Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What makes a great educational leader?

As the Jakarta International School searches to fill two principal positions (at the high school and one of our two elementary campuses), it's a good time to examine the qualities that make for great leadership in education.

New York Times writer David M. Herszenhorn looks at one example of a school leader who bucks conventional wisdom -- and produces impressive results.

"Kathleen M. Cashin is responsible for some of the roughest territory in the New York City school system — vast stretches of poverty and desolation from Ocean Hill-Brownsville and East New York in Brooklyn to Far Rockaway in Queens, all part of Region 5, where she is superintendent. [snip]
Since 2003, her elementary and middle schools have consistently posted the best total gains on annual reading and math tests, outpacing other regions with similar legacies of low achievement. [snip]
'It’s not a job, it’s a lifework,” she often tells her staff. “You are saving children’s lives.'”

While JIS and the hard-knock schools that Cashin oversees may have little in common demographically, it's instructive to read about the approaches Cashin uses to build school success, even for kids who struggle. The secrets to her success?

  • “"The secret is clear expectations. Everything is spelled out. Nothing is assumed.' She provides her principals, for instance, with a detailed road map of what should be taught in every subject, in every grade, including specific skills of the week in reading and focus on a genre of literature every month."
  • "Though she uses the citywide math and reading programs in many schools, Dr. Cashin does not believe they are sufficient and customizes them extensively, with an emphasis on writing. She also uses an array of other initiatives of her own choosing or design."
  • “'You need to expand the knowledge base, expand the vocabulary, expand the experience base, and that only comes with good instruction and a rich curriculum,' [Cashin says]."
  • “'You have to be kind to people....If people feel they don’t have a voice, they are going to strike back at some point.'

No magic formula. Just clear goals, high expectations, and hard work. Starting to see a trend? (If not, look here, here, and here.)


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