Principles of school leadership
The next few years at Burke and North Charleston high schools are critical for a number of reasons. The most critical consideration, of course, should be the students at risk of a substandard education simply by virtue of the schools they attend.
But it’s also a critical year for the two schools’ principals, who are on the hot seat with the state Board of Education to turn the “persistently failing” schools around.
A lot is resting on the success, or failure, of Bob Grimm at North Charleston High, and Maurice Cannon at Burke,
If they fail, the state might take control of the schools, signaling that local efforts are inadequate.
If they succeed, they do credit to Charleston County School District Superintendent Nancy McGinley, who says she has made them a top priority. Indeed, Mr. Grimm and Mr. Cannon have signed three-year contracts that provide for sizeable bonuses if they meet their goals. That is an unusual move for the district.
If they fail, they give fodder to school-reform advocates like Jon Butzon, director of the non-profit Charleston Education Network, who says that district and school leaders “don’t know what to do, and they don’t know how to do it.”
And if the principals succeed, they discredit those people who say that “throwing money at schools” does no good.
Burke and North Charleston both received multi-million federal School Improvement Grants, which required extensive planning.
Clearly, the principals have serious plans for using the money wisely, not simply throwing it somewhere. As reporter Diette Courrege wrote in Monday’s Post and Courier, North Charleston has instituted a Ninth Grade Academy with eight teachers, a parent advocate, a guidance counselor and an assistant principal, all dedicated to freshmen. Burke High is reducing class size, creating options for accelerated students and infusing technology into classes.
But if those efforts do not make a difference, critics will suggest the money was wasted.
South Carolina’s Superintendent of Education, Mick Zais, supports merit pay for educators, including paying them more for superior performance, as is being done with the principals at Burke and North Charleston.
But Dr. Zais also has been criticized for failing to pursue federal grants, saying that they come with strings attached and end up costing the state money down the road. If the federal dollars spent at Burke and North Charleston change the culture of failure there to a culture of success, the money will have been well spent, and the state superintendent might be urged to reconsider his rigid stance.
Meanwhile, the pressure is on Mr. Grimm and Mr. Cannon as they set out to do what previous principals have failed to do effectively — to give all of their schools’ students a much better opportunity to succeed academically.