Table of Contents

Title Page



About the AASA, Education Week, and Education Week Press

CD Contents

Preface: The Superintendent of Learning: A New Way of Leading School Systems


Chapter 1: The Urban Superintendents Program Leadership Framework

Framework Overview

The Four Pillars of the USP Leadership Framework

Overview of Every Child, Every Classroom, Every Day

Chapter 2: A Superintendent's Entry

I Got the Job!—Now What?

Entry Planning: It's All About the Data

But Our Last Superintendent…

To Whom Do You Turn for Advice When You Are the Boss?

Making Purposeful Change

After the Plan: A Time for Action

Chapter 3: Communicating the Vision

Reaching Across to the Other Side

Moving People to Change

Vision in Practice

The Call for Simultaneous Action

Bringing a Global Perspective to the Midwest

Background and Context

Crafting a Vision for St. Paul Public Schools

Parlaying the Vision into Practice

State of the District


The Entry Challenge

The Vision Challenge

The Transformation Challenge

Chapter 4: Strategic Planning

Given These Tensions, What Is a Leader to Do?

Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson


The District: Its Strengths and Challenges

A New Superintendent for Seattle

A Window's View

A Strategy Takes Shape

Gathering the Data

The Process

“Shaped by Thousands of Stakeholders”

Monitoring the Plan: Performance Management

Reporting to the Public and the Board

Testing “Excellence for All”

The Importance of Context

A Standard of Excellence

When Plans Change

Chapter 5: Instructional Improvement

Examining Instruction

Superintendents and the Instructional Core

Transformational Leadership

Moving Learning to the Center

The Starting Place: Richmond in 2002

From the Bronx to the South

Steps to Focusing on Instruction

Barriers to the Success of the Focus

Moving Forward: A Leader's Challenge

A Superintendent's Reward

What's Next for Richmond?Jewell-Sherman Departs


Instructional Improvement: It Doesn't Just Happen in Schools

Preparing Our Students for the World, in and Outside of Miami-Dade

Reinventing Practice, with Support

Moving Forward

Chapter 6: School Boards and Unions

School Boards

Teachers Unions

Moving Ahead

The Context—Baltimore City Public Schools

From Immigrant to School Chief

The Match

Negotiating a Contract

Taking the Lead

Working Behind the Scenes

Collaborative Leadership

What Can Happen When We Work Together

The Revolving Board—Looking Ahead




Capacity Building


Chapter 7: Realigning Resources

Common Themes and Approaches from Strategic Resource Allocation Case Examples

Future Trends and Challenges

Getting to Know Philadelphia

The New CEO

Efforts to Reform Philadelphia's Schools

Ackerman's Theory of Action

Empowerment Schools Model

Looking Ahead


The First Two Years

Leveraging Partnerships and Resources

Schools of Choice

The Bond Campaign

The Future—Holding On to the Academic Core

Chapter 8: Community Engagement

Moving to a Systemic View of Family and Community Engagement

The Work Ahead


Context of Atlanta Public Schools

Beverly Hall—Atlanta's New Leader

Collaboration with the Business Community

Problems with the Board

Inviting the Community Inside: The Principal for a Day Program

Single-Gender Academies

Collaborating with Families

Improving Internal Communication

Getting the Good News Out

Atlanta Education Fund


The Role of Collaboration

The Importance of Broad Relationships

The Role of Leadership in Building Community

Assuming Leadership

Why Connect Family and Student Engagement?

