Next Franklin school superintendent needs ability to lead effectively

Published 12:37 am Saturday, September 27, 2008

I have never been an educator, but I am a parent.

As a parent, nothing pleases us more than to see our children become successful. The demands of today’s global economy require that our children learn within a rigorous academic environment so that they can be competitive with children from the world over for well-paying jobs.

My professional perspective in responding to the Franklin School Board’s request for input on its superintendent search is that of a retired corporate executive who spent more than 20 years in various management positions with three large corporations. I would argue that those characteristics that make an outstanding leader would apply both to corporate and academic environments, and what is vital in an outstanding superintendent is the ability to lead effectively.

He or she should provide a vision in which principals, teachers and administrators refuse to settle for just “average” performance from themselves and from their students. The global marketplace for jobs demands more than “average” academic performance. A commitment to a formal performance-review process, a history of finding creative ways to reward better-performing teachers, principals and administrators and letting go of poor-performing ones are experiences that I would probe for in his or her background.

Effective leaders need to evaluate the overall performance of their subordinates in order to continually improve their own performance for the vision to be accomplished (in this case, greater academic excellence). Effective leaders will provide a roadmap for subordinates in which all impediments to accomplishing the vision are gradually reduced in significance or whenever possible eliminated. This process involves hard choices. A good interview question for the prospective superintendent is for him or her to relate a similar situation in which they have been involved.

Let’s quickly review my answers to some of the questions posed by the school board’s survey to give more of a flavor for what I would look for in a strong candidate.

n An earned doctorate definitely demonstrates academic achievement. If this is a typical requirement for a majority of superintendents, then I would not settle for anything less. If it is not commonplace, then I have been around a lot of “educated idiots” who were lousy leaders.

n Experience as a teacher should be required. The worst managers that I can remember were the ones who had never worked in the positions over which they were responsible. We need not just any teacher, but an effective, passionate one. How can a superintendent truly understand the needs and support required of his teachers without having walked in their shoes? It is just common sense.

Because of the turmoil that we have had with the superintendent position over the past 15 years in Franklin, I would say that we need a proven commodity — either an extremely experienced principal or superintendent. My last employer and businesses the world over have downsized away from assistant anythings, so I would challenge the necessity of an assistant superintendent in today’s world. Could a CEO without teaching experience handle the position? It is intriguing. Most CEOs that I know are not great listeners, but I suppose the right CEO could do it.

n Work experience in Virginia. Actually, I think it helpful to have worked outside of Virginia. The vision needed to lead effectively is often obtained from the outside marketplace of ideas.

n Residency in Franklin. This is absolutely a requirement. I cannot imagine it any other way. By this, I mean a permanent living residence, where all city taxes are paid — not an apartment or rental house, which several of our city department managers use to skirt the requirement. The right leader will want to live in Franklin. He will recognize this small-town situation as an opportunity to immerse himself within the community; to better understand the environment and background of students; and to forge the vital relationships with parents, teachers, business leaders, board members and City Council members.