The *New* Nontraditional Superintendent

Twenty years ago it was a big deal to give mayors control over schools and to bring in lawyers, businessmen, and admirals to run big city school systems. Los Angeles even tried a former governor.  The current thing is to pick someone who has an education background of some kind but not necessarily all of it inside a public agency.  Michelle Rhee came from the New Teacher Project before she got the job in Washington DC.  Cami Anderson came from New Leaders for New Schools and then the DOE before going to Newark.  John White got the job succeeding Paul Vallas after a stint running the Chicago chapter of TFA and moving up the ladder at the NYC Department of Education.  (The WSJ wrote about him here.)  Obviously there's no magic bullet in who you pick to run a school system, but I've got to think that finding people with a combination of inside and outside experience -- Cami Anderson is probably the best example of this, having run NYC's massive alternative school system -- is generally a good way to go.  We tried letting educators and independent school boards run districts for a long time, and that didn't work out as well as we wanted.  Total outsiders and mayoral control turned out not to be a particularly transformative model, either.  Somewhere in the middle might be the sweet spot, to the extent that district leadership matters (which may be not very much).


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  • How between the failure of insiders and educators and the failure of mayors and business folks is there a "sweet spot?"

    On the continuum between failure and failure there would probably be ....failure.

  • Granted, I only go back to Argie Johnson, but I heard plenty about her predecessors from the "old-timers" that were my mentors back in 1993. Frankly, I prefer mayoral control to what we had before that.

    No, I'm going to have to throw in with Alexander (and Aristotle!) in saying "somewhere in the middle might be the sweet spot."

    The job of the central office bureaucracy is to manage, and persons with business degrees tend to be much more adept at that than persons with education degrees. You still need a good mix of the education people around, and we had that until Huberman's term.

    And then there were only business people at ClarkStreet. You couldn't find someone with an education background (or more than 3 years' experience with the Board). The extreme of all business and no education people was bad for us in the schools.

    Things have been going bac in the other direction--which I suppose is Alexander's point--and we are hearing sound education policy from Central Office (even though they're trying to accomplish too much too fast). If I didn't dislike the Mayor so much, I'd have to point out that he's assembled a very good education team.

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