Building the Infrastructure

Keeping Our Promise to Families

The Future of Engagement in Boston

Chapter 9: Scaling Up

The Demand to Accelerate the Pace of Change

A False Dichotomy—Radical Change Versus Incrementalism

The Need for a Theory of Action


The Leader

The Charge: Leading the New York City Board of Education

Setting the Stage to Scale Up Reform

New Legislation—Redistributing Authority and Accountability

Crafting the Reform Approach

Creating a New District

Refocusing the Entire System

Implementing the School Improvement Zone in Miami-Dade

Implementing the School Improvement Zone in Miami-Dade

Values and Beliefs

Background and Professional Experiences


Training and Support

Scaling Up

Equity and Differentiation

Chapter 10: Sustaining Improvement over Time

Building Slowly

The Importance of Partnerships

It Is All About the Context

Homegrown Leader

Creating Alignment—The Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence

Union Disapproval

The Way to Continuous Improvement—Measuring Student Progress

Using Data to Improve Instruction

Major Student Reform Initiatives

Building Partnerships Inside Long Beach and Beyond

Political and Fiscal Tension

State Budget Crisis


The Struggle to Maintain

Rebuilding to Succeed

Planning for Sustainability

Chapter 11: Exiting the Superintendency

The Right Leader, in the Right Place, at the Right Time

Know When to Fold 'Em

Love's Labour's Lost

When to Announce?

Internal or External Succession?

Proactive Instead of Reactive

Epilogue: Demography Is Not Destiny!

The Chosen

The Time


About the Authors and Subjects of the Case Studies

What's on the CD and How to Use It

System Requirements

Using the CD With Windows

In Case of Trouble


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Title Page

This book is dedicated to the public schoolchildren of the nation. Every child deserves committed, effective, and caring teachers and school leaders in every classroom, every day.


At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done. Then they begin to hope it can be done. Then they see it can be done. Then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.

—Frances Eliza Hodgson Burnett, 1829–1924

American author and playwright

About the AASA, Education Week, and Education Week Press


The American Association of School Administrators (AASA), founded in 1865, is the professional organization for more than thirteen thousand educational leaders across the United States and throughout the world. AASA's mission is to support and develop effective school system leaders who are dedicated to the highest quality public education for all children. For more information, please visit

Education Week is the nation's premier independent news source for K–12 education. Commonly referred to as “American Education's Newspaper of Record,” the nonprofit newspaper has kept educators and policymakers abreast of important developments in schools for three decades. Education Week boasts a staff of some twenty-five reporters, editors, and contributing writers, each and every one an expert in the complicated world of covering education. Increasingly, Education Week is focusing on coverage that seeks to help policymakers and practitioners identify “what works,” promising strategies, and model programs.

Education Week Press is one arm of Editorial Projects in Education (EPE), an independent, nonprofit corporation dedicated to elevating the level of discourse on U.S. K–12 education and best known as the publisher of Education Week. EPE is also the home of Education Week Teacher, the Teacher PD Sourcebook,, Digital Directions, and the EPE Research Center, which partners with Education Week to produce the highly acclaimed Quality Counts, Technology Counts, and Diplomas Count reports. EPE's Web site,, is an award-winning source of up-to-the-minute news, information, and resources for educators, as well as in-depth research on issues pre-K–12. EPE also hosts Education Week Leadership Forums, webinars, and other live and virtual events.

