Keys to Leadership Success

Two veteran district leaders—Superintendents Jerry D. Weast and Beverly L. Hall— answered questions about the keys to their success.

Keys to Leadership Success

Tuesday, August 18, 1 p.m. Eastern time

In an era when many superintendents last three years or even fewer, particularly in large districts, the decade-long tenures of Jerry D. Weast and Beverly L. Hall stand out. Each has earned the praise of their colleagues for raising student achievement while maintaining good relationships with the other adults crucial to making it all work. These two veteran district leaders answered questions about the keys to their success.

Related Stories:

Jerry D. Weast, superintendent, Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools
Beverly L. Hall, superintendent, Atlanta Public Schools
Dakarai I. Aarons, staff writer, Education Week, will moderate this chat.

Keys to Leadership Success(08/18/2009)


12:20 Web Person: Casey: Today’s chat, Keys to Leadership Success, is open for questions, so please start submitting them now. The chat will begin at 1 p.m. Thank you for joining us.

1:02 Dakarai I. Aarons: Good afternoon everyone and welcome to our live chat on “Keys to Leadership Success.” I’m Education Week staff writer Dakarai I. Aarons, and we are joined this afternoon by Beverly L. Hall, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools and Jerrry Weast, superintendent of Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools. Thank you to both of these experienced leaders both for joining us.

1:02 Dakarai I. Aarons: Drs. Weast and Hall, why don’t you take a moment and introduce yourself to our audience this afternoon?

1:02 Dr. Beverly L. Hall: Glad to be aboard.

1:04 Dr. Jerry Weast: I have been superintendent in Montgomery County since 1999 and have been a superintendent for 34 years dating back to 1976. I grew up in Kansas and have been a superintendent in Montana, Kansas, North Carolina, South Dakota and Maryland.

1:04 Dr. Beverly L. Hall: I have been Superintendent of the Atlanta Public Schools for ten years and am working hard to transform the system. We have made good progress but realize that we still have a ways to go.

1:05 Dakarai I. Aarons: Both of you have been working as top school leaders for a long time. How has the job changed over the years? What has become easier, harder?

1:07 Dr. Beverly L. Hall: We now have a much clearer understanding of what needs to happen instructionally for all students to perform at high levels. The research is there. What is harder is finding a highly effective teacher for every classroom with the prerequiste knowledge and skills to prepare all students for college work.

1:09 Dr. Jerry Weast: We know what we need to do, i.e. have a teacher in every classroom. The challenge is building the capacity of your staff and bringing it to scale with quality. Otherwise, it’s difficult to execute even the best plan.

1:09 Dr. Jerry Weast: I meant to say have a great teacher in every classroom.

1:10 Dakarai I. Aarons: We have a question from Vicky about hiring talent for the school district

1:10 [Comment From Vicky]
Weast: When “promoting talent from within rather than hiring from outside” did that include the superintendent’s cabinet as well as building principals? What recommendations do you have for other urban districts for hiring inside/outside the system?

1:10 Dr. Beverly L. Hall: That’s what I hought you meant, Jerry.

1:14 Dr. Jerry Weast: I recommend hiring the best, after factoring in attitude, skills, capacity to learn and ability to execute through others a coherent plan. Otherwise you have both technical and personal attributes to accomplish the role. If those folks are from the inside, you’ve been developing capacity within your organization and that is the fruit of your professional growth system. If they are all coming from the outside, that may be a reflection of the lack of internal human capital development. We try to keep of a blend here that we don’t overcome ourselves with our own brilliance, but not so much that we are constantly changing courses with outside folks.

1:14 Dr. Beverly L. Hall: If I may wade in...we always try to look for the best qualified and most suitable person for the job, since I really believe you need to have the right person in the right seat on the bus to be successful.

1:14 Dakarai I. Aarons: While they are answering the question, feel free to submit more questions.

1:15 Dakarai I. Aarons: Stacy would like to hear from you all about how you deal with student mobility

1:15 [Comment From Stacy]
Do you have a transient student population in your district? If so, what programs do you have in place to deal with this issue?

1:20 Dr. Beverly L. Hall: In Atlanta, up until recently the students were moving around the district, which allowed us to make sure that all of our schools were teaching to high standards and using research based best practices. We emphasize to our principals that the students had to be received well and that we expected them to continue to learn, since high mobility rates are a given for many of our families. In the last two years, we have begun to see an influx of students from other neighboring districts and some of them arrive at our doors not as prepared as we would have liked. Our principals are now targeting those students for additional support and help.

