School Climate & Safety Opinion

Leaders Who Last

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — November 19, 2015 4 min read
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It is no secret that schools and the educators and students who work in and attend them are under stress. The time has come to radically change how our schools are organized, how time and work in schools is organized, how our leaders and teachers are trained, and how our students are taught. The time demands leaders who think and act creatively (Harding, 2010).

Superintendent Quality and Longevity Matters
The role of the superintendent in affecting student achievement has been
researched and debated. The Brookings Institute reported:

When district academic achievement improves or deteriorates, the superintendent is likely to be playing a part in an ensemble performance in which the superintendent’s role could be led successfully by many others. In the end, it is the system that promotes or hinders student achievement. Superintendents are largely indistinguishable.

Well, exactly, but the truth is being slanted! Is it not the superintendent who creates and choreographs that ensemble? And, yes, that ensemble matters.

It is a violation of a leader’s responsibility to ignore or destroy the talent existing in schools; a leader of a school community should not abandon its future to the control of others. The efficacy to create a community’s future resides in the hands of its leaders, even if it is influenced by mandates put in place by others (Myers & Berkowicz p. 63).

Schools are places where longevity also matters. The superintendent, in order to develop that ensemble of administrators, teachers, parents, community members, and students, must be trusted. Integrity, upon which trust is built, is demonstrated over time, in multiple situations and decisions that reveal his or her true nature and intention. Modeling integrity, compassion, and empathy while helping to develop those very attributes in others is key to the work of the leader. Should there be a change in the leadership every few years, the work begins again, contributing to the already threatening exhaustion experienced by those in our school systems.

Top level leadership in schools, as in business, healthcare, and higher education, often relies on boards to whom they report for support. Without positive rapport between the leader and the board of education, the tension and the political struggle at the governance level can, itself, hold a system back. Often it leads to a board asking the leader to leave or a leader choosing to move on. In either case, one wonders what contributed to the failed relationship and whether there was an investment made to turn it around. Starting anew may have an advantage from the board’s perspective or the leader’s, but the organization will only benefit from a new leader who functions with the students as the priority...and a board that wants the leader to succeed for all.

Principal Quality and Longevity Matters
The proposed Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) 2015 ISLLC Standards, expect principals to be able to:

  • build a shared vision of student academic success and well-being.
  • champion and support instruction and assessment that maximizes student learning and achievement.
  • manage and develop staff members’ professional skills and practices in order to drive student learning and achievement.
  • cultivate a caring and inclusive school community dedicated to student learning, academic success and personal well-being of every student.
  • coordinate resources, time, structures and roles to build the instructional capacity of teachers and other staff.
  • engage families and the outside community to promote and support student success.
  • administer and manage operations efficiently and effectively.

In order to master these seven expectations one needs time to gain the trust of the school community. Integrity is demonstrated and relationships develop over time. Yet, according to a 2014 study from the School Leaders Network, 25 percent of principals leave their schools each year, and 50 percent of new principals quit during their third year. Can this be good for students?

EducationNext.org study reports:

...highly effective principals raise the achievement of a typical student in their schools by between two and seven months of learning in a single school year; ineffective principals lower achievement by the same amount. These impacts are somewhat smaller than those associated with having a highly effective teacher. But teachers have a direct impact on only those students in their classroom; differences in principal quality affect all students in a given school.

Schools need focused leaders who can develop and sustain the coalitions to move a school forward, coalitions within the school and with those outside of school walls both. We need talented, dynamic, learning leaders and we need them to stay long enough to make a difference.


Harding, T. (2010). Fostering creativity for leadership and leading change. Arts Education Policy Review, 111(2), 51-53. doi:10.1080/10632910903455827

Myers, A. & Berkowicz, J (2015). The STEM Shift. Thousand Oaks, CA.: Corwin

EdWeek’s report on Challenges of School Leadership

Creative Commons Photo by Artiom Gorgan courtesy of Flickr

Connect with Ann and Jill on Twitter or by Email.

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.