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Editorial: DISD’s superintendent must develop principals and teachers


The following ran in the Jan. 20, 2012, edition of the Dallas Morning News. David Chard, dean of SMU's Annette Caldwell Simmons School Education and Human Development provided expertise for this story.

January 25, 2012

As Dallas school trustees narrow their search for the district’s next superintendent, they need to be emphatic about this point: Michael Hinojosa’s successor must know how to recruit and develop strong leaders for the district’s 230 campuses.

Ample evidence shows students won’t realize their potential without leaders in charge of their schools and classrooms. The most recent data comes from researchers at Harvard and Columbia universities. Their survey shows students with top teachers over time are more likely to attend college, earn a higher income and avoid teen pregnancy.

 Fortunately, several Dallas institutions, such as the George W. Bush Institute, SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development and the Meadows Foundation, are spending time and money studying and developing effective school leadership.

Some of this is common sense. Standout educators approach their jobs as a calling. They have a knack for relating to kids. They understand how to organize their schools and classrooms. They know their subjects. And they tailor instruction to a child’s needs.

 How does the Dallas Independent School District get more principals and teachers with these gifts and skills? That’s the hard part, which is why the next superintendent must come to this job with a ready list of ideas. For example, he or she must know how to:

Match quality principals and teachers with inexperienced or struggling educators. DISD has mentoring systems to develop its existing talent, but they aren’t always used. DISD’s next chief must make mentoring a top priority in every school.

That’s particularly important for developing principals. As David Chard, dean of SMU’s education school, wrote recently on our Viewpoints page: A robust body of evidence indicates that under the leadership of a strong principal, a school can achieve twice as highly as one led by a weak principal.

Skilled principals also attract a more talented and committed staff. SMU’s Reid Lyon, who studies education leadership, reports strong principals know how to launch successful programs, get buy-in for them from teachers and bring initiatives to scale.

It’s not easy to find or develop that kind of talent, but the district needs it to achieve substantial progress....