Governors Advised on Improving School Management

By J.R. Sirkin — February 12, 1986 3 min read

He said he had concluded from the testimony that “states should fund inservice activities for administrators and staff development” and that “everyone should have principals’ institutes.”

A group of exemplary school administrators told a gubernatorial task force late last month that more money and less regulation would improve school management.

Several of the administrators also appealed to the governors to define more clearly what they want schools to accomplish, and to hold school leaders strictly accountable for meeting those standards. Administrators who do not measure up should be fired, they said.

Administrators should be told, “When you get the job, in the first year don’t unpack,” said Shirley Thornton, the coordinator of high schools in San Francisco.

“The risk-takers are merely doing what’s required and expected,” she added.

Other speakers sounded a similar theme.

“‘Tell me, ‘Here’s what you must do without fail, the minimum that you must accomplish,’” said Willis B. McCloud, the superintendent of schools in Northampton, N.C.

But beyond that, he said, “the more you constrain me with rules and regulations, the more you stifle my creativity.”

The administrators, chosen for their outstanding records, made their comments in testimony before a National Governors’ Association task force on school leadership,

Two of the seven governors who serve on the task force attended the session: Gov. Bill Clinton, Democrat of Arkansas, the task force’s chairman; and Gov. Edward D. DiPrete, Republican of Rhode Island, vice chairman.

N.G.A. Initiative

The task force is one of seven created last year by the N.G.A. in an attempt to set the agenda for the next wave of school reform. Each task force is charged with developing specific recommendations for state action in its area of inquiry by August of this year.

The school-leadership task force had met once before, in Little Rock in December. It is scheduled to meet once more before submitting its policy recommendations.

Instructional Leaders

At the previous task-force meeting, Chester E. Finn Jr., the assistant U.S. secretary of education, had testified that administrators need not be instructional leaders.

But in a roundtable discussion led by Mr. Clinton, the administrators here argued that their success was based at least in part on a knowledge of instructional theories and practices, and that certification should be viewed as a necessary minimum criterion for employment.

They also insisted that administrators need on-the-job training and a demonstrated ability to make decisions.

“There is a body of knowledge that administrators must know,” said Arthur Zarrella, the principal of Central High School in Providence, R.I.

“The problem is not certification, but how, once you’ve been certified, you become an administrator,” he said.

“You need a theory base and practical applications,” Ms. Thornton added.

“We’ve taken coaches and other folks who could do crowd control and made them administrators. As a result, we have people who can manage, not instructional leaders. They don’t feel competent to talk about curriculum.”

Based on the administrators’ testimony, Governor Clinton said he was “convinced ... there is an academic content” that administrators must know.

He said he had concluded from the testimony that “states should fund inservice activities for administrators and staff development” and that “everyone should have principals’ institutes.”

In closing, the Governor asked the participants to present written testimony on:

  • What the knowledge-base for administrators should be;
  • What the nature of an administrator’s internship should be;
  • What shape principals’ institutes and staff-development activities should take;
  • What states must do to have “integrity in the evaluation process"; and
  • What kind of budget flexibility administrators need.

A version of this article appeared in the February 12, 1986 edition of Education Week