2014 Lessons From District Leaders

In discussing leadership, President John Quincy Adams once said: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”

His logic aptly explains the motivation behind Education Week‘s annual Leaders To Learn From report. With each of these reports, our aim is simply to shine a light on forward-thinking district leaders who seized on good ideas and executed them well in their school systems. The hope is that other educators—and future leaders—in the nation’s 14,000-plus districts will learn from these leaders’ stories and be inspired to “dream more, do more, and become more” in their own districts.

At the very least, they might find a useful innovation to try out themselves.

Like last year’s inaugural report, this 2014 edition profiles 16 district-level leaders. Hailing from 14 states, these leaders serve communities big and small, from rural Alaska to New York City, the nation’s largest district, with 1.1 million students.

While many of the leaders profiled are superintendents, the roster also includes a sprinkling of administrators and educators who are not normally in the public eye—including a director of nursing services, an instructional technology director, and a teacher on special assignment to his district’s department of curriculum and instruction.

To help find the 2014 class of Leaders To Learn From, Education Week put out a call to readers for nominees, starting last February. We also sought nominations from the leaders of administrators’ groups in most of the 50 states, as well as from members of the Education Writers Association, a Washington-based organization that includes local education reporters around the country. Education Week‘s own reporters identified leaders who are making a mark within the topical areas they cover. Members of the editorial staff made the final selections.

Among the leaders spotlighted in this year’s report:

• A superintendent in the Mississippi Delta region who launched an intensive, multifaceted drive to raise academic expectations and achievement in his impoverished community and found the grant money to help pay for it;

• A district chief and a teachers’ union president who worked together to open up more preschool seats in their district and, in the process, helped keep the struggling school system viable;

• A director of nutrition services who boosted participation in his district’s school lunch program by converting cafeterias from assembly lines of prepackaged foods to real working kitchens and enlisting professional chefs to create healthier, better-tasting recipes for meals; and

• A superintendent in Florida who transformed his district’s once-adversarial relationship with local charter schools into an authentic working collaboration.

More than 900 nominations came in for this year’s report—a level of interest that reflects a thirst among educators for two things: a little positive recognition, and some good examples to follow.

Positive recognition can provide a soothing balm for educators feeling beset by parental demands, pressure to raise student test scores, and years of budget constraints. Good examples offer models for the way forward. Both are needed to grow the next generation of school district leaders.

Read the leaders’ complete profiles.

— The Editors

Produced with support from The Wallace Foundation, at www.wallacefoundation.org