Developing the Next Generation of School Leaders in Massachusetts

Call it what you will: building management capacity, growing a new crop of potential leaders, or just planning ahead. However you want to describe it, there’s a real need for it in Massachusetts.

Fact: In recent years, school districts have found it increasingly difficult to fill many top positions. In some cases, few (or no) qualified candidates even apply.

If you accept the premise that the teachers of today are the school administrators of tomorrow, we need to redouble our efforts to develop more leaders from within the teaching ranks. We need to do so immediately.

Granted, some positive efforts are already underway. To help fill the gap, professional organizations such as the Massachusetts Secondary School Administrators’ Association (MSSAA) and the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators (MAVA) have established their own programs to train teachers to enter management. MSSAA runs a Leadership Licensure Program (LLP) and a Leadership Licensure Program – Superintendent (LLPS). MAVA runs a Leadership Academy for Middle Managers (Leadership Academy I) and a Leadership Academy II to train future Principals and Superintendents.

The Massachusetts Association of School Business Officials (MASBO) runs a licensure program for would-be School Business Managers. The Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (MASS) runs an Induction Program for newly-appointed Superintendents.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) helps fund many of these programs.

These are all commendable efforts, but more must be done.

As a veteran school administrator, I believe that school districts and the leaders in them have an obligation to help fill this management gap. And I think we can do it, with little cost or effort.

Here are five specific ideas for school superintendents to consider:

Idea #1: Annually enroll at least one staff member in an MSSAA or MAVA leadership program.

• Advantages: Steadily builds management capacity, at a reasonable annual cost of $2,000-$8,000. May be eligible for funding through one of the district’s federal entitlement grants.

• Possible negatives: There’s a cost. Teachers who receive the training may leave the district.

Idea #2: Establish in-school internship programs to get more teachers licensed to take administrative jobs.

School districts already have mentoring programs for teachers. Simply expand yours to include an internship program for aspiring administrators. In a formal program, team up aspiring administrators with current administrators who are willing to share insights with their protégé and guide them through a series of practical projects.

• Advantages: There’s little or no cost to the district. And it’s easy to get such programs approved by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Education. Upon successful competition, teachers earn administrative licenses.

• Possible negative: You need mentors for each of the teachers. Teachers need to put in hundreds of hours of work to obtain a license. Teachers may encounter confidential information. Teachers who receive a license may leave your district.

Idea #3: Allow teachers to take part in the budget development process.

• Advantages: No cost to the district. Simple way to train teachers to develop annual spending plans. Many would-be administrators have no experience in this key area.

• Possible negative: Teachers may get access to confidential information. Current administrators lose some measure of control.

Idea #4: Let teachers take part in real planning, on important topics to the school.

Include teachers in self-studies/and planning for Coordinated Program Reviews and visits by regional accreditation teams.

• Advantages: No cost to the district. Gives teachers practical experience in areas of planning that administrators actually encounter regularly.

• Possible negatives: Teachers are likely to uncover problems within the school of which they were previously unaware. Current administrators may feel loss of control.

Idea #5: Let teachers do some of the real “heavy lifting” in the school.

Don’t isolate them. Involve them. Ask them to do substantive presentations to the School Council or School Committee. Have them make presentations to Town Meeting or the City Council.

• Advantages: No cost to the school. Hones public presentation skills. Many would-be administrators, while comfortable in a classroom, have no experience making presentations to large public bodies. This is a key skill.

• Possible negatives: Teachers are likely to uncover problems within the school of which they were previously unaware. Teachers may make errors in public. Current administrators may feel loss of control.

Sharp-eyed superintendents will notice that these ideas cost little or nothing. They don’t require a tremendous amount of work by the district. And they don’t require added personnel.

But they have a big payoff: They help would-be administrators develop key skills. And they help build management capacity in the teaching ranks.