1:23 Dakarai I. Aarons: While Dr. Weast is still answering, here’s a follow-up question from Karen on the issue of building capacity

1:23 [Comment From Karen]
What ways have you found most effective in building capacity from within?

1:23 Dr. Jerry Weast: Our mobility lies in a 250 square mile area that encompasses about 67,000 because that is where most of the rentals and garden apartments exist. I think this is a common pattern in all communities. Since the kids can’t help the movement, we try to accommodate that impact by adjustment for class size, building size and technology solutions that help us keep track of each individual child. We try to staff this area with the best teachers and principals and have a clear and coherent curriculum, including support materials as well as summer enrichment programs along with afterschool programs that extend time and are congruent with what goes on during the school day. We augment that with summer feeding programs, wraparound health services, parental engagement and a great deal of communication. We also use specific stategies to keep students engaged in monitoring their own progress. This is a big issue and one that significantly affects performance and in some of our schools, where mobility affects well over half of the population. Over 10 years, we’ve tried to develop a comprehensive strategy to offset mobility which is closely tied to poverty in our student population.

1:25 Dr. Beverly L. Hall: In terms of building capacity, I believe that mentoring, coaching and on-site job-embedded professional development is the best approach to building capacity. Also, this must be in conjunction with using data ie. formative assessments to determine the type of professional development that is needed.

1:25 Dr. Jerry Weast: We are in a continuous search for people who want to improve their schools and serve others and have a track record of solid performance. We’ve built a professional growth system to support them and to identify potential leaders.

1:26 Dakarai I. Aarons: Here’s a question for Dr. Weast from Marcus

1:26 [Comment From Marcus J. Moore]
This question is for Dr. Weast. With a new school year rapidly approaching, what changes in curriculum should students and parents expect to see? What kinds of changes will be seen in the way the curriculum is taught to students?

1:27 Dakarai I. Aarons: And for both of you, here’s a question about teaching credentials from Mary Ann:

1:27 [Comment From Mary Ann Zehr]
Do you think that teachers should get paid more for having master’s degrees? Have you found that those with master’s are better teachers in some way?

1:28 Dr. Jerry Weast: Hi Marcus! There aren’t a lot of changes in curriculum. We will continue to improve strategies to deliver our high quality curriculum. We have ample information that if you follow our Seven Keys to College Readiness, you will not only graduate from high school but that you will be prepared to earn your college degree within 6 years.

1:30 Dr. Beverly L. Hall: In terms of the master’s degree question, I believe that compensation would be better linked to performance than to degrees obtained, even though currently we are giving additional compensation here in Atlanta based on advanced degrees. We are currently working on a teacher quality dashboard, which we believe will be a fair and transparent way of determining teacher effectiveness. When that work is completed we would like to move away from linking compensation to advanced degrees.

1:31 Dr. Jerry Weast: If your advanced degree has built your skills, taught you about how to learn and you are able to translate that to student outcomes, there is no doubt that you are worth whatever we can secure to pay you. Under our current plan, we do pay more for teachers with master’s degrees and National Board Certification.

1:32 Dakarai I. Aarons: Marina wants to know how you find good leaders within your school district.

1:32 [Comment From Marina Boichenko]
What are the main means of identifying potential leaders?

1:34 Dr. Jerry Weast: Student results. Colleague’s recommendations. Administrator observations. Self-identified interest. Interest in learning and growing. Outstanding teaching and learning skills and a personality willing to do whatever it takes to help all students achieve high outcomes.

1:35 Dr. Beverly L. Hall: In Atlanta, we have an academy in which candidates are recommended for participation. It is a leadership academy. Principals and central office administrators recommend participants. They must have already met the requirements for certification under the GA Department of Education standards. It is a competitive process and once selected the participants go through a two year intensive leadership development program to prepare them for leadership roles within the district.

1:36 Dakarai I. Aarons: Craig has an interesting question about building capacity.

1:36 [Comment From Craig]
What have you found to be the biggest obstacles to building capacity from within?

1:36 Dr. Jerry Weast: Time. Money. Chasing too many rabbits.

1:37 Dr. Beverly L. Hall: In Atlanta, state funding cuts have impacted our ability to provide the kind of professional development experiences that is required to build capacity.

