About This Report

February 04, 2013 2 min read

In an environment of tight resources, tough academic challenges, and increasingly stiff competition from new education providers, smart leadership may matter more than ever for the success of America’s school districts. Against this backdrop, Education Week introduces the first of what will be an annual Leaders To Learn From report—a way to recognize forward-thinking education leaders and share their ideas.

The importance of effective educational leadership goes almost without saying: Some research suggests leadership is second only to classroom instruction among all the school-related factors that contribute to student learning. Leaders To Learn From aims to draw attention to the importance of good leadership and spread the word on strategies and tactics from leaders in some of the nation’s 14,000-plus districts that others may want to adopt or adapt.

This 2013 report profiles 16 district-level leaders—superintendents, assistant superintendents, and others, including a union president—who seized on creative but practical approaches and put them to work in their school districts.

To help find these leaders, Education Week put out a call to readers for nominees, starting last June. We also sought nominations from the leaders of administrators’ groups in most of the 50 states, as well as from members of the Education Writers Association, a Washington-based organization that includes local education reporters around the country. Education Week‘s own reporters identified leaders who are making a mark within the topical areas they cover. Members of the editorial staff made the final selections. (To make a nomination for the 2014 edition, send an email to

The leaders featured here include an Ohio superintendent who drove a successful effort to move 16 low-performing schools out of “academic emergency” status; a Minnesota superintendent who spearheaded a push to more inclusively educate English-language learners; a technology specialist in Missouri who helped organize social-networking events to further teachers’ professional development; and a district chief from upstate New York who recruited tuition-paying international students to help keep his single school afloat.

Urban districts, such as Boston and Baltimore, are represented. So, too, are Texas’ Rio Grande Valley; rural communities like Garrett, Ind., and Duplin County, N.C.; and Virginia’s Loudoun County, an upscale outer-ring suburb.

While some of the leaders profiled are nationally known for their accomplishments within their own slices of the education world, they are not the high-profile superintendents who most typically make headlines. In fact, only nine are superintendents; the rest have worked most of their careers just below the public radar, as directors of special education or transportation, for example.

One common characteristic among the group is that most of them have long-standing ties to the communities they serve.

Another connection is that all had a clear vision of how they wanted to improve their districts or areas of responsibility, and they followed through on it. As Theodore Hesburgh, the president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, has said, “The very essence of leadership is you have to have a vision.”

“It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion,” he added. “You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”

Within their school systems, these leaders have blown some strong, clear notes.

Coverage of leadership, expanded learning time, and arts education is supported in part by a grant from The Wallace Foundation, at
A version of this article appeared in the February 06, 2013 edition of Education Week as 2013 Lessons From District Leaders