NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL VOLUME 26, NUMBER 3, 2009-2010A SUPERINTENDENT’S RESPONSIVENESS TO SCHOOL DISTRICT CULTURE Henry Williams Central Washington University ABSTRACTThis article examines a Superintendent’s responsiveness to the school culture componentof the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC). An analysis of thedevelopment of school culture by the late John Stanford, Superintendent of SeattlePublic Schools was the focus is the focus of the article. When he took over assuperintendent of Seattle schools, many complained that he had no knowledge ofeducation, he is a military person, and they cannot see how he will be able to work withthe largest school district in Washington State. To the amazement of everyone in Seattle,during his short tenure in the school district, he was able to turn the down troddenSeattle school district into something the students, staff, state legislatures and thecommunity embraced. The late John Stanford, was the cheerleader at rallies, the cheffor elementary school students and great communicator with all people. He had a visionfor self, staff and community, and to sustain it, he was always available. IntroductionI nterstate School leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) standard 2 states us that a school administrator is an educational leader who promotes the success of all students by advocating, nurturing, andsustaining a school culture and instructional program that is conduciveto student learning and staff professional growth. By addressingculture in a standard, it is obvious that culture is important to thosecharged with defining “good school leaders”. This standard speaks tothe need of a school leader to understand the importance of a positiveschool culture and its impact on student learning. Culture is based on common norms, values and beliefs. Cultureis the glue that holds schools together or keeps it in tatters. It definesthe group and gives it a sense of identity that sets it apart from other 36
37 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL__________groups. Culture enhances the stability of the school district and itestablishes appropriate behavior standards for members of the group.Culture can gives the members a sense of organizational mission.The culture of a school district affects the outcomes for children, thesatisfaction of the staff and the perceptions of the community. There isincreasing evidence that a Culture of Trust promotes studentachievement and improvement, even after controlling for thesocioeconomic status of the school (Bryk and Schneider, 2002;Goddard, Tschannen-Moran, 1999; Hoy and Tschannen-Moran, 2003;Tschannen-Moran and Hoy, 2000; Tschannen-Moran, 2003). Whilecreating a culture of trust may take work, it is certainly easier thantrying to change the socioeconomic of families or other such outsidefactors. Likewise, a culture of academic optimism in a school districthas strong positive impact on school achievement, even controlling forsocioeconomic factors, previous success and other demographicvariables (Hoy,Tarter, and Woolfolk-Hoy, 2006a, 2006b; McGuiganand Hoy, in press; Smith and Hoy, 2006). Academic optimism createsa culture with collective beliefs and norms that view teachers ascapable, students as willing, parents as supportive, and academicsuccess as achievable. By creating a culture of academics optimism,schools can positively affect student achievement despite outsidefactors. Also, the culture of control in a school impacts the outcomesfor students. When schools with a custodial culture of control werecompared to schools with a humanistic culture of control researchshowed that custodial school had more alienated students thanhumanistic ones (Hoy, 1972). Humanistic schools provide healthysocial climates that lead to the development of more mature selfimages for students (Diebert and Hoy, 1977). Additionally, there is apositive relationship between students’ perception of their schools ashumanistic and their motivation, problem solving and seriousness tolearn (Lunenburg, 1983) as well as their positive perceptions of schoollife (Lunenburg and Schmidt, 1989).
Henry Williams 38 The culture of efficacy of a school usually has a positiveimpact student learning. Collective Efficacy is the shared perceptionthat school personnel in the school district are all striving to provide apositive effect on students. In his study of collective teacher efficacyand student achievement, Bandura (1993) discovered two keyfindings: (1) student achievement was significantly and positivelyrelated to collective efficacy and (2) collective efficacy had a greatereffect on student achievement than did student socioeconomic status.Subsequent research has supported these findings (Goddard, Hoy andWoolfolk-Hoy, 2000, 2004; Goddard, Sweetland and Hoy, 2000;Goddard 2001; Goddard, 2002b; Hoy, Sweetland and Smith, 2002;Hoy, Smith and Sweetland, 2002b; Goddard, Hoy and LoGerfo, 2003;Goddard, LoGerfo and Hoy, 2004). By taking the time and making theeffort to create a culture of collective efficacy, the schools in thedistrict will have a positive impact on student achievement. So, howcan a superintendent be culturally responsive? The superintendent and personnel must be positive role model.Superintendents should be the one to develop the shared-vision, behardworking, and committed to achieving the utmost endeavor forhimself/herself and the people he/she is working with at the schools.The superintendent should mirror pride in the school and everyone,including the students to make suggestion and recommendations forimprovement. School district leaders must be effectivecommunicators. The superintendent should have the charisma andpower to move people toward set community goals. A good exampleof a charismatic leader was the late John Stanford, Superintendent ofSeattle public Schools. When he took over as superintendent of Seattleschools, many complained that he had no knowledge of education, heis a military person, and they cannot see how he will be able to workwith the largest school district in Washington State. To the amazementof everyone in Seattle, during his short tenure in the school district, hewas able to turn the down trodden Seattle school district intosomething the students, staff, state legislatures and the communityembraced.
