Importing Leaders for School Turnaround

Amanda Pierce

An effective
leader is vital to an effective school, especially when that school is a
turnaround. Unfortunately, those equipped to lead rapid change in consistently
low-performing schools are in short supply. In this report, Public Impact
suggests that school leaders be imported from untapped pipelines of talent
lying outside of the education sector. Instead of adhering to traditional
practice of recruiting from within, schools can replenish the dwindling
principal pool and revive turnaround schools by selecting leaders from other

In looking
for a new leader, the report recommends that schools select for a number of
qualities. Those best suited to lead turnarounds possess the unique ability to
motivate, problem-solve, and confidently lead students and staff. The report
also outlines key areas in which non-traditional candidates should be trained.
To ensure that a new hire is quickly brought up to speed, a clear action plan
should be put in place that allows a new school leader and his or her staff to
hit the ground running. Leaders coming from outside education should also be
trained in the elements of highly effective, high-poverty schools.

In Ohio,
where 42 schools are already beginning turnaround efforts under the federal
School Improvement Grant program (to say nothing of the list to be overhauled
under recently passed provisions in Ohio’s budget), most of the schools must
replace top leadership. Where will these high-capacity school leaders come
from? Simply rotating the existing pool of principals is ineffective and
previous attempts at overhaul among Ohio schools illustrated that without real
leadership change, turnarounds are largely meaningless. Some schools got by with a
simple internal shift while others swapped in a principal from another failing
school. Whatever the case, turnaround schools in Ohio and elsewhere would be
wise to invigorate themselves by introducing a breath of fresh air from outside
the traditional leadership pipelines.

Importing Leaders For
School Turnaround

Julie Kowal and Emily Ayscue
Public Impact