Has the time come when we should and can re-draft the job description of the principal/head of school? Yes and yes.
Last week I was working on job descriptions for the founding faculty and principal of Design 39 Campus in Poway. The faculty job description is extremely forward leaning and I recommend school leaders look at it when published as a template for your own school’s use. Then we looked at the principal’s job description and things got REALLY interesting!
The principal or head of school is a site leader. I have argued for almost a decade that, at larger schools, both public and private, the site leader or school CEO cannot be BOTH the visionary champion AND manage the day-to-day fires of school operations. No one can do both effectively at a school of 800+ students. But in my visits to many schools, too many CEO’s are trying to do both, and it is a key impediment to change and innovation.
I felt there was a critical element missing from the org chart discussion at D39C: where was the Chief Innovation Officer, that position (under a range of titles) that so many schools and districts now recognize as critical to sustaining innovation? D39C founding principal Sonya Wrisley wrote “CiO” on the wall, and then listed a bunch of “I” words for that title: innovation, imagination, inquiry, implementation among them. I asked her, “What are all the things you do as principal that keep you from being the “CiO? What if the school had another senior administrator to do ALL of those?”
Many public schools have one or more Assistant Principals; some independent schools have a Chief Operating Officer. I suggested the venerable title of “Provost”. The Provost would have the authority to handle all of the day-to-day issues at the school, including discipline and parent issues. This is how small colleges work, and large K-12 schools have much the same complexity of a small college. How powerful can a leader be in the real roles of leadership with a strong Provost managing the rest? Ask any good general or admiral.
The D39C team also discussed the structure of essential distributed leadership, the broader team that will percolate innovative practices throughout the school. They are proposing a team of 4-5 “mentor/coaches”, full time faculty who will get a bit of release time to ensure the fires of innovation and best practices are lit, fueled, and fanned. Importantly, tenure on that team will last 2-3 years and rotate. If leadership is parsed according to grade and subject, those silos are strengthened. When leadership is structured to support innovation and teaching practices, the old silos are busted.
That’s it: putting our organizational structure and resources where needed, not where they have always been. A site leader who spends her time LEADING, not keeping the lights turned on. We figured that the additional cost for this structure at this school might be a few tens of thousands of dollars a year, a tiny price to pay to ensure that innovation is not just something we talk about in the vision statement. So here is a challenge to all school CEO’s out there: do you have the courage to let go of what others can do as well, and truly get out in front where we need you to lead?