CD Contents


Teaching Notes and Exhibits

Created by Rebecca A. Thessin

Three Communicating the Vision
Teaching Notes
Exhibit 3.1. Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment-II, 2007–2009
Exhibit 3.2. Minnesota Basic Skills Test (BST) in 2006
Exhibit 3.3. SPPS Strategic Plan Framework
Exhibit 3.4. How the Referendum Would Affect Schools
Four Strategic Planning
Teaching Notes
Exhibit 4.1. SPS Demographic Data
Exhibit 4.2. PELP Coherence Framework
Exhibit 4.3. Achievement Goals Adopted in June 2008
Exhibit 4.4. Sample Page from the SPS District Scorecard
Exhibit 4.5. WA Assessment of Student Learning (WASL)
Five Instructional Improvement
Exhibits for Chapter Five were created by Kristy Cooper.
Teaching Notes
Exhibit 5.1. Accreditation Performance Trends, 2002–2009
Exhibit 5.2. Performance Results for Three Schools, 2001–2008
Exhibit 5.3. Performance Trends in RPS on the SOL, 2006–2009
Six School Boards and Unions
Teaching Notes
Exhibit 6.1. Maryland School Assessment (MSA) and Population
Exhibit 6.2. Suspension Data, 2004–2009
Exhibit 6.3. Reading and Math on the MSA, 2007–2009
Seven Realigning Resources
Teaching Notes
Exhibit 7.1. Charter Fact Sheet—October 2007
Exhibit 7.2. PA System of School Assessment (PSSA), 2002–2008
Exhibit 7.3. One-Time Revenue Enhancements
Exhibit 7.4. Members of the Transition Team
Exhibit 7.5. California Standards Test (CST) in San Francisco
Exhibit 7.6. Empowerment Schools Funding, 2008–2009
Exhibit 7.7. Sample School Annual Report, 2009
Eight Community Engagement
Teaching Notes
Exhibit 8.1. Carver High Data, 1998–1999 to 2008–2009
Exhibit 8.2. NAEP Results, 2002–2009
Exhibit 8.3. Georgia High School Graduation Tests for Carver
Nine Scaling Up
Teaching Notes
Exhibit 9.1. NYC's Performance on State Test, 1995–1998
Exhibit 9.2. Characteristics of the Chancellor's District
Exhibit 9.3. Grade 4 Achievement, 1999–2000
Exhibit 9.4. Support to Chancellor's and Other SURR Schools
Ten Sustaining Improvement over Time
Teaching Notes
Exhibit 10.1. California Standards Test in Long Beach
Exhibit 10.2. Walkthrough Protocol
Exhibit 10.3. Math Performance, Grades 2 Through 7

Preface: The Superintendent of Learning: A New Way of Leading School Systems


Paul D. Houston

The role of urban superintendent has changed over time, and has become one of great complexity and stress. The role now sometimes involves needing to do the impossible and to do it quickly, as the tenure of urban superintendents has shortened to an average of about three years. Jonathan Kozol, who has written eloquently on the plight of poor children, once commented that the urban superintendent's role was one of “mediating injustice.” In essence it became a job of educational triage in a volatile and pressured environment. It is no wonder it has become increasingly difficult to find adequate numbers of highly qualified leaders for this position. By the late 1980s most city systems were made up of primarily poor and minority students, yet most urban superintendents were still white males. There was a need for more minority leaders and better leaders of any ethnicity to take the helm of urban schools.

It was under this set of conditions that the Harvard Graduate School of Education began the Urban Superintendents Program (USP) in 1990. This program was designed to prepare leaders who could survive and thrive in these difficult settings. USP placed particular emphasis on finding more women and minority leaders who would receive the benefits of a Harvard doctoral program and the credentials of such an experience so they could step into the void.

I have served as an advisor to the program for its entire twenty-year existence. I was an urban superintendent myself at the beginning of the program, as were the other members of the advisory committee. Much of our emphasis was on helping Harvard give the students the experience we felt we had not had to prepare us for this most difficult challenge. We made certain that they emerged not just with the theoretical framework to make a difference but also with the practical skills necessary to make change happen. The key was blending theory with practice. Most superintendent preparation programs tended to lean heavily toward one or the other. The Urban Superintendents Program combined and balanced them. For example, most of us had to learn how to deal with the media as a part of our “on-the-job” training. That is a pretty high-stakes proposition because in a volatile and highly visible environment, a small misstep with the media could spell career disaster. So media training became a part of the program. Students learned the theories underlying good public communications and were given practice in applying these.

But as with any group of highly experienced professionals, what we knew from our own experience might obscure what we might know about what was just around the corner. And none of us saw what was about to happen to public education in the next twenty years. It was Harvard's ability to navigate this white water of change that allowed the program to flourish.