1:39 Dakarai I. Aarons: Lesli has a question about working with school boards.

1:39 [Comment From Lesli Maxwell]
Much attention goes to the large districts which operate under mayoral control. Both of you must work with elected school boards. What are the keys to having a successful working relationship with your school boards as you drive reform policy?

1:41 Dr. Jerry Weast: Honesty. Good strategic planning. Lots of professional development. Collaborative decisionmaking with all aspects of the operation. It takes a team to run the system and they are a member of the team. We blur the lines of governance and distribute the leadership throughout the organization.

1:42 Dr. Beverly L. Hall: In Atlanta, we have a clear understanding of the board’s work versus that of the superintendent and the administration. We have participated in high quality professional development and have developed policies and norms tht we adhere to. Finally, we (board and superintendent) are in complete agreement that at the end of the day the goal is to improve the achievement of the students in Atlanta and that allows us to find common ground.

1:43 Dakarai I. Aarons: Both of you have been in your jobs for a decade, while board members come and go. How do you keep that harmony through transitions?


Dr. Jerry Weast:

Keeping your eye on what’s important -- student outcomes. I haven’t met a new board member yet who isn’t interested in improving student achievement.


Dr. Beverly L. Hall:

Every time there is turnover on the board, we believe that professional development is critical so that we can again come to consensus on the role of the board versus that of the superintendent and the administration. This professional development for board members and the administration is ongoing to constantly reinforce the policies and norms that have agreed upon.

1:46 Dakarai I. Aarons: Karen has an execellent question about the impact of standardized testing.

1:46 [Comment From Karen]
In what ways have assessments, such as NAEP and the NCLBA assessments, helped or hindered schools’ ability to provide high quality instruction? What role does district leadership play in how these assessments are perceived in the schools?


Dr. Jerry Weast:

You have to tie your student outcome targets to college readiness. Most of these standardized state assessments don’ t meet this criteria and so they don’t tell the teacher, student or a parent very much about their progress toward achieving that outcome.

I support measurement that drives action and tells us something about a child’s progress toward achieving that college readiness goal. Unfortunately, our teachers have to do both -- one required by the state and the other essential to instruction.

1:50 Dr. Beverly L. Hall: Overall, I welcome accountability measures and support the basic tenants of NCLB. Having said that, like most superintedents that I know there are portions of the federal legislation that I felt were not helpful and caused serious problems for us in the school districts. I also volunteered Atlanta to be one of eleven school districts to participate in the NAEP trial urban district assessments on a consistent basis because I want to be sure that the progress we were making in the GA state tests were relected on the national assessment as well.

1:51 Dakarai I. Aarons: How do you help your principals and teachers prioritize their focus in light of so many assessments?

1:53 Dr. Beverly L. Hall: We ask that our principals support the teachers in implementing research based on best practices in their classrooms and hold their teachers accountable to teaching to high standards. If this is done, we feel we will see results on the various assessments that are administered, and indeed the data in Atlanta bear this out.

1:55 Dr. Jerry Weast: The outcomes that you want to achieve should only be measured by the assessments that tell the child, teacher, parent and administrator of that outcome. Measurement can drive instruction if it’s the right kind of measurement. For example, the feedback you get from the monitors on a exercise treadmill motivate you to get higher results. That’s good measurements. It tells us something that produces and action and improves an outcome.

1:55 Dakarai I. Aarons: We’ve got one last question from Michelle on PLCs.

1:55 [Comment From Michelle Abrego]
Are any of your schools involved in implementing Professional Learning Communities?

1:58 Dr. Beverly L. Hall: Just about all of our elementary schools have PLCs. And this year our middle and high schools have schedules that will allow for common planning times and the development of strong PLCs, because they have been so successful in keeping our elementary teachers focused on student achievement.

1:58 Dr. Jerry Weast: Yes, we are working to create a PLC culture in all of our schools. We have a PLC Institute to build the capacity of school teams. You can find more info about it on our website.
We are finding that our PLCI schools are seeing greater growth in student achievement.


Dakarai I. Aarons: Great questions, everyone! We’ve come to the end of our chat today, and I’d like to thank Dr. Hall and Dr. Weast again for taking the time to share their wisdom with our audience.

Thanks to all of you for joining us this afternoon. You’ll be able to find a transcript of this chat shortly at Have a great afternoon!