39 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL__________ The superintendent was the cheerleader at rallies, the chef forelementary school students and great communicator with all people.He had a vision for self, staff and community, and to sustain it, he wasalways available. The late superintendent had special communicationtechniques delegating school functions. The superintendent proposesthat central-office staff spend one day a week helping in schools whichwas generally adopted by the staff. As a leader, he was always incontact with staff, faculty, principals and students, and demonstratesunderstanding, loving, firmness, enthusiasm, plus a great sense ofhumor. Another important strategy to sustain change has to do withplanning. All staff members need to be aware of where the schoolwants to be in five years and how their contribution is paramount. Thesuperintendent charge himself with the responsibility for making surethat program goals are consistent with the vision of the school, thedistrict, and the community. In Seattle, the late superintendent’s dreamwas to make sure that every child is able to read at his/her age level.The superintendent proposed a community wide “reading offensive”that prompted the donation of thousands of books to school libraries inthe district. He called himself a “child crusader.” Teachers were empowered with a sense of ownership of theprograms to be implemented in the classrooms. Teachers wereexpected to institute continues needs assessment of goal for studentachievement. The school district adopted a three-year contract thatpromotes shared decision-making, treats teachers as valuedprofessionals, and links teacher evaluation to student achievement.Community involvement was part of his plan and parents embraced it.Based on the school district’s data analysis report, the superintendentsolicited parents input in planning, recognized their contribution, andencouraged staff to enlist the support of parents for special needs. Another factor to be cognizant of in cultural responsivenesshas to do with school wide values that support learning. In a cultural
Henry Williams 40responsive organization, the parents, community, administrators, andstudents can shape the learning environment and culture of the school.If cultural responsiveness is to be sustained, there should be a cleardefinition of appropriate behavior for teachers, students, schoolleaders, and the community. Positive expectations from the parentsand community can bring extra boost to school culture. When theadministration attempts to build connections among the parents,community, school personnel and students, the whole group feel thatthese connections have enrich their decision-making, enhanced, andsustained improvement possibilities in the school district. The latesuperintendent established a clear vision, mission, and acomprehensive strategic plan which outlines goals, expectedoutcomes, and timeline for all of the major functions in the system.The school district set quantifiable targets for student achievement anddefined exits standards for students in grades 5, 8, and 11. In other tosustain the academic changes that are taking place in the schoolsystem, the former superintendent lunched a citywide readingcampaign to make every child a reader in the city. Ask for and expect cooperation from faculty and staff. Thebest-intentioned leader can be undermined in efforts to improve schooldistrict culture, if he/she does not have the cooperation andcollaboration of the classroom teachers and community. A districtleader may be determined and hopeful that his plans for improvementsucceed, but if he/she has personnel members behind him or her“making faces” and feeling left out of the plan, or otherwisedisenchanted, the culture of improvement may be stifled. Efforts mustbe made to invite cooperation and to solicit understanding and fairnessfrom the staff. In Seattle schools, a principal’s academy wasestablished to help principals become chief executive officers of theirschools. This plan got a boost with major business donation to helptrain principals see themselves in new leadership role. To sustain thereforms that were taking place, principals were moved to differentschools. The move became a key strategy to influence students, staffand the community at large for school district academic improvement.In one of the worst performing middle schools in Seattle, the late
41 NATIONAL FORUM OF EDUCATIONAL ADMINISTRATION AND SUPERVISION JOURNAL__________superintendent offered the principal the freedom to select her ownstaff, and allocated $310,000 from state magnet grant money to beused for school improvement. The principal at the school had theliberty in hiring staff. Opportunity to work in the school in whichchanges were occurring attracted top teachers from other schools. Inthis particular school, the principal, staff, and parents worked to putforward a revised schedule for 80 minute classes a day instead of 50minutes period. Because of the change, teachers have 90 students eachsemester to work with. The block scheduling enabled the students to participate in themajor subject areas as a group. The block schedule arranged thestudents into “houses,” providing small-school feeling within thelarger school according to the principal. Advisement periods of 15-20minutes with class size of 25 students. The advisement teachers werethe students advocate in school, and a first line of contact according tothe principal. To sustain the changes that were taking place in thisschool, a family center room was created to provide refuge forstudents and social service contacts for parents. The latesuperintendent created school district/corporate compacts inenvironmental education, work-to-school, the arts, technology andinternational language and culture. So, what did Seattle school district do to invigorate theeducation system? Based on school district’s student performancedata results, it was made clear that changes are going to be made basedon the performance of principals and staff. Principals are strategicallyplaced in schools to work sustain the changes that are implemented inthe schools. The superintendent considered principals as the CEO’s oftheir building. They created a school-based management and familieshad the opportunity to choose what elementary schools to send theirchildren and end mandatory busing. According to the former actingsuperintendent, the superintendent makes it clear that teachers,principals and other district officials are fully responsible for studentachievement.
Henry Williams 42 Finally, a system of funding to provide more money forstudents who are learning English or from low-income families wasimplemented. The school district negotiated a new contract with theteachers’ union that allows principals, in consultation with theteachers, to hire teachers they want for their school. The late superintendent developed a more positive classroomand school culture by setting firm and effective standards. Studentresponsibility increased through the cultivation of trust and respect forauthorities and school system. The school district establishedexpectations for teachers, students and parents. The whole communitystrived to work successfully with troubled and undisciplined students,and by striving to conceive a discipline program that increases positivestudent pride and responsibility, while reducing teacher stress. Energywas concentrated on development of a workable in-school suspensionprograms that will support teachers and students while reducing thenecessity for out-of-school suspensions.
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