Q&A: First Success Discusses Program for Urban Superintendents
Superintendents Prepared, a joint project launched earlier this year by three Washington-based research and consulting organizations, is designed to move qualified educators and other professionals into positions as urban school chiefs.
The program's first 30 candidates spent two weeks this summer in an intensive training session tailored to sharpen their management skills and increase their awareness of central issues facing urban school superintendents.
Formal coursework, on-the-job assignments, and internships were also completed by the candidates while they remained in their current posts.
While the project is still in the early stages of development, it can already claim its first success.
Cheryl H. Wilhoyte, the former assistant superintendent for instruction and school administration of the Anne Arundel County, Md., schools, was tapped recently for the superintendency of the Madison, Wis., schools.
Ms. Wilhoyte, who will lead the Madison schools beginning next month, talked with Staff Writer Joanna Richardson about her involvement in this innovative program.
Q. How did Superintendents Prepared improve your leadership abilities?
A. We had an extremely comprehensive leadership-style analysis.
For three or four days [of the two-week summer program], we were given a number of problems both individually and in a group and were observed by a team of psychologists and our peers there who rated us on a number of scales.
We also took an afternoon and did what's called "confidence course-building,'' outside in the woods on a college campus, where we had a number of problems to solve as a team. It's very much like Outward Bound.
So we were given feedback about how we projected ourselves, our ideas, and socially how we interacted.
Q. What kinds of activities did Superintendents Prepared organize for the participants to prepare them for the challenge of managing an urban school district?
A. During one of the weeks, we focused on demographics: ... on the challenges and the opportunity that the rapidly changing demographics will mean to each of us who are entering urban education.
Another day, we talked totally about politics--federal, state, local, and community politics--and how those play a very critical role in the superintendency.
Also, we all have a special project related to providing the highest quality of education in an urban setting, with all of the challenges that is bringing today. We work on that throughout the program.
Q. What project are you working on now?
A. Well, mine is shifting, of course.
I had described the challenge I had before me in the Annapolis city schools. We have the remnants of a 10-year-old desegregation decision, a growing number of young people, a diminishing number of classroom spaces, and a resource crunch because of funding in Maryland and shortfalls at the state level.
In working through all those issues, my problem was to work through the redistricting knot that we had in terms of both racial and socioeconomic balance.
Now my project in Madison, ironically, is extremely similar in terms of the challenges of an increasingly urban setting. It will be somewhat the same.
[Madison] not only has many of the things I experienced, but has the exact mission title of "Success for Every Student'' that I had selected for our schools in Anne Arundel. So it's been a wonderful match.
Q. You were the first in the program's class of 30 to be placed in a new superintendency. How do you think your involvement with the group will change?
A. It's an ideal situation, ... with all of the resources available. The moment I have a question about constituency analysis, about board-superintendent relationships, about budget challenges, they've got just the right person to share wisdom and experience with me. It's a wonderful year for me to have that kind of support group.
Q. How has Superintendents Prepared had the most impact on you as a school leader?
A. We did a lot on team building and collaboration, because we all think that is the future direction for the urban superintendency--collaboration with all the different agencies that impact on the life of the child and the family.
The program gave you a real sense of information, and a real sense
of who you are, how people perceive you, and how to go forward with an
agenda for children.