Letters                                                                 Page 4


Reader Reply


Rogue Board Members

Susan Birdsey, in her Board-Savvy Superintendent column (“Don’t Let Board Members Go Rogue,” March 2014), discovered on the job what researchers and theorists have long observed. As well- intentioned and child-oriented as most school board members are, a disconnect exists between what what’s considered appropriate governance roles and what board members actually do.

My sense is that many board members micro-manage simply out of not knowing appropriate governance roles. Such roles are especially critical in this accountability environment.

Birdsey reminds us, as superintendents, we need to work at cultivating these appropriate governance ideas with our own boards, as skittish as many of us may be in approaching them about how they perform as board members. Many state school board associations have governance workshops and will even bring in consultants to assist boards and superintendents in this regard.

I suspect the problem with many boards is the large time commitment connected to training, as well as the obvious budgetary constraints all districts face.

I commend Birdsey for "dipping her toe in the water" and trying that approach on her own.


John Pearson,
East Alton-Wood River High School District 14,
Wood River, Ill.
The Bankruptcy Option


Based on my own experiences, I thought Michele Handzel’s Legal Brief column “Is Default Even an Option for School Districts?" (February 2014) was excellent.

I was the superintendent of a school district 31 years ago when we filed bankruptcy, and it was one of the toughest decisions we had to make, but it turned out to be the best course to take given that the teachers union would not budge on its demands. Unfortunately, the union had just hired a new executive director whose claim to fame was leading numerous strikes in the Midwest. He really did not understand what was happening with Proposition 13 {property tax modification} in California.

As one of the first women superintendents of a large urban school district, I sustained my share of criticism from those who didn't really understand or accept the fact the judge found sufficient cause to throw out all the union contracts.

Lillian C. Barna
AASA Life Member,
Saratoga, Calif.

Redneck Superintendent

Re Marsha Carr’s My View commentary "The Redneck Superintendent: Poverty’s Effects on Leadership" (April 2014):

I'm sure a lot of people like me share the author’s general background -- first- generation high school graduate, college graduate and so on. We all probably found ourselves nodding in agreement with Carr’s finding that educational leaders from low-SES backgrounds have greater empathy for students struggling in poverty. I'm pleased at least one of Carr’s higher-SES colleagues confessed his difficulty coming to grips with the reality of his students' lives.

I worry that her higher-SES colleague is more representative of those making policy decisions about education today than those of us from more challenged backgrounds. Most come from secure backgrounds with two-parent families, private school backgrounds and middle- and upper-middle-class incomes. Just as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotamayor wonders whether her colleagues on the court are "out of touch with reality" on issues of race and poverty, I sometimes wonder what planet our policymakers are on.

James Harvey
Executive Director,
National Superintendents Roundtable,
Seattle, Wash.
Reculturing Central Office


Thanks to Susan Enfield and Alan Spicciati for sharing their insights and experiences about their important work in “Reculturing the Central Office” in School Administrator (April 2014).

The Bainbridge Island School District has used Michael Copland and Meredith Honig's research in supporting and enhancing principal instructional leadership, but it was great to read how Enfield and her colleagues systematically implemented many of the recommendations for transforming the central office in the areas of teaching, learning and instructional leadership.

Peter Bang-Knudsen
Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services,
Bainbridge Island School District,
Bainbridge Island, Wash.

I especially liked Susan Enfield’s "quick win" practices for responding to principals' requests in 24 hours and transforming from telling to teaching. It's nice to know these reforms are being tackled in the district where I live (as grandmother to two soon-to-be Highline School District students).

Nancy Hawkins
Director of Career & Technical Education,
Federal Way Public Schools,
Federal Way, Wash.



I am working on my Ed.D in educational leadership, where I am enrolled in a course on organizational behavior and leadership. One of the assignments requires a written narrative summary of an article describing a significant change within a school system. I am using Susan Enfield’s article for this purpose.

One of the items required us to describe how the results of the change are viewed by the general public. In spite of the superintendent’s busy schedule, she responded within 24 hours by sharing the results of this central-office change in her organization.

I am inspired by the story of transformation in her school district.

Lori Rapp
Executive Director, Learning Design and Support,
Lewisville Independent School District,
Flower Mound, Texas

Article Update: Charter District
Since the publication of David Sipka’s article “Birth of a Charter School District” (June 2014), the proprietary firm Mosaica opted out of its management of the Muskegon Heights Charter School District. Following an RFP process, Michigan state government and the district's emergency manager chose a self-management plan that contracts some school district functions to a human resources company and the county's regional education center, keeping more local control over academics and business functions. Sipka retired from the superintendency June 30.

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