Charter Operator Stunned at 2013 National Charter Schools Conference
As I am sitting here at the National Charter Schools Conference in DC, I am stunned at the lack of experience on many of the “expert” panels. As a charter school leader, I am starting my 15th year working with a charter that was started in 15 years ago. Having worked in top leadership at the charter as an Assistant Superintendent and Superintendent for almost a decade, I see that the experiences and knowledge that I have found to be invaluable.
I am in shock that a vast majority of the “expert” charter operators here at the 2013 National Charter Schools Conference have so little experience and expertise. If our children are our future, then who are we entrusting to lead charters into our future?
I believe that there is a state of urgency in charter school leadership training and accountability for governance needs. According to a study of national charter schools in 2012 by Center for Reinventing Public Education, if charters continue to grow, we will need 14,000 new leaders for running them. 61% of charters have actually slowed their plans for expansion because of the need for new leadership is so dire in these positions.
However, from observing my peer charters in a large, urban area, there is an incredible turnover in leadership positions.This turnover may be fatal for the the long term sustainability and success of charters. What are is the charter movement doing to identify new leaders? Most charters are scrambling week to week, and semester to semester basis. They are not looking for who can help to lead next year or in 5 years.
Bringing outsiders with limited experience in education into charter schools is risky business. New-bees have to understand the vision and the clientele of charter schools. They have to begin with the concept of being able to accept a school being OUR VISION and not as MY VISION. A charter leader needs to have a shared understanding of the community and what the board’s understanding of what the lead sees their role to be. A leader must also be able to have frank and productive conversations with the board and the charter schools leadership with stakeholders. One of the biggest scandals in charters today is that this is not happening.
A charter leader must also have adaptation skills. The cultivated ability not just to look at the areas of need but looking at areas of strength where you can leverage. Charter leaders must continually look reflectively at how they are doing and what they are doing to grow professionally. New charter leaders must know that they don’t know and join networks and seek peer coaches, and even hire personal leadership coaches.
Charter schools as islands in educational reform must independently develop their own succession plans for leadership. In one of the panel discussions here, it was reported that only 25% of charter management organizations have a succession plan. Boards typically don’t know where to look at for the next leader for the school. You must also have a course of action especially if the lead is not not performing or meeting the mark. In our charter network, the succession plan for our key leadership was thought out over the past 4 years and the transition plan was put into place. Today there is a very clear succession plan that has been discussed with my board and chain of command. I am finding that this plan for continuity of expertise and leadership is the exception and not the rule here at the National Charter Schools Conference.
In sum, I am stunned and ashamed at the lack leadership expertise and planning that charter schools have in place for high quality leadership.
Anonymous, Charter Superintendent of Schools
A frank message to be sure. My mind keeps going back to something that KIPP’s Mike Feinburg said about inexperienced TFA alums thrusting themselves into education policy and reform. I asked: What about TFAers who only teach two years, go off to grad school, and then want to be educational policy advocates? He responded:
We make fun of you when you leave the room.
I wonder what Mike Feinburg thinks about the plague of leadership inexperience in charters outed by the anonymous charter network superintendent? See also all of CI’s posts on Charter Schools.
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