First and foremost, the nation's expectations for public education were about to shift dramatically. We had been operating in a system that was focused on equal access to education. Most of the history of the last half of the twentieth century was about making schools accessible to all. From Brown v. Board of Education to Title IX, the role of schools had been to provide a place at the learning table for everyone. And by the 1990s that had largely been achieved. Anyone who wanted an education had access to it. But there was growing recognition that although there were seats at the table, not all plates held the same high-quality food. Further and even more important, it was no longer enough to simply offer a place to learn; everyone needed to learn at high levels. We had moved from an expectation of “universal access” to one of “universal proficiency and universal outcomes.” As the title of this book indicates, it was an expectation for every child, every classroom, and every day. This called for a very different kind of education and a different kind of leader.

The fundamental problem leaders face is that the current system is perfectly designed to yield the results we are getting. If we are unhappy with the results, which almost everyone is, then it calls for a very different kind of design—and that becomes the leadership challenge for the twenty-first century. Urban leaders have to be able to face the challenges of a lack of resources; the intractable problems of race and poverty; a chaotic governance structure; and the multiple pulls of teachers, parents, and community, all while finding brand-new ways of educating all children to high levels of performance. That became the work of the Urban Superintendents Program.

The role of superintendent has historically been one in which you could be successful if you were good at dealing with what I call the “Killer B's.” These were such things as buildings, budgets, buses, books, bonds, and boards. Today you have to be master of the “C's,” collaboration, communication, community building, and, most important, curriculum improvement. A major focus of USP has been on teaching and learning, which is the core of the last C. The superintendent of early days had lots of inherent authority. Today, although accountability is centered on the superintendent, her authority is dispersed across the district. This calls for a leader who can bring people together, convince them of what is needed, and create the conditions to make it happen. But the bottom line of the work has to be the student and what happens to the student in the classroom.

When I became a superintendent, I entered the position from the role of assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. That was a rather unusual path. Superintendents in the 1970s were considered managers, and their expertise was more business-oriented. What happened in the classroom was someone else's business. It is now pretty clear that if you are to make a difference in the life of each child every day, as the leader of the system you have to be knowledgeable about and driven by what happens in the classroom. Leaders today have to be centered on teaching and learning.

One of the things I have admired about USP is its emphasis on creating a passion for the work and making certain that the leaders who emerge from the program select others who share that passion. Again, when I came up as superintendent I was expected to be competent, but not passionate about the work. In the context of today's environment, however, if you are not passionate or driven by that passion to create more successful learning environments for children, you will not make the difference that is so necessary in urban schools. This pursuit of passion and excellence is at the core of the work of urban school leaders. The focus of the work of USP is to help channel that passion into productive work for children. But passion is not enough. You also need the various skills required of a leader. It is like driving a car: you have to know the rules of the road, the basics of driving, and so on, but if you don't have fuel in the car and a sense of destination, the driving skills are useless. A commitment to equitable learning excellence and a passion to see students find their potential are the fuel for a good urban superintendent.

The emergence of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001 and the whole “accountability” movement that surrounds it have changed the superintendency as well. Today it is all about results, and much of those center on test scores. Leaders today are required to be data driven and to understand how students are assessed. The thing that separates the good leaders from the others is their understanding of how to calibrate this within the broader issues of teaching and learning. Adequate superintendents make certain that their districts are focused on assessment. Great ones make certain that their districts are focused on learning excellence, of which assessment is one part. President George W. Bush, who pushed for NCLB and saw it into law, was fond of talking about the “soft bigotry of low expectations” to describe the system that didn't expect enough from low-income children. Worrying about this implied bigotry of low expectations is indeed important. It is key that all students are expected to learn at high levels. However, it is also true that great superintendents know there is a “hard” bigotry to high expectations without adequate resources. They will push not just for higher test scores but also for creating the conditions and generating the resources that will allow good learning to take place, producing improved outcomes for children.

Superintendents today also face external competition for students. Some of this comes in the form of vouchers in a few cities where parents can take their money and send their children to private schools. Other types of competition come from the dramatic growth of charter schools and homeschooling. Despite the inherent differences in the various models, urban superintendents must find ways of meeting and exceeding their competition.

