January 22, 2003 1 min read

Jacked Up

To help in his efforts to build a better breed of principals, New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein has tapped former corporate chairman and CEO John F. Welch Jr., who often credits his legendary transformation of General Electric to his work in honing the talent of his managers.

Mr. Klein last week named Mr. Welch to chair the advisory panel to the chancellor’s new Leadership Academy, which will coordinate the way principals are recruited and trained in the 1.1 million-student system.

During his 20 years at the helm of GE, Mr. Welch pursued a similar strategy of leadership development by re-creating the company’s Ossining, N.Y.-based training center, known as Crotonville. Prospective GE managers, as well as experienced executives, come to Crotonville for weeks-long sessions that focus on business problems.

High staff turnover at GE earned Mr. Welch the moniker “Neutron Jack,” for the bomb that eliminates people but leaves buildings standing. He’s known for leading GE through a period of enormous revenue growth at a time when many American businesses were struggling with mounting global competition. He retired in 2001 and last year was forced to relinquish most of the generous retirement package approved by GE’s board, amid questions about the oversight of GE and other major companies.

In an interview last week on CNN’s “NewsNight with Aaron Brown,” Mr. Welch said he recognized the challenges principals face, including a multitude of administrative duties and “in some cases, teachers that are recalcitrant.”

“It’s a big swing,” he said of the new leadership academy. “Everyone knows how hard it is. Why not take a shot at it?”

Mr. Klein also has named Richard D. Parsons, the chief executive officer of AOL Time Warner, to the advisory board led by Mr. Welch. The academy’s full-time CEO will be Bob Knowling, a business consultant and former telecommunications-company executive.

Serving as academic dean will be Sandra Stein, who has run a program that trains aspiring principals at Baruch College in Manhattan. And rounding out the list of heavy-hitters involved in the project is Anthony J. Alvarado, a former New York City schools chief who will sit on the advisory panel. Mr. Alvarado’s contract with the San Diego schools, where he serves as chancellor of instruction, is being renegotiated.

—Jeff Archer