All Schools Need Ability to Build Effective Leadership Teams


Image courtesy of ddpavumba at
Image courtesy of ddpavumba at

Can we all agree to that an organization is only as good as the team of people leading that organization?  And can we agree that his premise applies to schools?  A recent New York Times Op-Ed piece (Want Reform? Principals Matter, Too), argues this very point.  Thus, it should be of great concern that some schools have the ability to carefully build their leadership teams and others do not. To be more specific, charter schools do and traditional schools do not.

This is the case in Boston. Seniority and personnel rules hamper the ability of Boston Public Schools (BPS) to assemble school-level leadership teams and staff.  While the district has made impressive strides in freeing up teacher selection through new open hiring practices that allow principals to choose the teachers they think are most qualified and best fit their school cultures, BPS is still waylaid by forced reassignment of school-level administrators, based on seniority and permanent (i.e. tenured) job status.  For example, a principal at a turn-around school recently shared with me her frustration over being assigned two assistant principals that are neither strong instructional leaders or experienced with the grade-levels of the school’s students.  And there are many stories like this –e.g. a high school principal who is re-assigned to an elementary school as dean of students (e.g. discipline); an assistant principal that has be reassigned from one school to the next year after year, etc.

Reassignment of administrators exacts a heavy toll on schools. First, they prevent principals – particularly those in struggling schools—from building strong leadership teams. Too often, they are not the instructional leaders schools need to supervise and coach teachers, review student data and develop appropriate strategies based on this data, implement positive and developmentally appropriate behavior interventions, and communicate effectively with families about learning needs and behavioral issues. Second, effective organization need leadership teams that trust each other, communicate regularly and share a common vision and set of high expectations.  Forcing administrators on schools prevents this from happening. Third, poor administrators tie up already limited budget dollars –many administrators make over six figures. If these dollars yield the type of strong instructional leadership and management teams discussed above, then it’s a great return on investment. If not, it takes away from other key support many struggling schools needs for students and families –e.g. extended learning activities, literacy specialists, social workers, etc.

In the coming year, BPS should undertake the same bold steps that they have exercised related to teacher selection, by adopting open hiring practices for all school-level positions, including administrators. They should also train principals in selection and hiring standards across positions so that this new flexibility is used prudently, resulting in skilled school leadership teams. Lastly, BPS should invest in training more up-and coming school administrators – from among current teacher leaders or through partnerships with education leadership programs, such as Education Pioneers– who have the knowledge and skills to be exceptional school managers and instructional leaders.

BPS schools – especially struggling schools—should be afforded every opportunity to turn-around student outcomes.  Similar to charter schools, they too need the opportunity to the assemble skilled, committed leadership teams.


Jacob Murray is the executive director of the Wheelock College Aspire Institute, which seeks to improve education and social policy and practice.