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Monday, April 25, 2011

Leadership & Student Achievement

Managers are people who do things right, while leaders are people who do the right thing. — Warren Bennis, Ph.D. On Becoming a Leader

As I have been campaigning, there has been an interesting dialogue about all the good things happening in Portage Schools and the apparent disconnect that the Board is not satisfied with the performance of the superintendent.

The answer may be found in a 2007 Educational Research Service article by J. Timothy Waters and Robert Marzano called School District Leadership That Works: The Effect of Superintendent Leadership on Student Achievement.

The authors found a statistically significant relationship between superintendent leadership and student achievement. Effective superintendents focus on creating goal-oriented districts.

But here is the catch. "By focusing on district goals that are unlikely to impact student achievement (like new building projects), a seemingly strong superintendent can have a minimal or even negative effect on student achievement".

Another important finding from the study suggests long term stability of a superintendent is a positive factor to student achievement. However, with an important caveat, "obviously assuming the superintendent is focused on the "right" priorities"!

The study found that the factor most significantly correlated to student achievement is the establishment of "Non-negotiable goals for achievement and instruction". It has not been the practice for Portage Boards or superintendents to establish highly visible, district-wide, non-negotiable goals.

I believe this is what we must do. And I believe this current PPS Board is poised to begin this conversation. As we begin the difficult task of establishing our budget for next year, we must incorporate the four critical principles of this study:
- Establish non-negotiable goals for achievement and instruction
- Commit Board alignment and support to the goals
- Align resources in support of these goals
- Monitor the progress toward these goals.

As the study says, "we must ensure that these goals remain the top priorities in the district and that no other initiatives detract attention or resources from accomplishing these goals".

Bottom line, Leadership matters.


Dave Felicijan said...

Trustee Kurdys,

I get the idea that you're saying the Superintendents role is much less than what is thought. Are you saying the Superintendent is simply the "traffic cop" whereas the Board should be setting the goals and administering the district?

One more question, are you a manager or a leader? Please explain without quoting a publication.


Dave Felicijan

Melanie Kurdys said...

Mr. Felicijan,

Perhaps the point of the original post is unclear. The research referenced indicates that a superintendent who is a strong leader AND focused on student achievement is critical to positive student outcomes. A superintendent who is a strong leader but focused on the wrong goals has minimal or even negative effect on student achievement.

I believe we need a superintendent who is a strong leader and is focused on the right things, meaning student achievement. The Board is a key part of the leadership team and is responsible for establishing district goals and ensuring that resources are properly aligned and other intiatives are not distractions.

As a Board member, my role is clearly leadership not management. People become confused when watching effective leaders, because to be an effective leader, one must be informed about what is actually happening in the organization. To ensure the organization provides sufficient feedback about its status, the organization's leaders ask questions. When questions are not answered completely, honestly or logically, effective leaders realize there are issues within the organization that must be addressed. This is true if the leader is the Superintendent or the Board.

I would be glad to speak to you or anyone who has additional questions about this or other positions I have taken. Sometimes direct communication is more effective to gaining true understanding. You can call me at 345-0112.

Thank you for taking the time to ask.