Behind Every Good School and District…

The research is clear about the impact of successful principals and successful superintendents in shaping and transforming the culture of buildings and districts.

The old saying goes that behind every successful man there is a woman! I personally won’t argue with that statement at all although that statement really isn’t the intent of this article. This is: “Behind every successful school there is a principal and behind every successful principal there is a superintendent and behind every successful superintendent there is a Board.” I really believe this, don’t you? The research is clear about the impact of successful principals and successful superintendents in shaping and transforming the culture of buildings and districts. The second standard in our upcoming AdvancED visit is “Governance and Leadership.” The standard reads, “The district and school operate under governance and leadership that promote and support student performance and overall effectiveness.” Did you notice the emphasis on “student performance?” It is hard to dispute facts and the facts are clear we have very dedicated, loyal, and compassionate leaders at the school and district level. I look at our administrators and district personnel as being the bricks that shore up and support the inner workings of the classroom and the learning taking place; however, bricks, stacked one on top of the other, are not very stable. The mortar and cement holding all of us together is our Board of Trustees. These seven men and women serve only because of their desire to make a favorable positive, and lasting impact in our students’ lives. They are not paid and do not receive near the support and commendation due them. The six AdvancED indicators by which we will be evaluated include: • The governing body (the school board) establishes policies and supports practices that ensure effective administration of the school; • The governing body operates responsibly and functions effectively; • The governing body ensures that the school leadership has the autonomy to meet goals for achievement and instruction and to manage day-to-day operations effectively; • Leadership and staff foster a culture consistent with the school’s purpose and direction; • Leadership engages stakeholders effectively in support of the school’s purpose and direction; • Leadership and staff supervision and evaluation processes result in improved professional practice and student success. If you read the above indicators carefully, you will notice the first three pertain to the board and its role and function; the second three deal with the school level. The role of the School Board is not about singular or personal issues. In fact, the Board only exists as an entity or group and never as a set of soloists. Boards set policy, approve budgets, and allow schools to operate within a framework of protocols, procedures, and resources. One district not too far away from us had its AdvancED visit and received serious reprimands for what the visiting committee thought was behavior violating the school leadership’s autonomy to “meet goals for achievement and instruction.” The superintendent is the CEO of the district and performs the tasks delineated by policy in order to meet the goals determined by the Board. I have a wonderful relationship with our board members and am grateful we do not have the myriad of problems other districts do. Our board truly supports the vision of our district of “achieving excellence, embracing innovation, and forging new traditions.” The board supports the superintendent and expects him to do the job necessary to fulfill the goal stated earlier—“promote and support student performance and overall effectiveness.” School leadership is equally important. Schools need a clear direction and purpose and the principal is the primary spokesperson for this direction. Not only must the principal provide the direction and purpose but also solicit the support (from teachers, parents, community, and students) in achieving the goals and purpose. Principals must supervise and evaluate their schools according to those qualities which build and improve two critical and interdependent things: professional practice and student success. We have much work to do in Laurens County School District 56; however, I am honored and humbled to work with key school leaders who see what students can be rather than what they are. They choose not to allow poverty to define or limit students. They equip students to believe hard work hurts no one and failure is not an option. I am equally honored and humbled to have a conscientious, caring, and competent Board of Trustees who work for the greater good and not for individual desires. We have many good school and district leaders as well as a capable Board…and as a result, we believe Standard 2 is a solid “Evident” (or on a scale of 1-4, a “3”). (Dr. David O’Shields is superintendent of Laurens School District 56.)

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