Using Advanced Placement as a lever for social justice

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Encouraging and allowing students to enroll in rigorous courses is a critical first step in providing more equity in high schools.  The former school superintendent of Hartford, Conn., Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, once told me that “the public education system is the great sorting mechanism for American society.” I use that line often, as it succinctly conveys [...]

To lead for equity, learn how the system works

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It’s not enough to be passionate about social justice. School leaders can’t make positive change unless they know how school systems really work. By Joshua P. Starr I recently attended a meeting with about 40 people involved in K-12 public education at multiple levels: academics, state and district leaders, heads of nonprofit and advocacy groups, [...]

Organizing for adaptive change management

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If schools are going to adapt and improve in meaningful ways, then central office leaders must lead the way by being facilitators, funders, advisers, evaluators, and quality assurance agents. One day, when I was a district superintendent, I visited two high schools we had identified as “needing improvement.” I was there to share our strategy [...]

Culture, tweets, and change

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When I was transitioning from being superintendent in Stamford, Conn., to being superintendent in Montgomery County, Md., I knew that while the title was the same, the jobs were very different. Not only was Stamford a tenth of the size of my new district but the work I had led there for six years had [...]

The talent narrative

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Leaders can change the narrative about teaching at-risk kids through their deliberate words and actions. To gauge a school system’s commitment to social justice and equity, all you have to do is look at its alternative programs. In too many districts, they’re little more than a dumping ground for troubled students and difficult employees. The [...]

Spending dollars to make a difference

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Make a stronger case for greater resources by first doing a deep dive on how you’re using resources already on hand. School superintendents rarely get fired for moving too slowly to improve student achievement. However, when it comes to financial mistakes and improprieties — or the perception of them — they tend to lose their [...]

Content is king

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Every school and district express their values through the content that students learn; leaders shape that content through policies, contracts, and regulations. Change efforts in school systems are often organized around structural changes. Schools implement block schedules so students can spend more time going deeper into subject areas; middle schools organize themselves into houses so [...]

Values: Why do we believe what we believe? 

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Leaders must have language that drives their actions; that begins with identifying their personal core values and those of their district. What do we believe is important, why do we feel this way, and how do those beliefs influence our actions as leaders? Every school district and school have mission and vision statements, many of [...]

Lead with transparency and integrity

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Being clear about who makes various decisions and enacting those decisions with integrity is key to effective leadership. One of the least understood aspects of school systems is decision making. Who decides what gets taught and how many tests there are? How are students assigned to schools or allowed to attend specialized schools? How are [...]

Strategic thinking about change

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Strategies must be ever evolving in service of the changes they’re intended to support. A suburban district has seen its demographics change considerably over the past decade. With more poor students and more English language learners and the advent of new state standards, literacy scores in the district have plummeted. The superintendent has given her [...]

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