Book Reviews

School Administrator, October 2015

92 tips92 Tips from the Trenches: How to Stay in the Game as an Educational Leader
by Marilou Ryder and Tamerin Capellino, Delmar Publishing, Huntington Beach, Calif., 2014, 200 pp., $24.95 softcover
In 92 Tips from the Trenches, Marilou Ryder and Tamerin Capellino remind us that educational leaders need “the heart of an angel and the skin of a rhino,” to deal with the decisions we face. The authors, both professors at Brandman University in Irvine, Calif., provide quick and direct tips based on their years of experience as public school teachers and administrators.

They offer specific suggestions, often supported by a good story that will make the insights easier to remember. They advise that “[i]f you want to be liked, don’t go into educational leadership.” It appears harsh on the surface, but is worth considering. If you enjoy being the most popular teacher at your school, remember that being the superintendent who has to keep salaries stagnant or increase class sizes will make it much more difficult to remain popular.

The authors also encourage the reader, when trying to settle a conflict, to ask all involved parties what they would like to see happen. Putting yourself in the shoes of the upset person to understand his or her perspective will go a long way toward reaching healthy resolutions.

After reading this valuable book, expect to find yourself including a dozen or so of the 92 tips and quotes into your conversations with colleagues.

Reviewed by Bob Schultz, adjunct professor, Brandman University, Irvine, Calif.


Leaders Open DoorsLeaders Open Doors: A Radically Simple Leadership Approach to Lift People, Profits, and Performance (2nd edition)
by Bill Treasurer, ASTD Press, Alexandria, Va., 2015, 120 pp., $19.95 hardcover

To my delight, Leaders Open Doors is not just another book on leadership. In just  100 pages, the reader is reminded that sometimes being a leader means we need to open doors for others to learn to lead.

Bill Treasurer, founder and chief encouragement officer at Giant Leap Consulting, writes that there is a big difference between having an open-door policy and being an open-door leader. This book helped me understand that the job of an open-door leader is working to help others become leaders, whether by deliberately considering how to place someone in a leadership role or by simply being a leader role model.

At the end of each chapter, Treasurer provides questions that guide the reader to reflect on and apply the lessons from that chapter. This well-written, engaging volume serves as a reminder of the qualities of leaders that make a difference in whether the organization and the people within it “rise above who we are so that we can move closer to the person we can become.”  

Reading this book is a painless way to refresh your convictions about your own leadership and to remind us why we aspire to be leaders.

Reviewed by Vickey M. Giles, superintendent, Sheldon Independent School District, Houston, Texas



Leading with questionsLeading with Questions: How Leaders Find the Right Solutions by Knowing What to Ask
by Michael Marquardt, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, Calif., 2014, 297 pp with index, $29.99 hardcover

Those new to leadership will find Marquardt’s book to be a great reference on how and where good questions can add value. Others will find themselves wanting more specifics and less repetition. Filled with hundreds of questions, the book doesn’t provide quite enough depth or detail to give context for the ideas presented. This book is repetitive and difficult to read, but includes some key ideas worth knowing and sharing.

In Leading with Questions, Michael Marquardt makes a good case for doing just that. A professor of human and organizational learning at the George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development, Marquardt points out that “asking rather than telling has become the key to leadership excellence and success in the 21st century.”

The book’s appendix includes an action learning section where the author describes how to form an action learning group that uses questions to reframe a problem, develop goals and then take action. The process empowers the team to act with commitment and then debrief to determine what they learned from the process. I will remember and use the GROW acronym he shares for coaching: Goals, Reality, Options, and What you will commit to improve.

Marquardt notes that good questions take time, reflection, listening and dialogue. Solutions to difficult problems come out of rich conversations. In this volume, you will find many questions to choose from in deepening your team’s introspection: What are we trying to achieve? How will this work contribute to our success? Is there a better way? What other perspectives do we need to hear? What obstacles get in the way? How might we communicate our goals more effectively?

The book will be most useful to action learning teams trying to solve complex problems and newly appointed leaders moving into management.

Reviewed by Larry L. Nyland, superintendent, Seattle, Wash.

Living on the HornsLiving on the Horns of Dilemmas: Superintendents, Politics, and Decision- Making
by Peter Litchka, Walter Polka and Frank Calzi, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Md., 2014, 144 pp., $25 softcover

According to the authors of Living on the Horns of Dilemmas, being a school district superintendent today requires the courage of a matador. Peter Litchka, Walter Polka and Frank Calzi, all professors in the field of education leadership, have compiled a series of case studies that examine problems faced by practicing superintendents in rural, suburban and urban school districts.

The authors conclude each case study with a “From the Arena” section, providing suggestions from researchers and other prominent individuals in the education field for how to handle the situation in question. They also reflect on the dilemma presented in each chapter with a series of questions for consideration, such as whether student test scores and student attendance should be part of teacher evaluation.

Issues that will apply to new and aspiring superintendents are included, such as an essay on leadership versus management where they reference they include wisdom from American scholar Warren Bennis;  “Underperforming organizations are usually over managed and under-led.”

