Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Leadership in Birmingham Public Schools

When seeking input as to what qualities were valued in a new leader for the Birmingham public schools one person suggested that the person should be able to walk on water and squeeze blood from a turnip. As impressive as those skills would be, others suggested the leader should be: collaborative, committed, a strong communicator, decisive, team-oriented, visible, community focused, innovative, and politically savvy.

Much of the feedback has been shaped by what people have seen in Dr. John Hoeffler, who after 17 years as superintendent of the Birmingham School District is retiring. It is no coincidence that BPS is consistently one of the top performing districts in Michigan year after year – results like this don’t happen by accident – they happen because a committed and passionate team finds ways to keep improving on what works. Dr. Hoeffler has guided a team that sustains its passion and vision for the benefit of our students. He will be missed.

So here are some thoughts on leadership for the district, as guided by community wide feedback solicited through our search consultant (Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates).

One, a leader must be of strong character and integrity. This was cited by nearly everyone person interviewed. For a leader, character traits will shape an individual leadership style but integrity becomes the defining characteristic. Without strong character and integrity, leadership will not last.

Two, have the ability to build, adjust, and delegate to teams and key team members.

Three, have a passion for growth. I’m not talking about growing “revenue” or some other business metric, I’m talking about intellectual growth as a person and finding joy in seeing the growth in students and staff.

Four, share the vision of educational excellence that this community treasures. This is our districts vision: Our Birmingham Public Schools, in partnership with the community, will provide an engaging, responsive educational environment that develops knowledgeable, caring, adaptable, lifelong learners who will use their skills to influence positively a diverse and rapidly changing world. This statement incorporates some key concepts, most important is the community focus on excellence in active, adaptive, life long learning. We expect our kids will make a positive difference and we focus our efforts on providing them with the tools to make that expectation a reality.

Five, be engaged. Strong leaders are visible in the buildings and wider community. It may be simplistic but management by walking around can produce impressive results. Great ideas, practices, and growth opportunities don’t hide in offices; they flourish in classrooms, PTA meetings, community forums, and anyplace where learning happens.

Six, set expectations and manage towards them. Our core expectation is high student achievement. Everything flows towards that expectation and performance goals are built to support that expectation. Great leaders will set those goals and be strong in ensuring those goals are met through consistent and constant performance reviews. That really gets back to number five – it’s easy to have quick performance reviews when you’re out asking how is it going? Problems are corrected early and performance is easy to see.

These are my personal “takeaways” as we move through our selection process. Birmingham has a special educational community and it will take a special leader to guide it into a dynamic and exciting future. But come to think of it, maybe the ability to spin gold from straw would be a nice characteristic to have...

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