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Last year, Kansas City Superintendent John Covington made headlines when he stabilized the hemorrhaging Kansas City School District (which had lost 75 percent of its students in the past four decades) by shutting half of the district's schools, selling the central office building, and axing close to a quarter of the administrative staff. And he did all of this with the backing of the school board and community leaders. So imagine their surprise (and ire) when Covington, who has been at the helm of KC schools for about two years, abruptly resigned last week?only to take the wheel of Michigan's nascent state-run ?reform school district,? the Education Achievement System (EAS). Finger-pointing and fist-shaking aside, there are a few big takeaways to be drawn from Covington's departure?and his arrival in Motown.
First: KC should have seen this coming?and should have planned for it. The lifespan of an urban supe is akin to that of an American Newt (which, for the non-zoologists out there is about three years). And it's even shorter for those, like Covington, who are brought in as transformational leaders. Dynamic leadership can jumpstart a district's success, but it needs to be buttressed by a smart?and painstakingly articulated?transition plan. The Center for Reinventing Public Education made this point (though they were speaking specifically to charter schools) back in December in their report ?You're Leaving? Sustainability and Succession in Charter Schools.?
Second: When it comes to high-quality district leaders, the educational landscape is reasonably barren, meaning that districts hungry for quality are going to have to get a little fierce to make sure they get theirs. In this case, that meant a healthy salary bump: In Kansas City, Covington was pulling in about $137,000 (according to salary.com) a year. For his move to Michigan, the River City's former supe will be netting an extra $88,000 per year (not to mention the $175,000 signing bonus and potential performance bonuses that could top him out above $400,000 yearly). Call the whole thing unseemly, aver that Covington (or any other supe who leaves for a new transformation challenge or greener?money-wise?pastures) should have stuck it out with Kansas City. But expect this head-hunting trend to continue. (Especially if wanting districts start partnering with local NPOs to help foot some of the bill for these leaders, as was the case with Convington's contract.)
So kudos to Michigan's EAS for landing an astute new head honcho. And to Kansas City, you'll be fine. Just next time around, remember that plans for leadership transition after transformation are just as important as the transformation itself.
?Daniela Fairchild and Laura Johnson