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School Superintendents Qua Policy Advocates

Capitol Day 2011University-based educational leadership programs are structured differently across universities. There are masters programs, post-masters certificate programs, and doctoral programs (Ph.D. and Ed.D.). Some educational leadership departments refer to certain programs explicitly as “principal preparation” programs and even “superintendent prep” programs. I’ve not worked at a university with a superintendency program, so I can’t speak to the content of those programs. But, generally, across leadership prep programs, there are commonalities in coverage. There are courses in school law, school finance, school/community relations, organizational theory, etc. The tables of contents of the “classic” textbooks on educational leadership have not changed much over the years.

While I’m sure there is some coverage of educational policy issues in educational leadership programs, I’m less certain that anyone is preparing sitting and aspiring school leaders to be policy advocates. I’m not suggesting that we can “cover” everything that sitting and aspiring school leaders need to know and be able to do as school leaders, but two recent stories have me wondering if we do enough to help sitting and aspiring school leaders become policy advocates.

I’ve long thought of Pam Moran and Dave Doty as strong, forward-thinking school superintendents. But, while I’ve spent some good quality time with Pam in the “real” world, I was largely basing my opinion of them on my interactions with them through various forms of social media.

Last week, Dr. Moran was one of five brave superintendents in the Commonwealth of Virginia who lobbied state Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright for some flexibility in the state’s accountability system. They worte to Dr. Wright and met with her. According to this article in the Washington Post, other superintendents in Virginia are on board with them, but Dr. Moran and her four colleagues took the time to meet with Dr. Wright personally. They were making an impassioned argument based on what they think is best for the children of their respective school divisions (and, presumably, the rest of the Commonwealth).

Dr. Doty is engaged in a similar struggle with the state department of education in Utah. Apparently Dr. Doty is on board with the goals of a state law requiring districts to keep parents apprised of the progress of their children, but he does not think state education agencies should require the use of any one assessment.

Waging policy battles in public is a brave act for school leaders. Pitting one’s district against the policy agenda proffered by a state education agency is a particularly difficult and complex battle. However, by all accounts, these leaders are willing to serve as advocates for the children they serve, at great professional risk.

I say “bravo” to these superintendents who are willing to put on their “policy advocate” hats and engage educational policy makers at “higher” levels of government in crucial conversations about important educational policy issues.

Creative Commons License photo credit: ranchocanyon