Today the most pervasive reform idea has been the competition created by charter schools. These can be public or private schools that operate outside the school system. They are growing in number nationally, and although some are quite good and stand as models for improvement, others are opportunistic and merely siphon off precious resources to schools outside the system. Urban leaders face a double-edged sword with charters. On the one side, they must contend with the unfavorable comparisons made between the good charters and the products of public education. On the other, they face getting students back from ineffective or corrupt charters at which the children have not been given adequate learning opportunities, or at which the state aid has been already siphoned off and is unavailable to educate these returning children. This competitive environment is a new challenge for school leaders and was hardly on the horizon in the late 1980s when USP came into existence.

There is another kind of “competition” that has direct relevance to urban leaders, and that is the competition for the job as a significant number of urban districts have opted for “nontraditional” leaders. This was almost unknown at the start of USP, but today New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Seattle, Washington DC, and many others have or have had nontraditional superintendents. In fact, the secretaries of education in two of these states were former superintendents who had gotten into that role via nontraditional paths. The trend started in the early 1990s with the appointment of John Stanford as superintendent of the Seattle schools. Stanford had been an army general and a city manager prior to becoming a superintendent. He proved to be effective, particularly as a leader of community involvement, and many boards started asking themselves, “Where can WE get a general?”

Today one of the most visible superintendent preparation programs is run by the Broad Foundation and focuses on recruiting nontraditional leaders into the superintendency. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on this as a model for creating great leaders. Some of the nontraditional leaders, like Stanford, have been quite successful. Others have not. Washington DC also had a general, who only lasted about eighteen months, proving that not every general makes a good superintendent. This trend toward nontraditional superintendents was driven in part by the dissatisfaction with current leaders and the belief that someone else could surely do it better. Other motivation has come from the shallowness of the candidate pool facing urban boards, with the inclusion of nontraditional candidates offering different prospects.

The real issue here is not one of traditional or nontraditional experience. Instead, the real issue boils down to leadership and the dangers of amateur leadership. A superintendent's lack of experience and perspective on the issues of teaching and learning is particularly problematic at a time when an entire nation places a premium on the classroom. The difference between professionals and amateurs is that amateurs lack an appreciation for the complexity of the work. It is true that many traditional superintendents come to the role with a minimum of managerial experience, but it is also true that nontraditional superintendents often come with a lack of appreciation for the political quagmire that is public education, and with a very superficial understanding of what really goes on in a classroom. I once kidded John Stanford that he had ruined the superintendency because now everyone was going to want a general. He laughed and said if he had been a successful superintendent it wasn't because he was a general, it was in spite of it. He was an amateur who had an appreciation for the professional. In fact, he hired Arlene Ackerman as his chief academic officer precisely because she knew instruction and he didn't, and he empowered her to do her job. (Arlene, a graduate of USP, went on to successful superintendencies in Washington DC, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.) Where this kind of nontraditional superintendent will ultimately end up is unknown. What is clear is that the advent of the nontraditional superintendent has changed the face of the urban superintendency. The irony of USP is that its intense focus on teaching and learning and its support of understanding the political landscape make it a nontraditional preparation program. Most traditional preparation programs lack this intensity, and most nontraditional candidates lack the experience and training required for today's emphasis on teaching and learning.

The style and philosophy of the superintendent of the future will be very different from those of the past. I have suggested that we need to stop thinking of the “superintendent of schools” and begin thinking of the “superintendent of learning.” With the growing ubiquity of technology and with the multiple pressures on the role of superintendent, the superintendency really will not be about a place called “school” or a system of schools—it will be about seeing that children learn, regardless of the conditions or the setting. This will require a superintendent who can create connections and relate to the community in new and more creative ways. It will not be about “protecting” the system, it will be about defending the faith—the essence of what learning is about. Superintendents will have to be the advocates for children in the broader world. They have the gift of perspective, and this perspective is crucial in helping others see what is at stake.

