Newly released “Leadership Matters” report examines reinventing schools through key leaders

Last weekend at the Business Council of Alabama’s Governmental Affairs Conference, the Business Education Alliance unveiled its latest report, produced by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama. The report, titled Leadership Matters: A Blueprint for Reinventing Schools for Student Success, looks at the role of state, school and community leaders in driving our schools towards success.

Alabama public schools are producing more high school graduates, but more of them need to be graduating prepared for and connected to education and training beyond high school. Alabama’s economy has the potential for impressive growth, but to capitalize on that potential, business and industry will need a new generation of better-educated Alabamians.

To capitalize on this moment of opportunity for students and for Alabama’s economy, creative and energetic leadership is needed at the state and local levels.

With a new state superintendent of education in place and November elections set to determine leadership in the Governor’s office, the State Legislature, and the State School Board, a new class of leaders will be called on to craft a plan for closing gaps in preparation and paving pathways to career opportunities.

In this report, we examine the crucial role leadership plays in shaping educational outcomes, and we showcase six examples where leadership is making a difference and where data indicate students are achieving higher levels of success.

Change-making leaders in education are not exclusively school administrators. Leaders are also stepping forward from government, business, higher education, and from community and civic groups. In fact, in all instances showcased, successful leaders have forged partnerships to accomplish their goals for better student outcomes.

Leaders show a passion for change. Sheffield’s Superintendent Keith Lankford describes having a “fire in his belly” to capitalize on his community’s hunger for higher expectations for their children.

Leaders empower teachers and students to believe in themselves.  As Talladega County fifth-grader Annslee Shaddix explained, she’s learned talents aren’t fixed; they’re mastered through effort. “If you had a fixed mindset,” she said, “you’d never improve.”

Leaders see possibility beyond conventions. Pike County’s Superintendent Mark Bazzell knew many of his high school students were capable of college-level work. In 2018, 23 Pike County students earned not just a high school diploma, but a college associate degree at the same time.

Leaders may be as ambitious as those in West Alabama, where a new, employer-driven training and recruitment system is replacing traditional educational models, matching student interests and ambitions with employer needs in partnership with area school systems

Or leaders may focus on the basics, like in Brewton, where the community pools money for scholarships, and every senior is required to devise a plan for college or financial independence after high school, referred to in Brewton’s down-home vernacular as a “Get Off Your Momma’s Payroll Plan.” Those resources and plans are among the factors that help that community produce some of Alabama’s highest college and career readiness rates.

“Finishing high school is not our goal. Our goal is getting them to the next level,” explained T.R. Miller High School Assistant Principal Doug Gerety.

Leaders across Alabama would do well to embrace those higher aspirations and pursue them with the strategic thinking, dedication, and innovation shown by dynamic communities.

Click here to read full report here.