March 12, 2021

A New Superintendent’s Emergent Entry Plan (Part 3 of 3)

The Superintendents’ Corner:

In Part 1of this blog (posted February 26, 2021) we talked about the “3Ps” — places, paper and people — as sources of information on the school and on the communities in the superintendency and we focused on places.  Part 2 (posted March 5, 2021) focused on paper.   In Part 3 we are going to look at the third “P” — people.

By now in my superintendent entry plan I had a fair amount of information on each school and each principal and vice-principal but I really wanted to hear from both about what they were proud of in their schools and what areas they had to work on — and I knew in my conversations with them I would find out more about them as leaders of their schools.

I arranged with my assistant to have a half-day session at each school during which time we could tour the building and chat as the tour went on.  I was insistent that the vice-principal join us because I wanted to underscore the role of the vice-principal as a kind of co-leader in the school.  I felt vice-principals in many schools were not given the attention they deserved by their principals as future leaders and thought this would underline the value I put on vice-principals in that frame of reference. 

As I thought, they both had a great deal to say about the school as we walked about and I was generally impressed with their knowledge of their buildings.  It gave me a chance to examine technological capabilities and bulletin boards in classrooms and halls.  I also met some of the teachers who were in before the school year started to set up their rooms, check books and supplies and organize their professional lives before the onslaught of all those kids.  Needless to say, I met a number of teachers and administrative staff including office and custodial staff in each school.  It was a great way to put names to faces.

But I also had written down and committed to memory all sorts of questions I wanted to ask the principal and vice-principal.  Here are some of them.  They are in no particular order of importance:

  1. Tell me about the characteristics of your school you are most proud of.
  2. Now tell me what you feel you have to work on.
  3. What do you look for when you are hiring a teacher?
  4. When you go into a classroom, what are the features you want to see that would tell you that this is a successful learning experience for students?
  5. What does a “program of the highest quality” look like to you?
  6. Are there people on your staff who look like they are good leadership material?  What are you doing to help mentor them?
  7. In a typical day, tell me roughly what percentage of your time you spend in the classrooms and the halls?
  8. Are there any “problem” staff members that I should know about?  Why would you see them in that light?
  9. If I were to assemble from your staff a range of tests, assignments, projects and examinations, what would these tell me as a whole about how your staff handles evaluation of students?
  10. Roughly how many special needs students are in your school?  In what way are they served?
  11. How diverse is your school population?  What efforts are underway in your school to make certain you are building an accepting and tolerant experience for new Canadians?
  12.  Tell me about the working relationship you have with parents?  Who are the “movers and shakers” on your parent group and on your parent/school council?
  13. Now tell my about the ones I can expect to call my office.
  14. Characterize the relationship you have with the federation representative on staff.  Would you see this as a productive working relationship?  How do you know?
  15. What, in your mind, are the characteristics of an effective school?  How does yours stack up against this set of characteristics?
  16. What are you looking for from your superintendent?
  17. Let’s assume it’s transfer time.  If you had a preference for a new school placement, what would it be?  Why?
  18. Now, let’s suppose you are retiring at the end of the year.  How do you hope you will be remembered from your tenure as the principal at this school?

I didn’t take any notes at the time, of course.  I was too busy listening and observing.  But when I got into my vehicle I went to the nearest coffee shop immediately and, using a blank form of all of these questions, I filled it in with what I had been told and added the completed document to my school file.

I guess you could say, then, that my entry plan was gathering information.  But it was a first step in getting to know my superintendency.  It was, therefore, a prelude to my design of the strategic alternatives I would put before my principals as a way of helping to:

  • determine what I had to do “with” them (not “to” or “for”) 
  • learn of each others’ successes (as a group)
  • build on their collective wisdom and experience
  • help set in motion a drive toward excellence.  

I knew had a pretty fair data base to do just that.

Finally, I  now had a firm basis for what I had already decided I would do with each of my schools. Though not yet required by law, I intended to have each of my schools develop and submit an annual school improvement plan.  By having all this information at my disposal I knew I would be able to assess the plan in the context of what I had seen, read and heard.  We could now begin the most important work of all — to build a better school for the students we were created to serve.

Dr. Dan