20 Aug 2014
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OPINION: Baltimore County Schools Need a Transformational Leader

In spite of Superintendent Joe Hairston's commendable record, many in the county are ready for his departure.

OPINION: Baltimore County Schools Need a Transformational Leader OPINION: Baltimore County Schools Need a Transformational Leader

People are abuzz regarding the legacy that will be left by . At a recent news conference, Hairston reflected on his 12 years of service, and clearly had no regrets about his record here in Baltimore County. 

Obviously, Hairston will never be accused of settling for the status quo. Many statistics of his legacy are certainly noteworthy: more than half of BCPS high schools are now ranked in the top seven percent nationally, graduation rates for African-American males are the highest among school systems of our size and more students successfully complete Advanced Placement courses than ever before.

In spite of this commendable record, many in the county are ready for Hairston's departure. Sadly, I believe that his leadership style unnecessarily alienated key stakeholders. that he had the "insight and vision to understand what was needed here for our children." Perhaps this was true, but the confrontational manner in which he promoted this vision was certainly problematic.   

Share your advice for Baltimore County's next superintendent. Tell us in the comments.

One need only look south to see another dynamic, hard-charging schools chief, also in possession of a bold vision for his students. Dr. Andres Alonso has been the CEO of Baltimore City Schools since 2007. The New York Times referred to him as someone with "strong views on how to change things." Alonso himself once said that "it takes extreme leaps to get a system like this to take small steps." 

This description sounds a lot like Hairston. Yet, Alonso has maintained strong support from a variety of key decision makers and school stakeholders. I would argue that this is because, rather than being confrontational, Alonso has chosen to be transformational.

In his 1978 book entitled Leadership, James MacGregor Burns defined transformational leadership as a process through which a leader takes a visionary position and inspires others to follow.  I believe that Dr. Alonso exhibits this concept in his work in Baltimore. 

Like Hairston, Alonso arrived with a clear vision for improving his school system, yet he also recognized that possession of vision alone was not enough. Alonso slashed the staff of central administration by one third, in order to provide greater funding for individual schools. He empowered individual principals by giving them control of about 80 percent of their own budgets, as compared to just three percent previously. Alonso closed 26 underperforming schools and opened many new schools with distinctive programs (even allowing families to choose their own high schools).

These steps, while revolutionary, did create buy-in among stakeholders.  Teachers and parents became partners in the fight to teach students in city schools. Being open and engaging others in dialogue did not require to Alonso to compromise his principles. Rather, by choosing to listen and to persuade, his vision became a common vision. 

BCPS needs a transformational leader to build on past successes, but also one to learn from past mistakes.

Share your advice for Baltimore County's next superintendent. Tell us in the comments.

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