When considering the difference between problems and predicaments, the authors note systemic predicaments that are unique to district organizations and therefore difficult to solve at the local level. Ultimately, the reader is reminded that the district administrator cannot do it all.

Reviewed by William J. Leary, professor emeritus, Lynn University, Boca Raton, Fla.


Presidents, Congress

Presidents, Congress, and the Public Schools: The Politics of Education Reform
byJack Jennings, Harvard Education Press, Cambridge, Mass., 2015, 264 pp., $35 softcover

This new title from Jack Jennings, founder of the Center on Education Policy, takes those of us who have been in public education since the 1960s on a walk down memory lane. His 50-year history of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act examines the details of every K-12 federal program debated or enacted since 1964 and introduces the key players at each step of the legislative process.

Jennings includes his personal evaluation of each program and synthesizes his knowledge into a proposal for yet another federal program that will further the cause of improving public education. His United for Students Act proposes a state/ federal partnership that will attempt to accomplish what other programs have not; most notably more rigorous standards for teaching.

While not written explicitly for an audience of superintendents, this is a great historical read for those interested in the chronology of federal legislation on public education. In light of the current polarization of our political parties and their stances on public education, this book is also a good research tool for the 2016 presidential and congressional elections.

Reviewed by Robert J. Clark, superintendent, Milton Freewater, Ore.


The Secret

The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do (3rd edition)
by Ken Blanchard
and Mark Miller, Barrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, Calif., 2014, $22.95 hardcover

This updated edition of The Secret is as relevant today as when first published 10 years ago. Management experts Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller argue that great leadership is based on the idea of service to others. In a narrative format, the authors describe how to train and mentor new leadership, highlighting the differences between self-serving leaders and leaders who strive to serve others. They encourage the creation of a culture that produces great leadership through acts of service and sacrifice.

This book is a great starting place for aspiring school leaders who wish to get to the heart of great leadership. It is not a step-by-step guide, but it offers enough material in a simple, thought-provoking manner to help the reader get started on the path to leading others through service. The self-assessment included at the end of the book is a quick, useful tool for any mentoring or leadership development program.

This slim volume is an excellent resource to encourage school leaders to discuss and evaluate their own leadership skills. The eponymous “secret” is that great leaders are the ones who don’t desire to lead, but those who desire to serve.

Reviewed by Jeffrey J. Smith, superintendent, Balsz School District, Phoenix, Ariz.



Superintendents’ PR

How well do state licensure programs for school administrators address public relations?

That was the 2014 doctoral dissertation subject of Lisa Thomas, Steve Lumetta and Joe Dan Vandelin at St. Louis University.

Their research identified some states that implemented a public relations requirement for superintendents within their licensing programs and/or superintendent professional development programs.

Adequate preparation was defined in the study as required public relations training for superintendents obtaining state licensing and continued acquisition of skills and knowledge, both for personal development and for career advancement.

Copies of “Effective Superintendent Public Relations in a School District” are available from ProQuest at 800-521-0600 or


Special Education

An American Educational Research Association study published in Educational Researcher finds that racial, ethnic and language-minority students in elementary and middle schools are disproportionately underrepresented in special education.

This holds true across all five disability conditions surveyed — learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, intellectual disabilities, other health impairments and emotional disturbances.


Soft Skills

A report from Child Trends, “Key ‘Soft Skills’ That Foster Youth Workforce Success,” reviews abundant research on the non-academic attributes important for technical and academic career preparation.

The review deems social skills, communication skills, higher-order thinking, self-control and positive self-concept to be the most critical soft skills.

Find the full report at

Youth Development

The Wallace Foundation has released “Foundations for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework” based on research done by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

The report identifies three desired outcomes of youth development: agency, or shaping the course of one’s life; integrated identity, or a strong sense of who one is; and competencies, or abilities to be productive, effective and adaptable.

The final report is at

Intervention Program

Updated research on the Check & Connect intervention has been published by the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse.

The intervention, which aims to keep students in school by monitoring school performance and providing individualized attention, has been found to have positive effects on staying in school and potentially positive effects on progressing in school, but no effects on completing school.

The full report is at

Magnet Schools

“What Happens When Schools Become Magnet Schools? A Longitudinal Study of Diversity and Achievement” has been released by the American Institutes for Research.

Researchers found limited evidence that elementary schools that converted to magnet schools were successful in their goals of increasing diversity and student achievement.

Read the report at

Urban Supes Academy

This fall, 25 educators begin an 18-month certification program co-sponsored by AASA and Howard University. They are the first cohort in the Urban Superintendents Academy.

The program is intended for those seeking certification and professional success leading urban and increasingly diverse suburban schools.

For more, visit

Collaborative Conference

Succinct summaries of remarks by Linda Darling-Hammond and other presenters at the AASA Collaborative Summer Conference in July 2015 can be found at

Yong Zhao and Heidi Hayes Jacobs were the keynote speakers, joined by Darling-Hammond and Christina Theokas of Education Trust.