But, we don’t teach in a vacuum. And it is evident that teaching centered solely on the content of what is being taught—while ignoring the how of delivering that content effectively—is deadly.  The practice enables us to reach only a fraction of students, and ignores a fundamental reality: Our students continue to learn in diverse and different ways—often despite our well-intentioned efforts.  The bottom line for us now is that accountability solely for the what of whatever is being taught is not enough.  If we are to make sustainable change in the lives of our students, we as educators have a baseline duty to establish accountability for how we are teaching.

This singular focus on the what has led to interminable state and local debates about what academic standards are adopted, what assessments are valid and used, what curriculum is implemented, what data are analyzed, what policies are embraced—and ultimately, what information is presented to our children.  This one-dimensional approach to teaching and learning measures only one element of the equation by focusing on content—a potent political and policy driver—in isolation from all else.  But deciding on and measuring only what is taught manifests a constant churn, and continues to conceal a fundamental flaw in the work we do.

We now largely discount or wholly ignore the how of teaching and how of learning.  We measure and re-measure each school’s Adequate Yearly Progress.  We engage in benchmark testing, high stakes testing, measurement of student population and population trends, measurement of students-per-class and students-per-employee; measurement of the number of impoverished students and numbers of racially-identifiable students per school or district; measurement of special education services offered— this what measurement lists go on.  Again, let’s restate it: our work on the what in teaching is not without merit; it simply is not enough.  Never has been.

The Obama administration has made great strides towards correcting our federal funding deficiencies in preK-12 education.  Bold leadership at the federal level, however, must be matched at the district and school level with a committed focus on teaching as a practice.

Thoughtful leadership on the how of teaching is not entirely absent from our preK-12 teaching profession.  However, much of the leadership governing how teachers teach has been narrowly focused, disjointed, and flat-out misguided.   For us to effectively support our teachers and lead schools effectively, we must provide constructive, holistic, and behaviorally measureable guidance on how to engage students in the content being taught.  By supporting and guiding teachers in the delivery of instruction, we ensure classroom teaching will be not simply correlative to learning; it will cause learning.

Historically, intense focus on the what of teaching has led us away from a healthy balance of all that drives true academic achievement. How we teach, how we challenge, how we redirect, and how we engage students is of no less importance than what we profess to teach. Ironically, over the years we actually have learned much and documented much about best practices in teaching.  Substantial and expert research reveals that we already have explored and analyzed much about the how of teaching; we simply haven’t acknowledged its pivotal effect on academic achievement in the way we support and coach teachers.


It is our duty as educators to ensure that teaching is powerful.   And powerful teaching is as much about effective communication as it is about the content communicated.  Frankly, we as a profession have a compelling need to balance the what with the how of teaching, and to shift the argument away from teacher quality to teaching quality—for every child, in every classroom, every day.


Dr. Joseph Wise is managing director of Atlantic Research Partners, and the author of Power of Teaching—The Science of the Art.

Power of Coaching—Teachers and Teaching is now available on

I am pleased to inform you that our new book—Power of Coaching—Teachers and Teaching has been released and is available on or through our website at .

In our firm’s focus on teaching quality, we found it essential to delve into what teachers perceive they need to better support their continuous improvement in their classrooms and to accelerate student achievement.  The attached article is based on the book.  More than 1,200 teachers in 4 states through surveys, focus groups, and individual interviews helped to guide the work.  These data, combined with the very best in the existing preK-12 coaching literature, and the expert literature in performance coaching from other fields were of great significance in our research.  Kudos to our partners at the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio and the Columbus Coaching Project for their tremendous experience which contributed to the work.  In particular, Dr. Bart Anderson, the ESC Superintendent, served as a tremendous visionary behind the project.

Our faculty stands ready to provide 1-day workshops to assist instructional leaders and coaches hone their craft and improve their coaching impact on student achievement.  Additionally, through our Power of Teaching workshops and Power of Culture—Navigating Culture, Race, and Poverty in America’s Schools seminars, we provide more in-depth training and support where needed and requested.

For more information, please contact Donna Damiano at (904) 501-1901 or me through the contact information below.

For those of you inside schools and school districts, best wishes for an exciting school year ahead.  And, to each of you, best wishes for a safe and happy Labor Day weekend.

Joseph Wise
Managing Director
Atlantic Research Partners
1093 A1A South #422
St. Augustine, FL 32080
(904) 651-6700 (cell)

Congratulations to Faculty, Staff, and Students at Estill High School

In South Carolina, a state with some of the highest academic standards in the country, Estill High School, part of the Hampton County (SC) School District 2 has achieved phenomenal improvements in the 2010 (over 2009) academic results.  Estill High School has been a successful user of Power of Teaching protocols and research. We at Atlantic Research Partners are pleased with and proud of our colleagues and their students at Estill High. See their results below:
ESTILL HIGH SCHOOL SPRING “first time test takers” HSAP RESULTS 2009-2010

YEAR                              ELA                       MATH               ELA & MATH
08-09                              56.5%                    32.1%                29%
09-10                               73%                       53%                   50.%
DIFFERENCE             +16.5%pts.             +20.9%pts.      +21%pts.
Source: South Carolina DOE

Power of Teaching Video Examples

Faculty members with Atlantic Research Partners and I along with the production experts at TeacherStudio (see ) are beginning to create the long-awaited video examples of effective uses of the teaching indicators that comprise Power of Teaching instruments. If you have special requests for which Power Sources we should focus on first, please let me know at or as a reply to this blog. Some of the effective teaching indicators are easier to teach and observe for and others are more complex. We want to capture those most needed first. Please let us know your preferences. JW

P.S. BTW, if you haven’t seen TeacherStudio I strongly suggest you take a close look ( ) It is an amazing teacher professional networking and professional development portal.

P.S.S. (January 31, 2012 update)  More information on Power of Teaching workshops can be found at


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