We will need leaders who are ethical and capable of seeing the broad view. They will not have much need of the skills of a CEO, because in education one person does not have that kind of power. Superintendents will have to be able to convene the players and persuade them to do what is right for children. That means it will not be so much of a job as a calling. Leaders will need the zeal of missionaries, the flexibility to adjust in changing environments, and the will to see it happen. The superintendents described in this book not only are trailblazing new means in their pursuit of equity for all children but also are effectively changing the landscape of what is expected of urban school systems today. Looking through the lens of the leadership framework to which the leaders in this book subscribe, and bearing in mind their skills and expertise, passion, and commitment to children, we can actually see the personal and strategic aspects of the superintendency in the context of today's developing age of accountability and demands of global economy.



We recognize that being an urban superintendent is one of the hardest jobs in America today. Despite the tremendous pressures on their time, Arlene Ackerman, Andrés Alonso, Meria Joel Carstarphen, Rudy Crew, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, Beverly Hall, Deborah Jewell-Sherman, and Chris Steinhauser generously allowed us access into their school districts and shared their practice—the triumphs and the challenges. We are deeply indebted to the students, families, teachers, administrators, and board members in their districts for letting us study and write about their work as they strive to improve student achievement for all.

This book would not have been possible without the guidance and support of the Urban Superintendents Program (USP) Advisory Panel and mentor superintendents, including the many who served as book contributors and subjects of the case studies. Although the individuals who have been a part of the USP network are too many to name, we thank each of them for their endless support, mentorship, and commitment to excellence in education. Their generosity of thought and feedback, from the proposal to the final stages of the book, has increased the value of the lessons shared between its covers.

Special thanks to Linda Wing, USP's codirector for fourteen years. Linda's commitment to the education of the “head, hands, and heart” of every child, every classroom, every day gave focus to USP's mission for social justice and equity. Her insistence on rigor in the development of USP's leadership approach is found in each of the cases in this book.

USP's sponsors enabled the directors of the program to develop this new approach to leadership preparation. With assistance from the Stevens Trust, Ford Foundation, Pew Trust, GE Foundation, and Coca-Cola Foundation, USP was able to demonstrate a commitment to the ideals and reality of diverse leadership in support of educational equality for all children. Without their assistance, neither the program nor this book would exist.

We also thank the USP support and instructional staff members for providing the necessary assistance for the program and for the book project, including working night and day, weekends, and vacations. They are Janice Barclay, Lisa Betty, Jeannette Binjour-Lee, James Lucey, Eileen McGowan, and Amanda Scobie. In addition to this dedicated group, we thank the professors of USP students at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), many of whom introduce the case studies. They have taught USPers everything from finance to politics to instruction, developing them into practitioner-scholars with the skills to improve educational outcomes for students. Their support in class and beyond has helped prepare a generation of school leaders who are serving the best interests of all children. A special thanks to our vision coach extraordinaire, Holly Weeks—without her guidance and attention, the proposal for this book would never have been completed. She taught us to see beyond the many moving parts and envision the whole.

We thank the numerous HGSE staff and the doctoral and master's students who gave us support along the way, particularly Ashton Wheeler Clemmons, Tara Czupryk, Mitalene Fletcher, Amy Fowler, Steven Harris, Nithin Iyengar, Stephen Hyde, Julianna Kershen, Richard Murnane, John Roberts, Kath Smith, and Joseph Zolner. We owe special gratitude to Rebecca Thessin, our incredible exhibit creator. Her countless hours tracking down data and creating visuals for our book made our cases more accessible and understandable, and her careful eye and thorough research put finishing touches on all of them.

Finally, we'd like to thank our families and close friends for their love and support throughout our travels and hours spent writing, editing, and revising. Special thanks to Louise Peterkin, Cornelius Sherman, Curtis Jewell, Donna Bryan, Earl and Elaine Kelley, Kenneth Kelley, Paige Stratton, Lesley Edmond, Dennis and Ella Anne Boozer, Andrea Boozer, Susan and Doug Daniel, Christine Altomari, and Ayesha Brooks. They are the reason we are able to give our all to students, to districts, and to teaching and learning.