Accountability and sustainability of schools lies in the hands of the educational leaders who carry out the vision. One of the key factors in the school turn around progress is a partnership. In order for any public traditional or public charter school to achieve success, the leaders must understand their roles and work within them. Of course there are various circumstances that create barriers as when a Board changes leadership/members and the Executive Director takes on responsibilities of the Board to keep the school(s) a float. While these circumstances are understandable, it’s often times quite difficult to untangle the lines when key leadership pieces are placed back together.
Although building relationship amongst leadership roles can at time be challenging, it can be done! The Executive Director of Latin College Prep in East Point, Georgia, Davion Lewis was able to do this well. He is a good example of how an ED leads a network under the oversight and support of the Governing Board, even in changing leadership. As the ED, he empowers the Principal to lead the faculty and staff who drive the vision for student success. Another best practice he implements is to partner with the Business Manager who leads the financials and business deals of the school. He ensures that the Operations Manager has everything in place so that the Principal, faculty and staff are successful for the scholars. “I don’t expect perfect, I expect progress!”, a philosophy that Mr. Lewis implements in leading the school and reaffirms this to the Board. Charter schools that are in a strong, strategic turn around process to increase student success must have an Executive Director who works the operational and financial lanes of the schools yet understands it’s not their job to solely do the work of others.
In my experience, public charter schools fail because of the entangled power struggles. Those key leaders, Board Chairs, Executive Directors and Principals all play critical roles in ensuring that schools and scholars succeed. “Who Runs It”, is the battle that many Charter School Board Chairs are faced with regarding their relationship with the Executive Director and often times between the Executive Director and the Principal. Serving as a Board Chair and also an educational leader in the school, I see how both perspectives are critically important and must be valued. Often times, the discontented comes when one side feels as if their view is the only view that matters. There must be synergy between the Governing Board, Executive Director and Principal(s) in order for any charter school(s) to be successful. This requires putting personal desires aside and placing the needs of scholars first. I’ve seen other Charter leaders from Centennial Academy, KIPP, ANCS, WIA and Drew implement effectiveness within their leadership roles. These networks work together to ensure that the Board, Executive Director and school leader(s) are all on the same page by ensuring the focusing on putting children first.
Every effective educational leader must be able to drive :
- Customer Service
- School Operations
Communication is what changes the dynamics! Evaluating a school leader(s) who overlooks the collaborative partnership with all leaders and stakeholders sets an atmosphere of conflict . Conflicts does come with the territory, however it shouldn’t be the norm. There are plenty of examples of school leaders who don’t have good relationships with each other or stakeholders and it hurts the growth of the school(s). It’s all in how the leader(s) handle conflict whether it’s with the Board, school leaders, parents or faculty and staff that makes the difference. The best way to settle differences and or squash misconceptions is to use your words. Regardless of how fast we can access, gain or acquire things, people still want their time to be valued and want to be informed of what’s happening with what they’re invested. One of the challenges of school leaders is often how the vision is communicated. Sharing our thoughts and ideas isn’t the issue, it’s how the evidence is communicated. Customer Service is 24 hours when you work for people. This doesn’t mean that leaders will always make the mark. A critical part of customer service is communication that helps to build engagement. It takes appropriate checks and balances between the Board, Executive Director and school leaders to reassure our stakeholders that progress can still be made for children to succeed.
As communication and customer service are important to the position of Board Chair, Executive Director and Principal; so is knowing school operations. This helps make the person in the role(s) much more successful. Not knowing or fully understanding the in’s and out’s of how schools work makes it harder to run them. This doesn’t make it impossible. Those without backgrounds in education can make for great leaders of schools with the right team and advisement. Vision, regardless of skill, is the blueprint needed to gain success. As long as the leader(s) follows the vision, the team has endless possibilities of achieving success. However, too often, I have seen educational leaders change the vision when it’s out of their league of expertise. This is how schools begin to fail. When those who serve in critical positions such as Board Chair, Executive Director or Principal begin to change the vision because they are unable to drive it, schools are left in an unstable condition. Like businesses and corporations, when the school leadership no longer is able to drive the vision, the school goes down. Academics, morale, performance, student life, retention, enrollment, finances and everything connected to the school(s) suffers when leadership can’t align.
In all the many things it takes to run schools and drive student success, a huge part of the headache are adults focusing on adult needs. Where it may be impossible to remove the politics from education, it’s very possible to lead schools and put the focus back on children!