To the Editor:
I read Lew Smith’s Commentary “What McCain and Obama Can Learn From Successful School Principals” (Oct. 15, 2008) with great interest.
Of course, I admire the achievements of the principals he profiles, but what I found missing from the essay was the most important message. We see what made these principals effective, but not why. Was there something in their training that provided the commonality? Was there a specific order of precedence in their careers, a certain developmental pathway? Were these educators preadapted by certain personal characteristics intrinsically necessary to educational command positions?
Mr. Smith tells us the model each principal used that led to his or her success, but doesn’t draw the thread connecting all of these as components of their approach to leadership. Can we assume that of the successful approaches he outlines, some apply to some situations but not all? Or that each applies to some but not all situations, and so on?
I would like to think that what Mr. Smith portrays as exceptional characteristics in his successful principals might become common virtues among all principals. What is left to his next Commentary is to tell us how the education community establishes the pathways that lead to effective command positions with highly predictable outcomes.
As for comparing principals and U.S. presidents: The selection process, and the expectations, for these leaders are very different, and are not “in the same breath” issues, I should think.
Norton M. Rubenstein
A version of this article appeared in the October 29, 2008 edition of Education Week as Do Successful Principals Travel a Common Path?