Some of the most beneficial decisions we school leaders must make are seldom looked upon with praise and admiration at decision time, especially in a school district that is the largest employer in the county. The strategic placement, retention, and hiring of school personnel in order to increase learning outcomes for all students has significantly contributed to noticeable improvement in a relatively short period of time.
Most school employees and their families become quite emotional when school personnel are asked to move from one assignment to another, even when it is just down the hall, while privately admitting that such decisions are ultimately in the best interest of their students. In Trousdale County, we have made strategic relocations of principals and supervisors to more effectively serve students. Likewise, many teachers have been asked to move to different schools or different grades. It is important to emphasize that some of our teachers have come out of classrooms to become outstanding school leaders while other school leaders have returned to classrooms and been equally effective there.
In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins states that great organizations focus on what they can be the best at in the world that fits within their passion and their economic resources. In Trousdale County, our Board, administrators and I are passionate about learning outcomes for all students, and we have practiced “spineing up” to this single unifying philosophy every time tough employment decisions are made in the best interest of students. We focus our limited fiscal resources on ensuring that all our students are provided the highest quality education in reading, writing, and mathematics – those subjects that are quantifiable by value-added measures. We understand that everything worthwhile in education cannot be measured; however, some things such as “minimum” learning outcomes for all students through state assessments can and should be measured.
The Irreplaceables report from TNTP makes clear that students taught by highly effective teachers learn five to six months more per year than do students of low-performing students. Our goal is to ensure that every student has a highly effective teacher in every classroom. While this goal is only a vision for us, we continue to strategically assign our students with high-performing teachers to ensure that our lowest-performing students receive a highly effective teacher during each year of their learning experience. Our culture is gradually changing to the belief that all students can learn when provided additional time and alternative instructional methods.
This work cannot be accomplished without building leadership capacity, what Jim Collins calls “getting the right people in the right seats on the bus.” The key ingredient is getting the right people in the right principal seats. In selecting school leaders, I ask three questions: 1) Do you care, 2) Can I trust you, and 3) Are you committed to excellence? People who work in upper-level management positions of trust and authority must share Trousdale’s philosophy of providing a high-quality education for all students, regardless of the color of their skin or who their parents are. Once the right leadership is in place, we are constantly able to ask the tough questions of each other and to collectively stand behind our decisions.
Has this transformation been challenging? You better believe it! Everyone’s leadership is put on the line when employment decisions are made in the best interests of students. Today, we can encouragingly say to others that the majority of our community has appreciated and stood with us because they have seen noticeable increases to teacher quality and student learning outcomes as the results of our tough decisions. We have been able to change the culture and climate of our schools because the pressure for change in our community has been greater than the resistance to it. We can unequivocally say that “the juice continues to be worth the squeeze.”