Spotlight

AASA’s Executive Consultants Can Help With School Turnarounds

by MARYANN JOBE

AASA’s Executive Consultant Program provides the expertise of experienced education leaders and researchers to help novice and veteran superintendents alike deal with the tough issues they face today in school district management.

The association created the Executive Consultant Program in 2005 to offer services to members that they could not obtain elsewhere. The program is confidential and covers an array of topics that our membership has asked us for when situations arise.

AASA’s newly released “The American School Superintendent: 2010 Decennial Study” reveals that more than 2,500 superintendent vacancies arise every year. Many of these positions are filled by novice district leaders, but the service also can benefit veteran superintendents.

Expertise Abounds
In a new position, you may ask yourself the question, “How do I work with a new school board that is seemingly divided politically?” Whether you are in your first year or your third superintendency, school boards differ widely.

John Conyers, a longtime superintendent in Illinois, has worked with AASA and member superintendents for several years, and his expertise in this area is phenomenal. He leads school boards and superintendents in the evaluation of their effectiveness as a team. A newcomer to the consultant program is Sharon Cox, whose expertise as a former school board president yields a unique blend of school system knowledge in policy and procedures and superintendent relationship building.

Both Conyers and Cox have been working this year on governance and policy issues with administrative teams and school boards across the country.

In addition to the governance structure expertise, AASA also offers consultants who can work with school districts on strategic planning and optimizing systemic thinking for a results-oriented system. Lee Jenkins, a former superintendent in California, has worked with school systems to develop organizational structures for increased staff and student performance. Jenkins wrote From Systems Thinking to Systemic Action, a book co-published by AASA, which we use to guide the work of the leadership development department.

In addition, the Executive Consultant Program can apply a range of knowledge in using the education criteria in the Baldrige program for performance excellence. Jay Bonstingl is a Baldrige examiner who holds workshops on the Baldrige in Education process. Daniel Domenech, AASA’s executive director, sits on the Baldrige board at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Personal Mentoring
Another area we find moving swiftly across the education landscape is the idea of coaching and mentoring. Often, we enter into a school district where we find issues that appear to have been overlooked and need to be addressed.

Karla Reiss, founder of the Change Place, offers AASA members an opportunity to join her several times a year for a coaching retreat. We are seeing an increase in AASA participants, who often sign up for personal coaching after their initial workshop. We often hear from our members that they need a plan for retirement. Being a mentor and/or coach can be a fulfilling way to continue giving back to the education community.

One of our newer executive consultants is Darlene Merry. A retired assistant superintendent, she has expertise in organizational development and coaching aspiring leaders, which helps to keep the education pipeline flowing. We need to find qualified candidates to fill the impending void in school leadership. One of her clients, Kevin Burr, who is associate superintendent for secondary schools in Tulsa, Okla., considers the coaching experience with Merry one of the most influential and powerful experiences he’s had as a professional.

“The right questions and the right framework for understanding the role of professional coaching are critical to the experience,” Burr says. “Coaches and those they coach need both to value the time together from the outset. Coachees benefit best when they remain introspective throughout the experience. This is designed to be a critical — but not a negative — experience. It is something that I will never do without again.”

AASA offers the Executive Consultant Program as a way to stay sharp in these difficult times. We have all seen that, because of the state of the economy, travel to meetings and conferences, in most circumstances, is not conducive for timely and rigorous professional development. Whether you are located in a large urban/suburban district or in a smaller rural one, these services can help hone your skills as a school system leader.

MaryAnn Jobe is director of leadership development at AASA. E-mail: mjobe@aasa.org